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Academic Concerns? Social Challenges?

Here's How Parents Can Help their Child

By Donna Anello

The new school year begins next month. Class schedules, first tests, and projects are on the horizon; new friendships will be forged; separation anxiety tears will be a hurdle for some; and long carpool lines will mean leaving the house earlier to ensure you make it to work on time.

Many will make a smooth transition from the carefree days of summer. Many children and families will transition from summer break to the new school year with feelings of excitement and anticipation of new accomplishments. Lots of children will prepare to achieve long-term goals, as they keep and make friends to at least have someone to eat lunch with.

This is the natural expectation for most children as they settle in to the new school year. Goals of academic, athletic, and social success are embraced and even welcomed, as parents watch their children grow and thrive. However, a smaller percentage of children ages 3-17 who have learning disabilities or developmental delays will experience the beginning of a new school year quite differently.

Imagine the various aspects of what goes into a child starting a new school year the many purchases, the conversations, the documentation that needs to be filled out, doctor visits for physicals or vaccinations, school tours, parents night, curriculum night, and so much more. Now, imagine having a child with autism, ADHD, Aspergers, or sensory processing concerns with academically or socially challenging behaviors that make it difficult for him/her to learn, socialize, make friends, and/or participate in sports with his/her peers. If that describes your child, how do you embrace the first months of a new school year with the same verve as parents of children who do not experience these issues? Here are a few suggestions to successfully get past the rough patches during the upcoming school year:

-School-age children are never too old to be hugged. Tell them that you are proud of them and that you love them.

-When possible, schedule appointments (doctor, therapy, dentist, etc.) over the summer or over a school break. This alleviates the stress of trying to go to a doctor appointment during the school day, and it gives parents an opportunity to discuss any concerns for the upcoming year with their childs practitioner. Consistency in the daily school schedule is important to children with a learning disability.

-If your child is experiencing academic or social challenges, discuss these concerns with his/her teacher(s). The wait and see approach will not yield good results. Semester grades tally quickly, and it is difficult to raise grades when a student falls behind.

-When communicating with teachers, cite specific examples regarding any concerns. Be open about your childs learning challenges, his/her IEP (Individualized Education Program) details, and successful strategies used to teach your child in the past, (e.g. sitting in the front of the classroom). Be sure to provide contact information as well as the best time to reach you.

-Provide a verbal rundown or visual aid of how the school day will unfold during your morning routine, especially if there will be a deviation from the norm. Always conclude with a positive and reassuring statement such as, Youre going to have a great day today! I want to hear all about it later. Youve got this.

-Remind your child to practice strategies and techniques their tutors or therapist(s) have taught them when faced with stressful situations or anxiety-inducing scenarios. Deep breathing and counting works well in the absence of specific techniques.

-Talk to your child, your childs teacher(s), your childs doctor(s), and his or her therapist(s) on a regular basis. Dont avoid addressing your concerns. These professionals have been trained to help you help your child, and they welcome your interest in creating the most favorable school experience for him/her. Make a list of your concerns, and stick to the list when talking to these professionals. Working together as a team is beneficial for your child.

-Seek help through parent groups, support groups, or resource websites when you need advice, support, or guidance. Not only might you receive help, but you may also be able to offer support for another parent.

Addressing difficult situations with your child can be daunting. You are your childs best advocate and biggest fan. Try incorporating these suggestions into your existing routine, and expect the best possible outcome.

Donna Anello, CEO and founder of The Ollena Center, LLC, is an education consultant, public speaker, and author.