Children's Voice July/August 2008

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Exceptional Children: Navigating Learning Disabilities and Special Education

Navigating Learning Disabilities and Special Education

By Sheldon Horowitz

Enhanced Communication Is a Key to Success

No one would argue that communication between parents and educators is a bad thing. When families and schools share their expectations, their values about learning and behavior, and their views on roles and responsibilities, students learn more and both parents and school personnel feel supported and appreciated. The positive feelings and mutual trust that result are ingredients to success for students, especially those who struggle with learning.

Open avenues for communication, however, are not always easy to establish. Parents, for any number of reasons, are often unfamiliar with the intricacies of the school day, homework routines, assessment activities, and procedures for grading and evaluating student progress. Teachers are often unaware of a child's particular family circumstances that directly impact learning, such as his care providers or language or cultural considerations. Sharing this information paves the way for more in-depth and targeted discussions about students with learning disabilities and the services and supports they need to succeed in school.

What Kind of Communicator Are You?

A colleague once shared his perception that there are four kinds of people in the world: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, those who don't know that anything is happening, and those who try to keep anything from happening. He went on to explain that one of the most difficult challenges organizations face (including schools) is figuring out how to create opportunities for frequent, honest, and productive communication, considering the people involved can usually be described by their level of engagement:
  • The engaged: These folks actively seek to share information and receive feedback; they feel a profound connection to their cause and are open to discussion, problem solving, and innovation.

  • The non-engaged: These individuals are essentially going through the motions, putting time and energy into their work but not with the passion that earns them respect and gets results.

  • The actively disengaged: These people are often unhappy and dissatisfied with having to work cooperatively with others; they may or may not intend to undermine the efforts of others, but their lack of interest and engagement creates bad feelings and makes it very difficult for others to get things done.
Think about the lines of communication you have established for yourself regarding your child's education, and reflect upon the types of interactions that you have (with children, classroom teachers, and at conferences and IEP meetings, for example). Are you engaged when it comes to the child's academic studies, but disengaged regarding social and behavioral issues? Do you perceive that some of a child's teachers or care providers are more engaged than others, and might this be having an impact on his or her confidence level or willingness to seek help? Given all the different people and personalities that comprise your support network, wouldn't it be great to have some way of organizing your thinking and planning? Read on.

NCLD's Great Expectations Worksheet

The National Center for Learning Disabilities has created a simple, easy-to-use worksheet that facilitates communication and clarifies people's opinions during discussions or meetings. While designed primarily for parents, anyone can use it, including educators, psychologists, speech-language pathologists, or school administrators. To be most effective, each person should fill it in completely from his or her perspective. And be sure to include the children themselves in this discovery process.

Other resources to use to learn how to effectively communicate include:
  • IDEA Parent Guide. Learn about your expanded parent rights and opportunities under the most recent special education law.
  • IDEA 2004 Close Up:
    The Individualized Education Program. The 2004 update of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act made several significant changes to the Individualized Education Program, both in terms of who should participate and what should be included in this important process.
  • Five Essential Skills for Becoming Your Child's Advocate. Learning the essential skills to become your child's advocate and ensure your child receives an appropriate education does not require lots of money or even years of schooling. All it requires is learning five basic skills and consistently implementing them within the school community.
Sheldon Horowitz EdD is Director of Professional Services at the National Center for Learning Disabilities, New York, New York. NCLD provides essential information to parents, professionals, and individuals with LD; promotes research and programs to foster effective learning; and advocates for policies that protect and strengthen education rights and opportunities. This article was adapted from a Research Roundup column in LD News, September 2007. Visit www.LD.org for more information about LD and resources for families, educators, and more. For permission to reproduce this article, or to contact Dr. Horowitz, e-mail help@ncld.org. © 2004, 2005, 2007 National Center for Learning Disabilities. All rights reserved. Used with permission.


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