In my last blog I talked about executive functioning, why this was the most important skill set for any child to have—and why children with special needs were especially at risk for not developing this particular “bag of tricks”.
If your child is having difficulty with any of the expectations in the regular education curriculum, the chances are very good that he or she is not gaining the necessary “habits of mind” that we call executive functioning.
So now the questions are: How can parents help? and What can the school do?
- First, decide with the school what the biggest problems are, at home and in school
- Agree on a plan, and write it down
- Parents should check in with teachers every week. Communication puts a floor under your child, so things don’t fall through the cracks
- In most cases, the minimum a school should do is a morning and afternoon check-in with your child, preferably with the same adult. Your child and this person should make sure the assignment book is filled out completely, and the necessary papers and books are in the backpack. The adult should communicate with parents about tests, projects, papers or long-term assignments.
- You and the school should agree on in school consequences if your child doesn’t do his or her part with good effort.
- At home—set up a consistent place for your child to work, where you can supervise. This is needed even for high school students, until they demonstrate the necessary skills. Have a calendar where you note larger assignments, tests, and projects. Note the dates when parts of these assignments are due. Hang a white board (2 foot by 3 foot size preferred) and use it to list the skills your child is working on—making a plan for the day, doing tasks in order of importance, using notes or note cards for studying, always putting completed work in the appropriate folder in their binder, checking work for accuracy, using a proofreading checklist, etc. List all the skills and goals that you and the school want your child to develop.
- Make your child do the work. He or she should tell you what work they have to complete, when it is due, what questions they have, where they are confused. Send those questions back to school to be answered.
If most of the work is getting done and being turned in on time, and your child is less confused and more organized, then the system is working. Your child will be practicing and improving the necessary “habits of mind” for effective learning. Progress may be show, but you should see growth in skills. Of course, you will need to make additions and adjustments over time.
For more ideas and suggestions, you can check out my book, No Parent Left Behind: Navigating the Special Education Universe (link), especially chapters 10 and 13. This process should be a partnership with parents, the school, and the child all working towards the same goals. Remember: parents are their child’s best advocate.