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Grade-Schoolers Their Lives Expand : Extra Effort Struggling with learning (part 1) - Visual activity schedules

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Q: My son has learning difficulties and is fine at school but wears me out at home. What can I do?
A: Schools are run on predictable routines and timetables, which help your son feel contained, supported, and safe in this environment. As much as he enjoys this consistency, he will want to let off steam after following school rules all day, and may need some help to organize his activities at home. Write a list of all the fun things he enjoys, then either find or make a picture to illustrate each one. After he has had a little time to unwind after school, sit down with him and put together an activity schedule for the evening using the pictures. Allow him to choose the activities he wants to do, but try to include a mixture of things he can do with you (for example, cooking or playing a board game) and those he can do on his own (for example, drawing or watching a DVD). Mix the activities up so that he has a slightly different choice each day to prevent him from getting bored, and make sure you only offer him activities that you can deliver! Stick the pictures up somewhere visible and accessible in the order he chooses, and let him know when it is time to move on to the next activity. Add in pictures for routine tasks such as taking a bath and brushing his teeth, and he should have plenty to keep him occupied all evening.
Q: My child has reading and writing difficulties and always forgets her homework. Can I help?
A: In their rush to get out of class when the bell rings, most children are able to juggle packing away their things, chatting with friends, and thinking about where they are going next while sparing half an ear to listen to the teacher give out homework instructions. For your daughter, remembering more than one thing at a time is likely to be somewhat more difficult than it is for her friends, and instructions will be quickly forgotten unless she writes them down. If she does not already use a homework planner, buy her something with enough space to write a brief note about each piece of work she has to do. Speak to your daughter’s teachers and ask if they can put homework instructions up on the board so she can copy them down—something that the whole class will probably benefit from!

Your daughter may need extra time to do this, so ask her teacher about giving homework instructions five to 10 minutes before the end of the class, rather than as the bell goes. Realistically, she may still come out of school with nothing more than a brief scribbled note which she hopes will be enough to jog her memory about what he is supposed to do. Get her into the habit of using her planner effectively: Go through it together and talk about what she did in class and make sure that she has a good understanding of the homework task.

Q: My son’s teacher has told him to do what homework he can, but he still gets frustrated. Is there anything we can do?
A: Being presented with a sheet of homework which both your son and his teacher know he will not be able to complete is bound to raise his anxiety levels and is setting him up to fail. Allowing your son to only complete what he feels capable of shows some consideration for his needs, but handing in half-finished homework will make your son’s difficulties even more obvious. This strategy may also result in your son gradually turning in less and less homework, and provides little motivation for him to learn. Speak to his teacher to see if he would be willing to give your son just the questions he can complete, to avoid him feeling overwhelmed by the size of the task. If he feels able to finish the whole of his math homework, this will give him a far greater sense of achievement and boost his confidence. Make sure you give your son plenty of support and encouragement at home—you could even consider arranging some additional tutoring. Working for shorter periods then taking a break is likely to be more successful than sitting your son at the table until he has finished everything. When he has mastered a subject, speak to his teacher about gradually increasing the volume of work. A small success is better than a large failure, so go at his pace.
Q: How can I improve my daughter’s short attention span?
A: Having to keep nagging your daughter to do things at home is frustrating for you, makes your daughter more aware of her difficulties, and may cause friction between you both. If she is getting into trouble at school, this will also undermine her self-esteem. However, there are a few simple strategies that you can use at home to build your daughter’s skills and confidence in her ability to stay on task. When you give her an instruction, make sure you are in the same room and she is giving you her undivided attention, rather than having one eye on the TV! Give her one simple instruction at a time and back it up with something visual. This could be a picture or a real object. For example, if you want her to put her shoes away, take her to them. Ask her to repeat out loud what you have asked her to do to help her hold your instruction in her memory. Be sure she understands, and give her a gentle reminder if she has not started the task within a few minutes. Give her plenty of praise as soon as she finishes. As her skills improve you can give longer instructions.

Ask where your daughter sits in school: Being at the front will make it easier for the teacher to focus her attention and give her extra support without making it obvious to the rest of her class.

Q: My son gets teased about his learning difficulties and often acts out. What can I do to help him?
A: Being picked on about such a sensitive issue is bound to upset your son, which will only make it more difficult for him to stay in control of his feelings. If he shows genuine remorse after these incidents, he probably has some insight into the fact that he did not handle things in the best way. This is not just your son’s problem, though. If he is being persistently targeted by other pupils, this bullying needs to be reported to his teacher and dealt with. Focus more on helping him develop calm and confident ways of dealing with these situations rather than lecturing him about right from wrong. Your son will be more motivated to change his behavior if he feels supported and understood than if he feels blamed.

At home, pick your time to discuss how his day went. It may help for him to make a drawing about any incidents on paper to show you what happened. Help him to reflect on how he handled the situation, what he did well, and how he might like to do things differently next time. He might find it difficult to think through the consequences of his actions, so write or draw what he might say and do and what is likely to happen. This will give him something to refer back to and learn from. Encourage your son to stand up for himself without being aggressive, and to talk to a teacher if he is being bullied.

You could also ask his school about social-skills training groups—this will give him the opportunity to practice his skills in a safe environment and build his confidence with his peers in school. Your local area might have groups or courses such as these.

Q: My child has ADHD. Before trying medication, are there other strategies I can look at?
A: If your child’s distress and dysfunction associated with ADHD are manageable, there are many sound alternatives to try in advance of medication.

Cognitive behavioral therapy can help your child change the language in his thinking in order to make better choices. This is especially useful when his impulsive behaviors cause problems and he really wants to better control his body to succeed.

Many parents believe dietary changes, nutritional supplements, and vitamins can help. The scientific support for these claims is mixed. Be sure to check with your PCP or pediatrician before trying any of these, particularly if your child is on medication for any other reason (for example, asthma or epilepsy).

Behavior management programs in the home and at school can help by creating clear, concrete incentives to help your child stay on task.

Classroom changes can also be important, and may offer special seating, more breaks for physical activity, and “chunking” work into smaller pieces.

Because the impulsivity associated with ADHD can have devastating effects on a child’s peer relationships, especially from age 10 and on, video feedback is a very successful tool with which to help a child see his faux pas and learn alternatives.

Q: My child is dyslexic and says that when she tries to read, the words appear blurry.
A: This may be a problem with her eyesight, therefore it’s smart to rule this out with a visit to an optician or opthalmologist. Some children with dyslexia report that words on a page appear “fuzzy” or seem to dance around. This may be because people with dyslexia tend to see all the words on a page as a mass, as if they’re trying to read them all at once, rather than being able to pick out individual words in a row, to read from left to right. Transparent color overlays help some children focus better. Different children respond to different colors, so try a few to see which works best for your child.

Visual activity schedules

Visual activity schedules are a simple, flexible, and very effective way to support children’s learning and promote independence—particularly for those with additional needs. An activity schedule is basically a sequence of pictures (with or without words) which breaks down a routine into a few simple steps. For example, it may illustrate your morning routine, starting with getting out of bed and finishing with getting on the bus to school. There are thousands of pictures available on the internet, or you can use photos of your child performing each step. Laminate pictures if you can; they will not last long otherwise! Pictures are usually stuck on to a board with Velcro so that after each step is completed, your child can remove that picture and look to see what comes next. Another method is to have them in sequence on a key ring so he can flip through them easily. Once your child understands how his board works, you can use activity schedules to help him learn new skills and routines, and plan out his day so he can see what he will be doing. For children who struggle to understand time, an hourglass can be used to show how long each activity will last. Best of all: Activity schedules are portable, so you can take them anywhere.

NOTE

Your son will be more motivated to change his behavior if he feels understood, not blamed

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