SPECIAL EDUCATION from Overlake Hospital
By Adam Wallas, Christopher Hibbeln and Greg Frentzen, Overlake Hospital Medical Center’s Specialty School
As parents, we naturally want our children to succeed. Since school is their “job” for the first third of their lives, we often look at their performance in school as a general measure of success. We know our children will have school challenges from time to time, but for some students, the challenges become more routine than occasional and parents may not know when or where to look for answers or support. Fortunately, there are many ways parents can help students get back on track and there are schools designed for students who may need a change in approach and environment.
Children often display warning signs when they have problems at school and parents need to know to look for these and patterns of misbehavior. At school, teachers may report changes in behavior, including isolation, few friends, missed assignments, truancy, aggression toward others and impulsive actions.
At home, some typical warning signs of behavioral issues in children include difficulty completing homework or chores, managing disappointment, blaming others for their own actions and understanding cause and effect. If you can predict these types of misbehavior in your child and a pattern has been established, it may be time to seek help or make a change.
A first step may be to evaluate the relationship dynamic between you and your and child. What happens when your child misbehaves or refuses to accept their responsibilities? If what you’re doing isn’t helping, maybe it’s time to evaluate your parenting skills or see what’s working for other parents. Parents can find helpful classes and books like the “Love and Logic” series. “Love and Logic” teaches parents to allow their children to experience and learn from the natural consequences of their actions, and to use positive reinforcement when children exhibit desired behaviors. In addition to learning new skills, parents may also consider family counseling. This can be especially beneficial if the relationship is fractured, or if you feel you’ve tried just about everything.
It’s also critical that parents advocate for their child in school. If the existing classroom situation isn’t working, parents and teachers should work together to develop an alternate plan. Ask your child’s teacher or principal what other options may exist in the district. There may be special education programs or alternative 504-plan schools that can better help the child get back on track. Parents can also request the school district to provide psychological evaluations to determine emotional or behavioral deficits that may be better addressed in another classroom or school. Make sure you exhaust these free resources.
Often we see parents at the Specialty School when they have exhausted the possibilities within their home school and district. We provide a lifeline for these families as we offer a new environment for their children along with support and guidance for parents and families.
Since we have a low student-to-teacher ratio, we are able to focus on each child’s current abilities and the activities he or she enjoy doing. This allows students to establish a positive experience and success with school—often the first positive school experience they’ve had in a very long time. They often respond immediately and positively to the new environment of acceptance.
Of course, they continue to act out on occasion, but we explain the logical consequences of their actions or ask them to predict the consequences. In short, we don’t give misbehavior much attention. We save the attention and excitement for the desirable behaviors and achievements.
In this therapeutic environment, students learn functional, social and behavioral skills. We also work with districts to keep students on track academically. Our students may spend anywhere from six months to three years here, but the goal is always to return to their home school if possible.
Parenting is the toughest job we have and the most rewarding. It’s our job to notice when our children are struggling and without blaming, to help them find a solution. There is help and support for students and parents both at home and at school programs. Just as parents must step up and advocate for their children when needed, they must also step up and ask for help for themselves.