If your child has consistently experienced difficulty with learning and schoolwork, you may be wondering if you are doing something wrong. You may even have asked yourself whether you are not using the right “learning style,” or maybe the child needs a different teacher! Let me offer some reassurance! After helping hundreds of homeschool families, I have found the parent is almost never the primary cause for a child’s learning struggles!
Perhaps your child may be curriculum disabled! By that, I mean that his struggle may be due to poor curriculum design or inadequate teaching materials! Not all books and materials marketed to homeschool families are well designed or logically organized. Some texts don’t even teach the foundational skills your child needs to move ahead. So, ask yourself: Does your child’s textbook present information in a well-sequenced way? Does it jump from topic to topic? Do the math or vocabulary books overemphasize drill or fail to provide for effective kinds of practice? Remember that even if a particular program worked splendidly for one child, that program could be a cause of some problems for another. If so, consider trying a different curriculum or program. Visit my website www.helpinschool.net to find out more about choosing a curriculum that is appropriate for your child. You can also learn more about how to make adaptations to problematic texts.
Once you have ruled out the curriculum as a cause for learning problems, it’s time to look at your child. Maybe the child has learning disabilities, but there may also be other factors that affect educational and social development: diet, environmental toxins, allergies, emotional issues, and/or immaturity. Let’s start with basic physical factors that impact learning: vision and hearing. Have you had them checked? Hearing is as critical as good eyesight to develop fluent language and communication skills. Your child may need corrective eyeglasses, but not all vision problems arise from poor acuity. Practitioners know that students with dyslexia complain of fuzzy text, shifting letters, and other visual irregularities — even with 20/20 eyesight. Occasionally, eye doctors link reading delays to weak visual tracking. You need to know that research consistently shows that vision therapy is not a “cure” for dyslexia. The most significant reading problems arise from deficits in how the brain processes sound-to-symbol relationships.
Do you notice problems with communication? It encompasses more than the child’s ability to hear, speak and attend to spoken language. There are three primary types of language deficits. Expressive language delays make it hard for the child to retrieve a particular word, or to put ideas into words, oral or written. Receptive language delays make it hard for the child to acquire new information or to understand what is read or heard. These make it hard for the child to remember new information. Social language deficits refer to the brain’s interpreting how something is said versus what is said. These are deficits are the non-verbal aspects of most communication: facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures, and recognizing the appropriate physical space between two speakers. Children on the autism spectrum often have challenges in social language.
Language or communication deficits spill over into every area of the child’s world, because language is at the heart of most academic work: reading, listening, remembering new information, and following multi-step directions. Delays in communication also make it more difficult to master writing, spelling, and reading. Such deficits also affect behavior. Children with language processing deficits often display unprovoked outbursts, frustration, inattention, or fail to answer questions appropriately. The child may seem disobedient or forgetful – but he may be doing his very best to understand what you want from him! If your child passed a hearing screening and yet displays similar behaviors, consider that it may be your child’s brain does not have the ability to process or keep up with what his ears can clearly hear.
If you suspect a language-based delay, it is critical to seek outside help or testing at an early age. Research consistently shows that earlier interventions bring better long-term learning outcomes for the child. For children on the autism spectrum there is even more emphasis on the earliest possible intervention with markedly better outcomes when therapies have begun early. Unfortunately, many homeschool families prefer to “wait and see” when a child cannot communicate well in the early years or is delayed in learning to read. Do not wait to seek professional help.
I have spoken with many parents who fear that a child will be labeled if he gets tested. Thorough testing does not generate a label – it gives a diagnosis! Once you have a diagnosis, you will understand your child’s needs and know how to help! Keep in mind that the time you spend waiting means your child has missed opportunities for learning!
It will help if you compare your child’s present skills against one of many developmental checklists available from a pediatrician, books, or online inventories. Whatever you choose, use that checklist to create an objective inventory of your child’s present strengths and weaknesses – subject by subject. Try to be as thorough as possible. Small details are often of great significance to an evaluator or professional, since they lead to insights that may be very important. Focus primarily on oral and written language, math and reading. You will have a much better idea about whether your child needs outside help.
Perhaps, you have realized it is time to get professional help! So, what happens next? Ask your local homeschooling community for their recommendations of a homeschool-friendly educational consultant. You may need a referral from your pediatrician to have insurance coverage for outside professionals to do comprehensive testing. Once you contact a professional to evaluate your child, he or she will ask about your child’s educational and medical history, including birth complications, childhood illnesses or emotional trauma, early learning behaviors, and social skills. You will be asked to describe the specific academic behaviors that cause you particular concern. Here is where your objective inventory can be invaluable.
After compiling the background information, the professional will administer a battery of diagnostic tests and observe how your child performs specific tasks or answers standardized test items. Since you know your child best, and you should ask the Lord for wisdom as you interpret what you learn. The professional should make recommendations for your child’s educational program.
Judi Munday has a heart to equip, educate and encourage parents of children with special-needs. She earned her M.Ed. degree at the University of Illinois in 1968 in special education for culturally disadvantaged preschool children. In 1985, she earned a second Masters degree at Regent University in Virginia Beach VA, where she focused her study on specific learning disabilities. After almost 15 years of teaching in Christian schools and in the mission field of public schools, she started her own business in 1999, HIS Place for Help in School. For the last 16 years, Judi has served homeschool families of child with special needs. She offers diagnostic testing and consultation for parents (in person or by telephone.) With her husband as webmaster, she maintains an informational website, www.helpinschool.net where parents can find practical, evidence-based teaching strategies. Judi has been married to John for 51 years, and they blessed to be grandparents of ten homeschooled grandchildren, ages 9 – 19.
Judi has just written a new book especially for homeschooling families. Teaching a Child with Special Needs at Home and at School: Strategies and Tools that Really Work! She shares practical, easy-to-use teaching strategies and tips that make teaching more effective and help students to progress. It’s available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the publisher, WestBow Press.
(This post has affiliate links.)