Most of us know when we’re coming down with a cold—we recognize the symptoms. If I’m getting lost (happens to me all the time!), I get this “uh-oh” feeling in my stomach—a clear sign that I need to get some better directions. So, how can parents tell if their child is “coming down” with a problem in school? What are the symptoms?
First, don’t let anyone tell you that “you can’t tell, because they’re too young”. Unless your child has been living in a cave with no stimulation, or is under age 3, there are definitely going to be signs of a possible problem. Signs that a parent can notice, monitor, and have evaluated, so their child can get the right help at the youngest possible age.
What are these symptoms? In my practice, especially with children ages 4-9, I’m looking at 4 key areas:
- Language (expressive and receptive)
- Memory (auditory and visual)
- Attention span (persistence, focus, activity level)
- Fine motor skills (copying, drawing, writing)
When a child shows problems with age-level performance in these areas, it is almost certain that he or she will struggle with preschool expectations, early school learning, and social success. This is a “cluster of symptoms” that I point out to parents. In many cases, parents have noticed the same difficulties that I see in testing. These are the problems I discuss in school meetings, when I ask for speech and occupational therapy services, classroom accommodations, increased practice and review of material using multisensory techniques, a “quiet space” for a child to work, or more direct, simple language when teaching this child.
Always remember my “golden rule”–Parents are the experts on their children.
If your child is having difficulty in 3 or 4 of these areas, you need some data. Write down how many words they use, if they struggle with grammar or word order in sentences, if they can’t “pull” the right word from memory, if they can’t remember facts or information that you present a number of times (letters, days of the week, their address or phone number), if they struggle to focus on most tasks (everyone can focus on a really desirable activity such as a video game), if they avoid cutting and coloring, or if they have no interest in learning to write letters.
Keep track…and then consult a professional. The sooner your child is seen for the right evaluations, the sooner he or she can start getting appropriate help and closing the gaps. I recommend a pediatrician, therapist, or specialty professional for the best results. In many cases, schools will suggest that this is merely a “developmental problem” that will “go away”. In my experience, this is very rarely the case.
The sooner parents can get the right help for their child, the easier it will be for the child to develop the necessary skills for success in school and social areas. Trust your instincts, get some data, and if you see something, say something. Your child is depending on you.
As always, please share comments or questions about this blog.