Whether your child has ADHD, dyslexia, trouble with math, or is on the autism spectrum, it’s easy to get stuck in the no man’s land of doing nothing about it. In most cases, parents who fall into this trap aren’t complacent or uncaring; it’s usually about not knowing what to do.
In order to springboard you to a place of momentum to help your child and improve the quality of your own life (after all, learning struggles usually affect the entire family), we’ve created five baby steps. Most of these items will take less than 15 minutes, so there’s no excuse to stay stuck in the mud––or worse, drowning in quicksand.
Baby Step #1: Make an appointment with your child’s teacher. A simple phone call, email, or even a note will work. Then jot down a list of detailed questions to gather information about your child’s academic weaknesses, any social/emotional problems (e.g., lack of friends) and the teacher’s observations of any physical clues that there may be problem (e.g., restlessness, foot tapping, getting out of his seat, yelling, consistently interrupting). Ask the teacher if she feels your child could benefit from an independent education program (IEP) or any special needs classes.
Baby Step #2: Make an appointment with your pediatrician. Be sure to request a longer-than-usual appointment so you have plenty of time to talk in detail about your concerns, to gather feedback from the doctor and to get referrals to specialists (e.g., speech and language therapist, nutritionist, occupational therapist and/or cognitive skills therapist).
Baby Step #3: Make an appointment for a cognitive skills assessment. Unlike tutoring, which focuses on specific subject matter (e.g., historical facts), cognitive skills training—also known as “brain training”—addresses the root cause of learning struggles: weak cognitive skills. With ADHD, the weakest skill is usually attention, though other skills may also be weak. With autism spectrum disorder, it’s common to see weaknesses in processing speed, short-term memory and logic and reasoning. With dyslexia, it’s phonemic awareness. To find a center near you, Google “one-on-one brain training” or visit www.LearningRx.com. (If you just search for “brain training” you’ll likely get a bunch of companies that use computer-based games, not one-on-one customized cognitive skills training.)
Baby Step #4: Evaluate your current efforts. Make a quick list of how your family spends its time on work, school, sports, extracurricular activities (e.g., music lessons, ballet), church, homework, entertainment (e.g., TV, video games, computer time), etc. Are you seeing any patterns that you’d like to change? Is your child taking three hours each night to complete their homework? Do you have almost no leisure time yourself because you’re constantly helping your struggling student? Is your daughter spending two hours a day at soccer practice, but practically failing several classes? There’s no doubt that the physical and social aspects of sports are important, but unless you expect your child to play professional soccer as a career, there may be some misplaced priorities.
Baby Step #5: Get some real support. While spending time with other parents who have special needs children can certainly provide some camaraderie, it’s important to find a balance between emotional support (e.g., “I’m so exhausted taking care of my child’s needs that I don’t have time to de-stress”) and solution sharing. If you can’t find a group that seems proactive in seeking improvement, form your own! Start by searching sites like Meetup.com and Craigslist.org, or find your local chapter (or an online group) of a specific national organization on AutismSpeaks.org, CHADD.org (Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) or interdys.org (The International Dyslexia Association), to name a few.
It’s easy to get stuck when you’re overwhelmed (or underwhelmed!) with options. Taking initiative to find out which direction might prove most helpful in treating the root cause, addressing the symptoms or just improving the quality of life for your child can help you test Newton’s first law of motion: An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion. So get the ball rolling!