If you’ve been in a classroom, you’ve heard it: Every child is unique. The other day, I was at my hair salon, listening to my friends get in an intense discussion about the learning challenges their kids faced. They all came back to one sticking point: How can schools pigeonhole every child with a learning challenge in remedial education classes?
Remedial education programs provide academic support, but subject matter is rarely the root of the issue. Something as small as time management, an executive functioning task, may be the reason a student can’t seem to stay on top of her math homework. Poor scores on group projects may have little to do with the topic and more to do with underdeveloped social skills.
The problem, however, is that most parents don’t know where to start in remedying those issues. Watching your child struggle — and not having a ready resource — is painful. What do you do when straightforward solutions don’t seem to be helping?
Learning What to Look For
Learning challenges are far from one-size-fits-all. From ADHD treatment to procrastination therapies, learning programs must be tailored to students’ needs. Here are some of the options my friends discussed that could be helpful for any parent:
1. Inattention: A focus on cognitive processing
Rarely does a typical tutor or classroom teacher dig into why children with attentional deficits are struggling. Gaps in a student’s cognitive processing skills can reduce attention and focus, resulting in poor test scores or forgotten assignments. Tutoring programs attempt to address the symptoms of these challenges, not their underlying causes.
Attention development programs offer a long-term option that isn’t a prescription. Some, like Axiom Learning’s LEAP 3.0, recognize that before students can progress in academic subjects, they have to overcome their cognitive processing challenges. For students with ADHD, in particular, gaps in working memory, visual processing, decoding, or logic and reasoning may be to blame.
2. Procrastination: Executive functioning assistance
It may be tempting to attribute a student’s procrastination problem to laziness, but there’s usually more going on behind the scenes. Often, a lack of confidence or time management skills may be to blame. As with attention issues, those tend to bleed into academic performance: For procrastinators, getting started on homework is a daily battle that can take as much time as the homework itself.
Again, the answer isn’t to throw pharmaceuticals or tutors at the problem. Instead, try an executive coach. Beyond BookSmart and programs like it help students from grade school through college get organized, set their own schedule, and develop a sense of independence. Although online programs are available, students who put things off often need the accountability of an in-person coach.
3. Social skills: Cognitive behavioral and peer therapy
Social isolation or incompetence may show up as academic, behavioral, or emotional issues. Because neither parents nor teachers are part of students’ social networks, however, social problems can be difficult to diagnose. Look for challenges with nonverbal communication and emotional regulation. Is the student prone to lashing out at peers? Does he regularly misread facial expressions?
Amanda Morin, an author, former teacher, and intervention specialist at Understood.org, suggests three approaches for students who lack social skills: cognitive behavioral therapy, speech therapy, and peer pairings. Therapists can teach children social skills via role-playing and conversation practice, while student partnerships enable those with weaker social skills to model their peers’ behavior.
Classroom teachers try their best, but they’re not always equipped to support students with learning challenges. Although operational and social skills are critical, they can’t be taught the same way as academic subjects. Material customized to your student’s needs is the smartest, safest way to get your child back on track.