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Learning Disabilities in Middle School

Smooth the path to middle school for a child with learning challenges.
 

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Freak the Mighty
by Rodman Philbrick
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The transition to middle school can be overwhelming for any student, but for a child who has been diagnosed with learning disabilities, the move is often especially traumatic. Here's how to help your child adapt, while readying yourself and the school staff too:

Prepare Yourself:

  • Understand how middle school is different. Instead of one teacher, your child will have several, each with different styles and expectations. There will be more varied assignments, increased homework, and less individual attention.
  • Know what services are available. Meet with the district's committee on special education to firm up accommodations. (Ideally, this meeting would take place in the spring before school begins, but if you miss that timeframe, schedule a meeting later; you and your child will still benefit.)
  • Establish a support system. Find a liaison at the school — like a resource room teacher or counselor — who can communicate with the teachers and make sure appropriate services are being provided. Other parents can be your allies too.

 

Prepare Your Child:

  • Talk about the transition. Explain what to expect, and ask your child what she's excited and scared about. Reflect on the academic strategies that worked in elementary school, and reassure your child that there will still be support in place to help her achieve.
  • Foster self-advocacy. Go over the IEP (individualized education plan) with your child, so he understands what he is entitled to, and teach him how to advocate for himself. If the teacher forgets to seat him in the front, your child must remind her. If he needs more time to write down the homework assignment before the teacher erases it from the board, he must let her know. Support your child, without doing too much for him.
  • Visit the school. Even if your child already toured the middle school, visit again right before the new school year begins. This gives her a chance to try out her locker, walk the halls with schedule in hand, and check out classrooms. Sometimes teachers will be there setting up, so your child can say hello.
  • Organize your child for success. Typically, kids with learning disabilities have trouble organizing schoolwork and belongings, and struggle with multiple sets of instructions. Set up systems to help manage the vast amount of learning materials. Start with the locker. A hanging shelf keeps things tidy. Color-coded notebooks and matching folders (for example, blue for science, yellow for social studies) can also prevent papers from going astray.
  • Set up a homework routine. If the school doesn't provide your child with a planner or agenda, get one and review it together every night. (If handwriting is an issue, make sure there's ample space for writing everything in.) Supervise homework time, but don't do your child's work. If you find yourself providing a significant amount of help with homework, let the teacher know. 

 

Prepare the School:

  • Call a meeting at the beginning of the year. Around the second week, ask the school counselor to arrange a meeting with you and the teachers in one room. Introduce yourself to everyone, and share your child's strengths and weaknesses in a friendly, collaborative way. Bring along a summary of the IEP, highlighting the most important accommodations and strategies, as well as samples of work that reveal his challenges.
  • Keep the lines of communication open. Continue corresponding with teachers throughout the year by e-mail or phone. Also schedule periodic follow-ups with your special-ed liaison to stay updated on progress. And keep talking with your child about her accomplishments and remaining struggles. With teamwork, and plenty of encouragement, you'll smooth the middle school transition, and empower your child to achieve all she's capable of.

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