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Expert Q&A

How can you get the school system to help a child who is doing well now, but needs intervention to prevent failure next year?

My son is 10 years old and soon to start the fifth grade. In early 2007, he was diagnosed with mild learning disabilities, specifically with a phonemic awareness deficit and short-term memory deficit. It was also suggested that he perhaps has some trouble with CAP, but that no one in this area does this type of testing. His public school can do nothing for him because his intelligence was at a low-average to average level and compared to his academic output, there was not a significant gap between the two.

He makes a few A’s, mostly B’s and some C’s. He loves to learn new things about the world; however, he is increasingly frustrated with the demands of higher elementary school. He is doing as well as he is in school because I work with him so much after school. His teachers try to help in the class as much as they can, but with almost 30 kids, it is impossible. I am concerned that he requires so much help now and wonder how we will get through middle school next year when the teachers won’t be so helpful.

I am returning to school to finish my master’s degree and will not be available to help him as much. His counselor said we might need to retest him in middle school if his problems become worse because by then, he might be more than a few grade levels behind instead of the one he is now. He would then most likely qualify for special education and an IEP.

It doesn’t end here…my son also was born with congenital heart defects and almost lost his life this past year due to his heart issues. However, with everyone’s preserverance, he has recovered wonderfully. The point is, my son wants to lead a full life, but that full life may be shortened unfortunately by his medical condition. I can’t let him get two or more levels behind. He wants to go to college and do so much more.

Is there anything else that I should be doing? What else can I do to help him? Anyone else I should contact? Any tips on how to help him be a successful reader, speller and writer? Why must my son get two or more grades behind before anyone will help him? It frustrates me and disgusts me to no end that our schools are failing the kids that need them the most.

Anyone can teach a bunch of straight A students. You know, the ones that don’t even need a teacher and would do fine on their own. To be a true teacher they must be able to connect with and teach our kids who are having trouble in school; that is the true art and science of teaching. The trouble is finding one of those rare teachers.

Thank You,

Your son is lucky to have you as his mother. You have been there to help and you are not ready to accept what the school is saying. It sounds as if the school is saying that only if you stop helping him so much at home and you let him fail, will he be eligible for help.

Public schools often use a “wait to fail” model for providing help. “Your son has to be two standard deviations behind before he is eligible for services.” This is wrong, but it is not uncommon to be used to avoid services. If you can afford to do it financially, seek a comprehensive private evaluation. Get another opinion on where he is and what he needs. (If you cannot afford to do this, seek out a private educational consultant to review the school evaluations and to advise you.) Start an appeal process and use good consultants to help you fight.

You need to be an informed and assertive advocate for your son. Seek help from a private consultant to help you do this. (Ask friends who they have used. Or, go to the website of Learning Disabilities Association of America , then click on your state, which is on the left side of the site. Find out the name of the State chapter of this organization. Contact them and ask for names of advocates in your areas.

Good luck and don’t give up.

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