What comes to mind when you think of school? The traditional reading, writing and arithmetic are still present, but kids need more than those skills to be successful in school. Do your children face school with the usual feelings of “It’s ok” or do they seem to dread it? Depending on many factors, including skills in executive functioning and communication, school can be a fun time spent learning with friends or a time of torture if you can’t successfully navigate the waters.
What does it really take to succeed in school? Of course, it changes from grade to grade as the expectations increase, but the basics are actually simple to describe. Unfortunately, it is becoming harder and harder for many students to make the grade.
Executive functioning (EF) is basically the ability to plan and execute complex tasks. It involves the ability to attend, to plan, to organize information, to encode and recall data and to problem-solve, including considering the efficacy of your solutions and coming up with a plan B. Some medical diagnoses that impact executive functioning are Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), and mental health challenges such as depression and anxiety.
Ways that you might see EF challenges in school are:
The student who misses directions and either sits there, confused and not completing work, or has to ask a friend what the directions were, potentially getting spoken to by his teacher for either scenario.
The student who often doesn’t pass in homework, either forgetting to bring it home, or completing it but not putting it is his folder or backpack, or taking it to school but somehow not getting it into the teachers' inbox.
The student who knows the answers and calls out to share them, then has to stay in for recess because the teacher already told her five times to raise her hand.
The high school student who is aware that she has a 3 page paper due next week, and has had the assignment for a week already, but can’t seem to get started.
Communication skills involve the ability to understand and use language to share information. To be an effective communicator, you need to have the muscular strength and coordination to produce speech sounds, the knowledge of age-appropriate vocabulary, sentence structure, and language concepts, the ability to know when to use all of those words and with whom. As students get older, communication demands also include the ability to express your knowledge in an organized and well-written fashion. Communication disorders may be seen in such situations as:
The 2nd grade student who grabs instead of asking. Most students learn to share and ask in preschool or kindergarten. Perhaps this student really doesn't understand the social rules or simply doesn’t have the words to use to ask.
The student who is listening to the book being read aloud in class but doesn't have an answer to the teacher’s question about the main characters or main idea. The teacher may assume that he doesn't know the answer, or doesn't want to participate, when in reality, he is a student who needs more time to formulate the language he is going to use.
The middle and high school students whose written language is either shorter and more simple than is expected or does not fully answer the question asked.
Students of all ages who have a tough time making friends because they don’t understand the hidden rules of conversations and the social scene.
What Can Be Done?
For these and many other students, school is a challenge. If a child's experience in school leads him to the thought that learning is hard and school isn't fun, it can impact his self-esteem and his desire for lifelong learning. Luckily, there is much that can be done in an attempt to keep students with learning challenges engaged and feeling good about their education. Special education services are options for those who qualify, and tutoring and out-patient therapies are options for those students who struggle, yet do not qualify for school-based support. Some students benefit from a combination of in-school and out-of-school support to reach their highest possible levels of achievement. Speech therapy tackles challenges in communication, social skills and executive functioning through a combination of therapeutic activities and the use of tools and strategies. Educational support services and tutoring can help a student in their efforts to get on the track to academic success. In today's schools, students often need a level of support that is beyond what involved and caring parents and guardians can provide.
If you feel that your child is experiencing challenges in school, there are steps that you can take to get your child help. Your first step would be to start within your child's school, and discuss your concerns with your child's teacher(s). There are also many local businesses that can offer support. Consider contacting Successful Learning for needs related to speech therapy, educational support, and tutoring in writing and math.