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Helping Struggling Students Who Don't Qualify for Special Services

Even if your child doesn't qualify for special education services, she may continue to struggle in school. Learn how to identify the underlying causes of her difficulty so you can support her.

By Jan Baumel, M.S.

Has the public school determined that your child doesn't have a learning disability or qualify for special education services - yet she continues to struggle in school? What can you do to help her?

Everyone struggles with learning at one time or another. Just because your child isn't eligible for special education services or a 504 Plan doesn't mean her problems aren't real. If she was assessed by the public school and didn't qualify for any special services, the good news is that her test scores show she's learning. Be sure to compliment her about the strengths and achievements her results showed. Encourage her to stay motivated, because that's the key to success.

Uncovering the Cause of Her Struggle

It may be helpful for you to determine whether any of the following factors are causing her to struggle in school:

  • She may feel overwhelmed by the amount of work expected of her or panicked about how to do her homework. Could anxiety be a factor? Emotions have a strong effect on whether a child is able to learn. Teach her ways to relax when she begins to feel anxious - count to 10, take a deep breath, practice yoga, take a break or get a drink of water - depending on whether she's at school or at home.
  • If she attends a school with many high achievers, she may struggle with the curriculum even though her test scores indicate she has average skills. This kind of competition can be frustrating and lead to feelings of inadequacy. You'll have to decide if she's in the right school for her or if a change needs to be made to protect her self-esteem.
  • Your child may feel she's the only one in the class who doesn't understand, has to work hard or spends hours on homework. Check with the teacher or other parents to see if this realistic. Examine your own expectations for her performance and decide whether she's putting unrealistic demands on herself. Let her know how proud you are of her hard work, and help her find ways to ease up on her expectations. Remind her that no one is perfect.
  • Certain grade-level transitions create a jump in expectations for kids. For example, the transition to middle school can place a strain on all kids, but if a child already has problems organizing, this transition becomes exceptionally stressful. Since academic stress points can be anticipated, you can prepare your child with necessary support and structure ahead of time.
  • Sometimes problems are specific to a subject area. A conference between you, your child and the teacher can help identify where the breakdown occurs. Does she have the necessary basic skills, understand the vocabulary, need to review the subject matter with you or a study group, need to get additional explanation from the teacher or work with a tutor? Once you get this information, you can plan ways to help her learn.

Provide Support for Your Child

It's important to let your child know that you believe in her and recognize her efforts. She needs to see you're "in her corner" - there to listen, provide support and guidance and seek help for her.

Remember that these struggles are only a part of the special and unique person she is. As her parent, you'll want to find ways to reinforce instruction, keep her motivated, lessen the pressure and celebrate her talents.

  • Help her set realistic expectations for herself.
  • Let her know that it's OK to ask for help when she doesn't understand a new concept or directions.
  • Meet with her teacher(s) and make a plan of how you can work together to help her.
  • Help her organize her materials and develop a plan for effective studying.
  • Find ways to help her with her homework.
  • If necessary, provide academic support programs outside of school hours, such as tutoring or peer study groups.
  • If necessary to help her deal with anxiety and unrealistic expectations, seek counseling.
  • Identify her strengths and interests and encourage her to continue building them.

Jan Baumel, M.S., Licensed Educational Psychologist, spent 35 years in education as a teacher, school psychologist, and special education administrator before joining Schwab Learning. Today she is a consultant to local school districts and university field supervisor for student teachers.

Comments from readers

"This is an interesting site and I still visit it even though my student is in a different school district now. I have a high school student that has continuing problems with organization,stress, anxiety and ADD/Hd. It is really hard for the teachers and students to give/get help needed when have special needs all because of the stress put on the TAKS testing. Listen to your child and take time to stay in contact with the school even if it means going against their findings. You know your child best. When they tke away special education assistance ask for a 504 meeting. More than likely no one will tell you that this option is available, which can still give the student help in aeas of concern needed."
"What about the new RTI (response to intervention) model? My understanding is that they don't test students anymore but just give suggestions about how the child should improve. It seems like you have to wait until the child fails before they will do anything. My son has a 'probable' dysgraphia, but no one is willing to call it that and they don't want to service him- only give suggestions for the classroom teacher. They have never even met him (he goes to a private school)! Quite frankly, the classroom teacher better suggestions than the OT or resource teacher do. RTI acutally makes it more difficult for my child to get the help I know he needs!"