by Dr. Colleen O’Donnell
Nearly all parents have concerns about their child’s learning from time to time. As children grow and mature, they all hit “rough patches” in their academic performance, behavioral functioning, and relationships with peers. So, as a parent, how do you know when you’ve reached the point where it’s time to stop the “wait and see” game and time to start seeking answers through an educational evaluation? Here are five signs that it’s time to start seeking answers:
1) Despite equal opportunities for learning/equal exposure, the child is well behind his/her peers in the development of a skill: It’s true that all children develop according to their own unique timeline. However, if your child’s skill development is dramatically different from that of the vast majority of his/her peers despite equal exposure and opportunities for learning, then it might be time to investigate the reason for the delay. This is particularly important when the child does not appear to be making steady growth in the development of the skill (the gap between him/her and his/her peers is increasing over time).
2) The difficulty is persistent and pervasive- Spend some time reflecting on your child’s academic, behavioral, and social history. Have your concerns been noted and discussed year after year by a number of his/her teachers? Are the concerns apparent in a number of different settings? Have comments/concerns been expressed by day care providers, grandparents, teachers, and/or friends? If the answer is yes, then it might be time to seek more information.
3) The difficulty is resistant to supports and interventions- Have you already made efforts to help your child overcome the challenges he/she faces? Have the efforts been targeted to the area of difficulty and implemented consistently and faithfully? If you have made attempts to help your child make growth in areas of concern and he/she has not made observable progress (or progress does not seem to be helping them close the gap), then it might be time to look into the possibility that something is holding him/her back.
4) The difficulty is causing your child emotional distress- When children are struggling in school, it can have a dramatic impact on their emotional functioning. They can become discouraged and begin questioning their own competencies. Too often, they begin “hating school” and are resistant to academic tasks. These negative self-images and attitudes can be difficult to reverse, and it is important to identify the reasons for the child’s difficulty and set them off on an easier path.
5) Your gut tells you that something is “just not right”- Trust your intuition! If you have an ongoing, nagging sense that something is not right, then it might make sense to move forward with an evaluation. Even when members of the child’s educational team are insisting that things are “just fine,” parents often have a deeper knowledge of their child and their development. At times this is because they are in a better position to judge how the child is reacting to the situation and/or how the area of difficulty might be out of sync with other aspects of the child’s development. Trust yourself and what you know about your child!