by Dan Willemin © 2002, All Rights Reserved.
To begin this article I feel it important to start with an apology. Not for the article itself, but an apology to my two sons, I am sorry I did not research this sooner, I am sorry I did not always know to do the things I am writing now...
We all assume it is most important to get our special kids ready for school, but in reality, parents and teachers are equally important. Before I start on the Student area, I must make one point. Every child is different, but even more diverse are those labeled, Dyslexic, ADHD, LD, and scores of other labels. Diverse not only because they have areas of weakness, but without fail they also have some areas of great strength. However, even those labeled only dyslexic will have different levels of strengths and weaknesses in different areas. Discovering your child's areas of strength are key in finding ways to keep the learning processes going and ensure success in school. Teaching to their strengths is the best way for teachers to assure these students success.
Even though vacation is almost over, we should still encourage our special kids to read. However, any written material is good, even the lowly comic book can be a way to keep up interest in reading. If video games are your child's main interest, buy the game secrets books. Kids will read to no end trying to defeat a game. Children's magazines and even those "teen idol" and fashion ones are good. Sports, science, nature, or anything that interests your child will work! At TV time, if possible, turn on the closed captioning; even with the sound on this can keep words in front of children's eyes, every little bit helps. Try turning the sound off during some shows and read the caption to/with your child.
Before school starts, try to foster a good attitude about school. Never let them know you dread the start of school even if you do more than they do. Several weeks before school starts get back on school time schedule. Bedtime, wake-up, and meal times that fit the school time schedule will help adjust the child early and make those first days easier.
The biggest struggle for most kids starting the new school year is getting and staying organized. Start early getting school supplies and organizing them. Get a spot setup for homework, a quiet place with proper lighting, and few distractions. Make a supply box with extra pencils, pens; paper a three-hole punch and things like extra calculator, rulers, and compasses. A homemade one-page, six or nine week calendar is a good idea to mark project due dates and special test dates.
Make sure that their main notebook (a zippered three ring binder) for school has two pockets for loose papers. One pocket should be only for things going home for parents (and things returned from parents to school). The other pocket is for any papers they get that they may not have time to organize at school. Cut up and punch large colored folder covers to make subject dividers. Color-code everything, using the same colored tab dividers to separate sub-sections for tests, homework, class notes, and such, under each subject. If possible, get colored paper to make book covers so they match the subject colors in the notebooks. Let your child pick the colors they think best match the subjects. Just for fun get together some craft materials and have the student personalize their notebooks with their own art. From the book Learning Outside the Lines by Jonathan Mooney and David Cole comes one of my favorite suggestions for sprucing up a note book: Think spray adhesive and fake fur. The more unique the notebook the less likely it is to be lost and not return. (Works for back packs as well)
Set a time for after school homework but the first and last part of that time should be for organization. First off, students should punch and sort all loose papers and put them in the proper place in the notebook. Then when completed all homework should be in it's proper place as well. If you can help your child get into this habit, it will do wonders for their organization. Nothing is more devastating for a dyslexic child than losing their homework. The wasted effort, the panic, confusion, the anxiety of the failed search, the reaction of the teacher, and the anticipated reaction of the parents, all can combine to make learning impossible for a time. Before the child recovers, they are usually behind in class and then the cycle can start to feed on itself!
Another excellent way to save time and reduce confusion for students is by using color Post-it® tabs. The tabs are strong, removable, reusable, and come in assorted colors. Use one color tab to mark the current chapter in textbooks, the start, and end of reading or study assignments can be other colors. Using these tabs a student can easily flip open their books with out having to refer to page numbers, saving time and confusion in school and at home. They also make great hard to lose bookmarks for reading books too.
You should start these get ready activities with your child during what will become their normal homework time. This way they will get in the habit of working at their desk or work area every day at a specific time. Let them do the work while you help and explain the setup as you go.
For students transitioning to middle school or high school or when younger students change schools, it is also very important to help them learn their way around the new school. Getting lost on the way to the next class or rest room is a sure way to cause frustration and embarrassment. The results of getting lost and being late for a class can be devastating, as these stresses will always increase dyslexic symptoms. I know from my own experience stress and confusion can build to a point where learning is impossible. For more information and transitioning articles from middle school up through College, via the Internet try:
Always try to communicate to your child that the only real failure is to not try. Even if things do not go well, if they have made an effort then they are not a failure. This "keep trying" attitude can help foster resiliency, a trait that will serve them better in life than many things they learn in school. Self-advocacy is another important skill that helps build healthy self-esteem and empowers the child when things do not go well. Students need to be able to go to the teacher and ask for extra time or extra help when they do not understand. They need to know that there is no shame in asking for their modifications! Also always, make sure your child understands the WHY of class rules. When students truly understand rules and why they are in place, they are much easier to follow. Some "cause and effect" and "big picture" explanation of rules can go a long way to avoid behavioral problems.
Part of preparing your child for school is to prepare yourself. Knowledge is power so, the more you know the better. You need to understand the laws and how they work. You also need to know the schools and how they work, and very importantly, how standardized testing and scoring work. Also, you need to know yourself.
Many parents, like me, have our own demons and ghosts left over from our school days. They produce very strong emotions that can hinder our relationships with teachers and schools. However, even parents that breezed through school can have trouble with the emotional aspects of their child struggling in an education system not geared to teach the way these children learn. Working on controlling your own emotions is extremely important when dealing with teachers, school officials, as well as your child.
Although the laws give our children special rights, parents must advocate for their child to guarantee they get an appropriate education. For more information on the laws and advocacy, please go to the advocacy articles at wrightslaw.com. You can find everything from how schools view us and our children, Learning problems; Who's fault is it?, to writing non-emotional letters, The art of Writing Letters, to one of my favorites, Understanding Tests and Measurements. One must understand these test scores to identify a child's strengths as usually only their weaknesses are the focus of school reports.
Note: The Wright's Law site has lots of information on legal actions against schools. I want to make it clear that everyone loses when education dollars go for legal actions. It is always best to work within the system if at all possible!
If possible, open the lines of communication with the teacher before school starts. The more the teacher knows about a student's strengths and weaknesses the better they will be able to teach a child. Never assume the teacher knows of your child's IEP or 504 plans. You should contact each and provide copies of any IEP or modifications under 504. A brief cover letter listing your child's strengths, learning style and weakness can make all the difference. Being brief and concise is critical as this is a very busy time for teachers, if it is too long to read, it will do no good. A follow-up face-to-face or phone conference to discuss how the teacher plans to implement modifications is always a good idea.
Teachers generally want students to succeed. They can never know your children as well as you do in a non-school setting, just as you can never know how your child reacts to the school setting as well as the teacher. Liking or disliking the teacher is irrelevant! You must collaborate with them for the sake of your child. You should always provide the teacher contact information and make it clear you want notification of the first sign of problems. Never go over a teacher's head, go to them first and always include them in any correspondence with school or special education administration.
Another good idea is to have your child write his own story about his/her school experiences for the new teacher. Here again it should be brief, but still include what they consider their successes and failures, with their best and worst memory from school. This can be a hard sell to a dyslexic child but can offer the teacher an insight into the child's world the teacher may never get otherwise. It may help to explain to your child that this writing is to help teach the teacher. The thought of teaching the teacher can be an inspiration to a child.
Even when things do not go well, never complain about the teacher in front of the child, tell them we just need to help the teacher understand. Understand yourself that regular teachers usually have little training in dealing with different learners. They also usually have too many students are generally over worked and under paid. Compassion for the teacher and school's problems can bring compassion in return for your child. Always be supportive as possible, even if you disagree, the teacher sometimes needs to learn what is best for your child.
In conclusion, I would like to add a few things just for teachers. It is very important to understand just how much effort it takes for these kids to even show up at school. The effort these kids put into an assignment is often many times that of other students, even when their results are disappointing. Always praise their effort! Also, please be aware of the delicate balance between high expectations and allowing the student to experience success. Nothing breeds success, like success however, these are vary capable individuals that need mental challenges. This is especially true in their areas of strengths. They may learn differently but if engaged they can learn better than most. The only trick is to spark their interest, and then learning will happen. I would like to share a quote from my favorite Internet discussion boards at www.dyslexiatalk.com.
If learning did not happen, then teaching did not happen!
I do not say this to put down teachers. Teachers are different just like kids. When there is a mismatch, there is no shame in asking for help, or even asking for a new placement with a teacher that is a better match!
Only when parents and educators fail, do these children fail. We should all do our best to see that no one fails as we prepare to start the new school year!
For more information on students' needs check out: