Tricky Balance

April 30, 2012 by · 10 Comments 

Lately I have had balance on my mind.  I am thinking of the difficult balance between a parent’s desire to protect a child and the child’s normal desire to be more independent.  This balance is more tricky when with an atypical child — whether due to ADD, learning disability, or Asperger Syndrome. Now add the child’s normal desire to be more independent in middle school and the significant increase in the complexity of work in middle school, and you have a situation that can become a crisis.

The challenges of sixth grade are quite significant for these children.   There is always a long and complicated research project that involves learning many new skills.  For children who have difficulty organizing time, materials and ideas, such projects can be overwhelming. Even the “typical” children are quite challenged.

For many children this situation triggers anxiety and poor coping strategies, such as denial, not asking for help, procrastination and “fibbing” about the work to be done.  Parents may find out rather late in the game that work is missing and be shocked by poor quiz grades.  Yet at this age children often bristle at the suggestion that their parents become more involved in their homework.

What is to be done?  When parents and teachers can work together respectfully and get input from the students, they can often devise systems that allow enough independence to for the students’ comfort and yet don’t leave them with so little supervision that they get way behind before they know it.  Some people refer to this as scaffolding.  You set up an arrangement in which the student has some choices but not too many.

A good learning center teacher can go over assignments with a student before she leaves school for the day so she can be sure to have the materials she needs.  Little by little she can take more responsibility for this.  For instance, she might begin to write down her own assignments and pack up her own bag, but check with the teacher before leaving school.

At home some children need their parents to go over the assignments and help them to plan their time in order to get everything done.  In time the student will be able to take responsibility for this.  This monitoring needs to be done with patience and respect.  It is important for parents to give students the benefit of the doubt when they overlook details.  Children want to succeed.  A blaming or “gotcha” attitude will lead to secrecy and deceit.  No one likes to be made to feel ashamed.

In some families the parent child relationship becomes so frayed that parents cannot be helpful in this regard.  In these situations I recommend that families who can afford it hire an organizational tutor to help teach a child the tools she needs to manage this new workload.  This protects the child from the potential shame about having her parents see her mess up and allows her to grow into independence her parents will be proud of.

Giving students more responsibility little by little means that there will be times that they miss homework assignments or get low grades on quizzes.  Unless this is a regular problem, these occurrences are learning opportunities for your child.  It could be useful to be curious about these problems and wonder how they could be avoided, but it is not useful to blame — either the student or the teachers.  Sometimes the best of students forget assignments or bomb quizzes.


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What About College?

April 25, 2012 by · 8 Comments 

I find that college planning is on many parents’ minds even before junior year in high school.  When parents receive diagnosis of a learning disability, ADHD or Asperger Syndrome, the meaning of doing well in school needs to be redefined.  It is no longer, “Just work harder.”  Now it means find out how your child learns, and work with the school to make sure he gets what he needs. Often the school and family situation gets very painful before proper services are in place.  The family is in a crisis, and parents ask questions like, “Will he be able to live on his own?”  “Will he go to college?”

For many students the answer is yes, but the path to college and eventual independence might be different for your child. As the pressure and the competition build among students and parents, it is helpful if parents can link with other families who are having to “think outside the box”  about this next step.  It is helpful to involve yourself with organizations that provide education and advocacy.  In New England one such organization is the Aspergers Association of New England (AANE).  In fact, in two weeks AANE is sponsoring a daylong conference entitled “Success After High School.”  Another such organization in New England is the Federation for Children with Special Needs (FCSN).  They also provide education for students and parents on planning for transition out of high school.

Before they have actually faced the college application process, many parents and students assume that everyone applies and goes to a four year college.  In fact, there are as many ways to make this next step as there are people.  A colleague of mine learned when his son and friends were applying to college to ask “What will Sam be doing next year?”  rather than, “Where is Sam going to college?”  This avoided embarrassing the students who were not taking the “typical path.”

If your child will be taking the SAT or ACT, make sure that you help him or her obtain testing accommodations if possible.  The requirements have tightened up.  You will need to submit data from recent neuropsychological testing.  It is worthwhile, though, so that your child’s intelligence shows through rather than the ways he learns and tests differently from his typical peers.  You will also need this testing for your child to request accommodations in college.

When you are looking for schools, look for those that have strong academic supports for students with learning disabilities.  There is actually a Peterson’s guide to Colleges for Students with Learning Disabilities or ADHD .  It explains about different services available in different colleges. There is a tremendous range from the schools that offer peer tutoring to anyone who asks to those with specific services for qualifying students and finally those whose whole mission is to provide higher education to students with learning disabilities.

Often I find that students who have significant learning disabilities are also less confident and more dependent on their families.  They may need to make the shift to greater independence in smaller steps.  Some start out at a community college nearby so they can live at home.  Some might live away, but stay fairly close to home.  Some start out at a school with a great amount of structure and support for students with learning disabilities, but once they get their “sea legs” for college, they can transfer to a more challenging  school with less academic support.

A useful book about this process is Learning Outside the Lines by Mooney, Cole and Hallowell.  In this book the first two authors describe their quite checkered careers in high school and first two years of college, due to their ADHD for one and LD for the other.  They met when they both transferred to Brown University as juniors.  The second half of the book gives their very practical recommendations for managing college work when you have a disability.

All through the process it is so helpful to remember that you and your child are looking for the higher education experience that is right for him or her.  The US News and World Report ratings of schools are not all that useful in this regard, though your neighbors might be quoting the rankings.  A good fit for your child will help your child develop into the independent young adult you want to see.  Good luck!


Click here to sign up for my newsletter, Parents’ Corner, and receive my free report on how to improve morning routine with children who have ADHD, Asperger Syndrome, or other executive function deficits:  Smoothing Out Your Morning.

Photo credit:  dailymatador on Flickr