Inappropriate Behavior May Be Masking a Learning Difference

2012.7.Class-ClownIf you’re a parent of a child struggling with inappropriate behavior at school, you might find yourself answering this question at an SST or IEP Meeting: Does your child’s behavior impede his/her ability to learn in the classroom?

If you answered yes, then know that you’re not alone. As a Wraparound Support Provider, I hear this all too familiar story from parents just like yourself:

It started with little things, like not paying attention to the teacher, failing to turn in homework, or talking when he’s not supposed to, but it soon escalated to an alternation with another student, maybe a former friend, on the playground or in the lunchroom and now the school is talking suspension. Phone calls from the school increased from once a week to twice and now it’s nearly every day. And every day it’s a struggle to understand why this is happening.

You know your child is smart, knows the rules of school and although may have had a little academic or behavior issue in the past, it has never been something to worry about. But now, you find yourself worrying about his future and wondering ‘why?’

The Behavior May Be Hiding the Learning Difference

When trying to uncover the reason behind a behavior difficulty at school, we must focus on the root cause. It is imperative that we refrain from putting too much stake on the surface behavior. Yes, the behavior is causing daily problems, but it is likely hiding something more serious. The only way to uncover the real issue is to take a thorough look at all areas of your child’s life: (1) Home Environment; (2) School Environment; (3) Individual Needs

What’s Going on at Home?

Family dynamic changes can be difficult transitions for kids of all ages. The first question to ask: What changes have occurred at home?

Was there a change to the structure of the family, parenting style, or the way the home is run? If so, we have to look closely at these changes, no matter how minute, because they are part of the bigger picture.

Let’s make sure not to play the blame game.

Parents cannot blame the school alone for their child’s behavior and the school cannot blame the parents only for their student’s difficulties. Really, no one should be blaming anybody but it often feels that way, doesn’t it.

We need to change that.

Looking at what changes have occurred in a child’s home environment is one part of the mystery. As parents, you must do your due diligence and answer that question honestly, keeping an open mind.

behavior is functional

What’s Going on at School?

The second question to ask: What’s happening during school that perpetuates the inappropriate behavior?

Maybe the new teacher is not your child’s favorite this year or maybe there’s another kid that’s picking on your kid.

School is just as much about social preservation as it is about academic prowess.

When delving deeply into the school day, we want to be mindful to look at social struggles as well as academic ones. If your child is facing a problem with one of his friends, that could be the precipice for the behavior. Even it is seems minor, it may be a major source of strain for your child.

It’s hard to remember that kids are just that — kids. We’re adults now and can handle more stressors and triggers, but our kids have yet to go through the ups and downs of life that we have. So when faced with what presents as a minor social hiccup, perhaps they aren’t as prepared as we’d like them to be because they haven’t yet had to deal with that particular situation.

A child who’s acting out in class may be masking a more serious learning difficulty.

We have to also look at the academic needs of the student. Oftentimes, the behavior is masking a more serious issue, like a learning difference.

This is a hard one because it’s not a quick fix and may very well be something the student must learn to navigate through not only in school but in life. And that’s okay.

We’ve come a long way in the way we think about learning disabilities, disorders and differences. We know that there is no one right way to learn and that standardized testing does not tell the whole story nor determine success in life. It’s still important, however, to acknowledge that there is a learning difference so that the school can put appropriate accommodations and modifications in place.

What’s Going on Internally?

Getting to the root cause of a behavior need, may uncover a learning difference, but we’ll only really have concrete evidence of that if your child is evaluated for one.

A Psychological Educational Evaluation (often called a Psycho-Ed Assessment/Eval) is conducted by the School Psychologist at the request of the parent. It is also the start of the I.E.P. process.

I recently had a parent tell me that requesting testing was initially a scary process because she didn’t know what the evaluation would reveal. By choosing to look at it as a general check-up, however, it lessened the worry and put things in perspective. If a learning difference is found and her child is able to get services through the school, then that is one more piece of the puzzle solved.

Collaboration is Key to Bridging the Gap Between Home & School

Teachers, Parents, Providers want the same thing: to solve the puzzle. We can’t do that, however, by piecemealing the process. We have to collaborate.  We must look beyond the outward behaviors to the core issues, working together to understand what’s happening at home in conjunction with what’s happening in the classroom.

To label a child a “Behavior Problem” is the equivalent of just looking at someone’s outward appearance and deciding their whole story. It’s unfair of us to do so. We won’t know the whole story until we uncover the root issue. It takes time, money, patience, and expertise. Once completed, however, we have a clearer picture of what’s really going on.

If your child is in need of behavior support or you want to find out more about services available for behavior needs, click on TerryTutors.com for more information.

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic, Behavior, Special Education Advocacy, and School Placement services. Christine truly loves helping students realize their inner potential and the possibilities that await them: “To be a part of a student’s ‘ah ha’ moment is the best feeling in the world because I know I’m helping that student build foundational confidence that will lead to a successful path, not just in school but throughout life!”

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If It Wasn’t Written, It Never Happened: Avoid This IEP Pitfall

emailThe #1 Advocacy Rule: If it wasn’t written down, it never happened.

Here are some pointers about why creating a written record of your verbal conversations with teachers, therapists, and administrators will help you avoid this major pitfall of the IEP system.

THE WHAT: Email

Email is the cleanest way to send timely communication to all parties involved in the IEP process.

  • Create a file folder in your email account dedicated to all communication concerning the IEP process.
  • Send weekly updates to providers and the school.
  • Cc all support team members on those emails so we can be on the same page. If your child was struggling with a concept during tutoring, then her teachers should know about that so he can be aware and provide additional help.
  • Remember to leave emotion out of it. When communicating with the school, you’re wearing your objective Advocate Hat right now, not your parent hat.

THE WHO: All Support Providers

Who is included on these emails? Every service provider that your child is working with, such as teachers, administrators, therapists, advocates or attorneys, tutors, behaviorists, any other support service providers who are familiar with your child’s needs and care.

THE WHY: Concise, Communicative and Congenial

The reason why we create a written record is not litigious but rather so that everyone can remain in the loop and be on the same page. Miscommunication is the downfall of so many good parent/school relationships. Your job is to build a working relationship with your child’s support team. That includes taking on the task of secretary. You are your child’s point person and in doing so you must be concise, communicative, and congenial.

E-MAIL EXAMPLE

Here’s a clear example of what your emails should look like:

To: IEP Coordinator/Point Person

Cc: Meeting Attendees (Advocate or Attorney, Teacher(s), Vice Principal, SLP/OT/PT Therapists, Resource Specialist) & Those who did not attend the meeting but are still important support providers (Private SLP/OT/PT Therapists, Psychologist or Counselor, Tutor, Behaviorist)

Subject: Meeting Recap 3/31/15 – Student A.J.

Dear Team Aiden*,

Thank you for meeting with me today to discuss my son, Aiden Johnson*, and his challenges and successes in school.  After reviewing my notes, I believe it is best to move forward with Speech Language Pathology (SLP) testing. I will be contacting the SLP on staff (she is also cc’d on this email) this week to set up a time to review Aiden’s speech challenges and my additional concerns. My goal is to help Aiden as best we can, and so I would also like to discuss how we can work with Aiden on his goals at home.

Thank you once again for your time. Looking forward to speaking with the SLP this week.

Jenny Johnson*, Aiden’s Mom

(c) 310.555.7126

(e) jennyj@email.com

*Not real name

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic, Behavior, Special Education Advocacy, and School Placement services. Christine truly loves helping students realize their inner potential and the possibilities that await them: “To be a part of a student’s ‘ah ha’ moment is the best feeling in the world because I know I’m helping that student build foundational confidence that will lead to a successful path, not just in school but throughout life!”

10 Special Ed Blogs that Make You Wanna Go “Yeah!”

special_education_blogsMy Twitter feed is on fire with some awesome blogs lately. There are so many resources out there in internet-land that I had to share a few of my favorites.

If you’re looking for a little inspiration, need to find more education, or just want to talk about your frustrations then check out these gems in the blogosphere.

 

  1. Adventures in Aspergers
  2. Autism Father Blog
  3. Autism Hippie
  4. Firefly Friends
  5. Fusion Academy
  6. Innovative Speech & Language Pathology
  7. Love That Max
  8. National Center for Learning Disabilities
  9. The Center for Well-Being
  10. Wrightslaw

For more resources take a look at our LinksWeLove or Find Us on Facebook & Twitter

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic, Behavior, Special Education Advocacy, and School Placement services.  Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com.

We Need a Learning Profile for Every Student

learning profile A recent Special Education Forum got me thinking: We need a Learning Profile for every student, not just those in special ed.

What’s a Learning Profile?

A learning profile is an overview of the recommended reasonable accommodations and modifications needed to set a student up for success. It’s traditionally used in Special Education but I believe we need one for every student, regardless of special or general education status.

Why Should a General Education Student Have a Learning Profile?

There is no one right way to learn, and therefore no one right way to teach. Just because a child doesn’t qualify or hasn’t been tested to receive services under the federally mandated Special Education programs doesn’t mean that child does not need some classroom accommodations or modifications. In fact, those are kids that may be slipping through the cracks. Those are the ones we need to pay extra close attention to because they may be struggling but no one can pinpoint why.

Learning Profile Considerations

I subscribe to Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences theory. Although learning styles and multiple intelligences are not the same,  a strength-based learning assessment will take into account the child’s multiple ways of learning and bring out those different styles of thinking by considering the following:

  • Student Classification
  • Supports Provided
  • Cognitive/Intellectual Style
  • Social/Emotional
  • Student Behaviors
  • Organization/Time Management
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Language
  • Math

We Think Differently, Therefore We Should Be Taught Differently

Lots of progressive and developmental based schools are on board with this idea: we all think differently, therefore we should all be taught differently. Traditional schools teach to the middle while progressive models teach to the individual. Yes, we all need to learn social tools to navigate societal conventions but should we all be learning just one way of doing something? Common Core is attempting to bring more project based learning into the classroom but the sheer numbers of students in a class (up to 40!) makes it a tall order for one teacher to implement. The ideal is not the same as the reality.

For my students struggling in traditional platforms, I recommend seeking out schools with a teach-to-the-individual-strength-based-learning model, like many of these I’ve visited. And if you need a little help finding the right school fit, search out a school placement service that incorporates a psychological component coupled with education advocacy, like mine here.

The way a student learns is hardwired long before they step foot into a classroom. As educators and parents, we must make sure to set them up for success by enhancing, not squashing, their natural abilities.

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Comprehensive Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic, Behavior, Special Education Advocacy, and School Placement services.  Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com.

Study Like D.J. Tanner

Full HouseOh, Full House. You have given us so very many important life lessons.

As a child of the 80’s and one of three sisters myself, I especially related to this show. See Donna Jo Tanner, D.J. as we all grew to know and love her, was the eldest just like me, and a bossy but loving older sister, just like me. She was also studious and mindful and always the diligent helper, just like me.

How You Study is Just as Important as What You Study

In the episode where Uncle Jesse is studying for his Driver’s Test, which he has previously failed a few times due to poor study habits, DJ teaches him that how you study is just as important as what you study.

Taking a lesson from my sitcom friend, here are three applicable ways to study smarter:

1. DJ Says Find a Quiet Place with Limited Distractions

In everyday life, we are constantly distracted from the task at hand. Finding a quiet place without the beep of a text message or the ring of someone’s phone is nearly impossible. Even in our homes the TV is on, someone is talking on the phone, someone is listening to music, someone is playing a video game — it’s constant noise! For a child that exhibits any tendency towards distractablity, impulsvity, has ADHD or is just hyper-sensitive to the lack of calm, drowning out the noise can prove to be extremely difficult. And less focus means less long-term memory.

DJ says sit at the table or study in a quiet place with limited distractions. This means setting up a Technology-Free Zone in your home or going to the library after school and reserving a study room. Making the extra effort as to where your child studies is key to making sure he remembers the material.

2. DJ says No Eating While Studying

DJ  makes it clear that eating while studying is a no-no. Eating before studying, however, is actually food for your stomach and your brain.

I recently took on a new student who exhibits tendencies of ADHD. He’s super smart but has the “wiggles” and finds it difficult to stay in one place for longer than 10 minutes. For example, during our one hour session, he needed to leave the room 3 times and leave his seat 4 times. Now, I’m not religious when it comes to studying at the table or sitting in a chair. Most of my students can’t tolerate sitting for a great deal of time– they need to be on the move. So we do our best to mix it up, especially when his energy engine is running low.

This kid amazes me though. He knows he has the wiggles and so instead of making a big deal about it, he is learning to use tools and strategies, like the use of a fidget, standing up when needed, sitting on a wiggle seat or a Bosu ball, and taking small, unassuming breaks, to help ease those difficult, unfocused moments.

Together, we set Academic Goals and Behavior Expectations. He thought of the expectation “To Eat Before Tutoring”.  When I prompted him as to why he replied, “Because it helps me focus.” Even at the tender age of 10, my student knows that his mind and body are connected.

DJ would be proud.

3. DJ Says No Music Too?

Here’s where DJ and I disagree a bit. (Sorry, Deege).

I think music can help a student focus better, as long as it provides a sense of calm and is set at a low decibel level where it becomes background noise instead of a dance party. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about Homework Dance Party breaks (I’m a pretty cool Tutor, after all) but when it’s time to get down to the business of studying, we gotta turn down the volume too–just a bit.

Great advice, Teacher D.J.

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Comprehensive Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student.  Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com.