Your First IEP…

from Growing Leaders by Tim Elmore

When Your Child Has A Learning Difference: Three Tips for Parents

Having been a teacher and administrator, I’m all about themes for pretty much everything.  To kick off our new website, we’re going to begin with a Twofer Tuesday. On Tuesdays, I’ll link to an article published by someone…well…published, and I’ll add my two cents for good measure.

Tim Elmore is one of my favorite authors and speakers.  I first heard him at church, and I proceeded to read almost all of his books.  Generation iY helped me become a better educator, and for that I am truly thankful to him.  Marching off the Map is also a great resource for parents who may be confused with this new generation of kids. I was also blessed to be able to attend a two-day round table last summer, and my other favorite author Daniel Pink was there.  It was crazy amazing!

The article Three Steps to Help a Student with a Learning Disability  caught my eye a while ago, and I think it’s helpful for parents who has just learned of a child’s Eligibility for Special Education. It’s written by Naurtrie Jones, and it has some good advice.  She states that 2.3 million students have some sort of Learning Difference (I choose not to call them Disabilities, as I find that many of these Differences are gifts). Here in Georgia, 11% of students ages 6-21 have some sort of Learning Difference that affords them services under the Individuals with Disabilities Act, or IDEA (Georgia Department of Education).

Below lists those three things from the article and my two cents:

1. “GET INFORMED”

My Two Cents: Do your homework! Find out everything you can about this Learning Difference. Research reputable websites, study, and then work with the school to find the best option for your child.

We live in a world where information is one Siri question away from an answer.  “Get Informed” sounds simple, right? In a way, yes.  In other ways, no.  Learning Differences look different in different children. A strategy or an accommodation that may work for one child may not work for another. Parents should research the Learning Difference and then look at their child, the whole, individual child. 

Your son or daughter’s teacher knows a lot about pedagogy, and he or she knows your child well.  Work with the school and the experts there to come up with a plan that best suits the individual.

2. “TALK WITH YOUR CHILD”

My Two Cents:Talk to your child, but make sure that it’s neither information overload, nor a conversation that may end up making him or her feel demeaned. This is about the kid, so leave anything personal out of it.

Talking with your child about his or her differences can be tricky.  As a mom, I completely understand the emotions that go along with having a kid with Learning Differences (remember, we’re not calling them disabilities, right?).  The article states that if a parent isn’t comfortable talking with the child, then having a school counselor or special education coordinator speak with them would be good. I very much disagree with this. Our job as parents is to communicate with our children, regardless of our comfort level. Having the conversation at an age appropriate level may be the most difficult part, as a first grader is probably okay with being different; middle schoolers will do an…y…thing to be unnoticed.  How we grown folks approach the conversation is where it can go south. Again, we’re talking about an individual, a little, unique person, so it’s important to push information out in pieces based on the child’s age and maturity, watching not only our words, but also our tone.  I believe in celebrating every kind of diversity. Below is a very general guide for parents when talking about Learning Differences with their children.

Ages 5-10:  Simply talking with your child and saying, “Everyone is different and everyone learns differently.  You can do [fill in the blank] like a pro, but it just takes you longer to [fill in the blank] than it does others.  If your child is taking medication, they can simply be called “brain vitamins” at this point.

Ages 10-12:  Begin to talk with your son or daughter about the specifics of the Learning Differences (you’ll get used to this term, I promise).  Take time to self-reflect on things that you struggle with at work or in a relationship.  Begin calling medications for what they are and what they do to assist your child at school and at home.

This is also the best time to model advocating for their rights under ADA and IDEA.  When my daughter was in elementary school, I was her advocate, but now she needs to be able to assert her rights, always being respectful. Her 504 states that she makes up any assignments that she earns less than a 75 on; not for credit, but to ensure that she masters the material.  I would send notes to or meet with her the teachers. We have put the onus on her to talk to the teachers.  If her 504 isn’t being followed, we have a talk which usually ends with, “Do you want to handle this, or do you want me to handle it?”  That is a sure win to end the conversation with a win-win.  I don’t look like a helicopter mom, and my daughter begins to assert herself in a positive way.

Ages 12-16: Your son or daughter should be attending all IEP or 504 meetings.  I remember talking with one of my students after class one day. I mentioned that I was excited about meeting her parents the following week at her IEP meeting.  She didn’t know she had an IEP.  She was shocked, and I was horrified that I was the one dropping the bombshell.  Parents do more harm than good by sheltering their children regarding Learning Differences.  This young lady was close to graduating from high school, and she had quite a few accommodations. I was worried that she would be lost in her post secondary academics. Turns out, she dropped out of her two year college because she didn’t know how to advocate for herself. When a child turns 18, all rights are turned over to him or her as far as the IEP goes. Don’t wait to throw them out of the nest. 

3. “GET THEM ENGAGED”

My Two Cents: Get them Engaged

Every child is gifted…every single one.  Our job as parents and educators is to unwrap that gift with love, with care, and with patience.  Throw a bunch of stuff out there, and see what sticks.  Baseball?  Football?  Guitar?  Art Club?  Agriculture? Karate?  My only caveat to this is that once a child decides to begin a new sport/activity/club, have them commit to finish the season/semester/year. Allowing them to quit because it’s too [fill in the blank] doesn’t help anyone, especially the child. 

Find a project that you can do together, whether it be building a garden, painting a mural, or just making dinner together. Go to their practices, their games, their recitals and their tournaments, making sure to compliment their effort, not their ability.

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