Learning Disabled Children: How to Survive High School
Elementary School and the Learning Disabled Child
The transition to high school for many children with learning disabilities creates a sense of foreboding. Contrarily, elementary school for most kids has a comfort level that develops over long term involvement with the same school.
- It involves one core teacher who monitors the student’s progress and who can usually quickly notice if the child is sinking or swimming academically.
- A rapport often develops between all students and their core teacher making it easier for the LD child's specific academic needs to be met.
- The student has often been with the same group of students for many years and has a number of comfortable relationships or at least is comfortable with the personalities in the class.
- If the child has an Individual Education Plan (IEP), it is much easier, with one teacher involved, to have the conditions of learning set out within this document followed properly.
My son Connor had a positive experience in grade seven once his IEP was developed. He received a lap top with various assistive software programs including Work Cue for spelling and Inspiration for mind mapping and organizing ideas. His teachers, for the next two years of elementary school, respected well the accommodations within his IEP. They were extremely helpful when he experienced difficulty and he learned to ask them questions or express his needs when an issue arose. As his mother, I also learned to advocate for my son when necessary but I encouraged him to be his own advocate when he could. Sometimes that meant holding my tongue when mama bear wanted so badly to intervene.
- However, encouraging self-advocacy was, I believe the greatest skill he acquired.
- Becoming comfortable with and using his assistive technology was the also an important skill he acquired.
Did you struggle with a learning challenge when you were in high school?
If you answered yes to the above poll, what kind of learning challenge did you deal with?
High School and the Learning Disabled Child
Connor is now in Grade 11 and working on University level courses in the Math and Science stream. He recently spoke to some kids taking a special program SoAR (Some Assembly Required) offered by our local learning disabilities association in Peterborough (LDAP). This program assists elementary aged students in grades 7 and 8 get ready for the transition into high school. He was asked to participate in this discussion as a student who has utilized the services of the LDAP and is showing great success in high school. I didn’t realize at the time how fearful Connor was about his first days in high school. He had many concerns at the time.
- High school means dealing with four to eight teachers at a time depending on the school structure. In Ontario, most schools are on a semester system meaning the students take only four classes each semester.
- Teachers are required to follow a child’s IEP in high school but the same rapport with the teachers does not usually develop during a 72 minute daily period.
- High school is a much more independent environment.
- Self-advocacy becomes much more important in the high school environment.
- Every teacher must be approached to get the extra time for assignments if that is a condition of the child’s IEP.
- The child’s peer group varies for each class and many new faces are met which can be overwhelming for many LD kids.
- Multiple classrooms must be reached and often within a very short time frame and assignments must be handed in on agreed upon due dates without the expectation that each teacher will provide multiple reminders of due dates.
All of the above can be extremely overwhelming for a child dealing with the transition to high school while also dealing with the difficulties inherent in a learning disability
Strategies for Making the First Days of High School Less Stressful
- Make sure you visit your high school before the first day of school. It may be a pre-arranged visit with your grade eight class or an arranged personal visit. You will be nervous on the first day no matter what you do but knowing the lay out of the school and visiting all of your classrooms will reduce your tension.
Strategies for the LD High School Student that help Reduce Work and Test Writing Stress
- Plan on joining at least one sport or extracurricular activity each year. You make connections with other students who have similar interests and you develop a special rapport or connection with at least one teacher who is the coach or supervisor of the activity. Also, most LD students need a physical outlet outside of the classroom to let off steam or to provide a change of pace within the school from the rigours of class work.
- Get a tutor if that option is available to you. Connor has received tutoring from our local LDAP since he was in grade four. One semester, he decided not to attend tutoring and found he missed the support. Tutors are a fantastic one-one support. Many local learning disability offices have programs that provide low cost tutoring and programs for LD students. Connor uses his tutor as a sounding board for help with homework, essay writing, and studying for tests. His tutor is invaluable for helping him proof and fine-tune his English essays (essay writing is his weak spot) before they are handed in.
- Do not be shy or apprehensive about leaving the classroom to write a quiz or assignment or to admit that you need the help. Again, you are responsible for your own success and if writing tests using assistive technology with extra time will help then do it to succeed. Connor does not find any negative repercussions from any class-mates in receiving the accommodations he finds help him succeed. That of course is not to say it will never happen that an unkind comment will come your way, but your confidence in your own learning style tends to reduce or eliminate the criticism from the occasional peer.
Strategies for the LD Child When Dealing with Teachers
- Make sure you speak to each teacher at the beginning of each semester and make sure they know you have an IEP (if you have one). You are your own best advocate to make sure the teacher follows the accommodations in that document. And it is a legal document! This is the first step in becoming responsible for your own success and in becoming a strong self-advocate for yourself.
- It is very important to talk to your teachers in a respectful manner when you have a question about any part of the course work or concepts being taught. Again,you are your own best advocate. Teachers are appreciative of a student who shows a willingness to learn and succeed. They are there to answer your questions about any part of the course. If you feel your test or quiz or assignment has parts marked incorrectly ask about it. You deserve every mark you have earned. Teachers are not infallible and most are willing to admit to that if approached in a respectful manner.
- If you find yourself getting behind in an assignment or you know you will need extra time to get it done, go right away to your subject teacher and ask for an extension. Most teachers are reasonable but all will expect you to act responsibly and ask for the extension ahead of time.
- If your IEP allows for extra time to write tests, again ask your teacher for the accommodation ahead of time. You will learn what subjects give you more trouble and for which ones testing is more difficult. For many kids with LD, English tests require the extra time. You may have the option of writing your test using the program Kurzweil which reads the questions to you making the test easier to navigate. It takes time for the resource department to get the test loaded onto the program so it is imperative to ask well ahead of time.
- One of Connor’s latest difficulties includes how to best approach a short answer question. It is often difficult to judge how much information should be included and it can differ from teacher to teacher. He has sought help in this area from his teachers and also from his tutor. So again, ask if you are experiencing difficulty. Again, in high school you are responsible, to a much larger degree, for your own success.
Organizational Techniques for the Learning Disabled High School Student
- Keep an agenda or wall calendar to record all of your assignment due dates. Connor keeps a white board wall calendar in his room. He uses it to record all assignment and test dates to keep on top of work coming up so he can pace himself and so they get handed in on time. Most LD kids, including Connor, can only work for short periods at a time. It is a bad idea to let assignments pile up and create the long working hours required to catch up.
- Keep notes organized. Connor was finding that a binder was not working for him. Pages became loose and were lost or became disorganized. (Most LD kids struggle with organization). This semester, Connor got spiral notebook for notes in each class and he uses one binder in which to keep tests, quizzes and hand-outs for all classes. He is much more organized this semester.
Studying Strategies for the LD High School Student
- Read over course notes on evenings when your homework load is light. Highlight information that the teacher appears to focus on. You will be more prepared for tests and studying will be easier.
- Do your homework every night. Do not leave it for another day. It will pile up and create longer working hours later in the week, months or year and the stress will accumulate. Getting your homework done on time also makes tests easier to study for.
- One of the more difficult accomplishments of high school is learning how to study for and write a final exam. Being prepared for an entire semester of work is daunting to those writing their first exams. Keep your notes organized. If unit tests and quizzes are returned and you are allowed to keep them, make sure they are organized in your binder or kept in a file folder in your desk or file cabinet. Keeping your notes organized and up to date will also be a fantastic asset for final exam time.
- When studying, have a parent or friend ask you questions to test your recall. Use old tests and quizzes as study guides. If you are lucky, the teacher may provide an exam review. If so, use it!
- Never think that you do not have to study for math! Redo questions from old tests and quizzes, especially those that were repeated often and those you had trouble with. Make sure you understand the process of all formulas and steps in solving the problems.
- Use the program Inspiration or another mind-mapping program to create links between ideas in each chapter. This method is very useful in science, geography and history. Information that is organized visually is for most LD kids an effective way of remembering facts and processes.
Most of the above advice came from Connor's meeting with a group of kids transitioning to high school. He has used many strategies over his 2½ years in secondary school. The ones listed above have proven the most valuable. As he proceeds through the next couple of years I'm sure he'll gain more skills and strategies that I can add on to the above list so they can be passed on to other learning different students like himself. It is possible for the learning disabled child to succeed in high school and beyond. It takes a lot of hard work and sweat and sometimes tears due to the frustration of seeing others succeed so much easier in terms of time and effort. Be brave and realize that the skills of hard work you learn in high school will carry you through to your post-secondary dreams whether it be the workplace, a college diploma or a university degree. You can be successful! Connor is enjoying a great deal of success right now. I hope these strategies help you in attaining your goals and dreams.
What are Learning Disabilities? Check out other Hubs on the subject.
- What are Learning Disabilities and Learning to Live with Them: My Son's Story
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