The Foreign Service Journal - June 2014 - page 64

JUNE 2014
What do you do when your child is struggling in school? This primer can help get you
started on identifying and solving the problem.
orried about your student’s progress at
school? Whether your child is 6 or 16, it
can be difficult to know where to begin
when he or she is struggling..
In the following, I outline an
approach that can facilitate real
change, starting with an overview of some of the most common
difficulties. The first step, however, is to have your child’s hear-
ing and vision checked. (Don’t forget to include testing for color
blindness.) Sometimes a new pair of glasses solves everything!
Common Concerns
. In the realm of academics, reading is the number-
one referral concern. It is a concern not to be taken lightly, either.
Researchers have found that after third grade, it becomes signifi-
cantly more difficult to acquire basic reading skills.
Common problems include difficulty sounding out words and
automatically recognizing common (e.g., “sight”) words. In high
school, comprehension is more frequently reported as a problem.
In fact, comprehension may be compromised at any age if there is
a deficit in basic reading skills.
If your child is receiving a reading—or any other—interven-
tion, ask whether it is research-based and targets the child’s
specific weaknesses (have specific weaknesses even been identi-
Michelle Grappo has worked in American International and state-
side private and public schools. She is a nationally certified school
psychologist and now works as an educational and therapeutic
fied?). Be wary of hodgepodge interventions by instructors who
are not credentialed in the areas of reading or special education.
. It is rare, in my experience, to receive a writing referral
that is not connected with other concerns, such as reading, motor
skills, speech or behavior. Writing referrals generally fall into two
categories: mechanical difficulties and production difficulties.
The former could include trouble with handwriting (e.g., hold-
ing the pencil, hand fatigue, forming letters, spacing). An occu-
pational therapist should evaluate these difficulties and develop
a treatment plan for anything related to the fine motor and visual
skills involved in writing, including recommending technological
Production difficulties can consist of trouble developing ideas,
putting them on paper and organizing them. Sometimes a child
just needs help in the form of graphic organizers and idea genera-
tion strategies; sometimes the issue goes deeper.
. Mathematical difficulties are also typically of two types:
basic calculation and problem-solving. In truth, math difficulties
often stem from complex patterns of weakness in visual-spatial
abilities, language development, abstract reasoning and/or
memory. Interestingly, students who move frequently may seem
to have a math disability, when the real issue is gaps in knowledge
due to varied curriculums and timelines.
A student who struggles with basic calculation will often
struggle with higher-order problem-solving, as well. Just as in
reading, you have to have the fundamentals down so you can
devote your cognitive energy to more advanced problems. An
experienced educational or school psychologist should assess true
math disabilities.
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