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School Problems and Unresponsive Teacher
Q: My third-grade son has been having a tough time with math throughout school. He also seems to have difficulty with concepts in language and following directions. I will have him tested for ADHD, as he does seem to drift off often. I have been to his teacher several times, requesting he be moved to the front row (he's been in the back all year). She hasn't yet done so. I have also requested he receive testing for learning disabilities. She keeps putting me off. What can I do?
A: Checking out the ADHD sounds like a good idea, but one reason (besides ADHD) that children "drift off" is that they have underlying undiagnosed learning disabilities. The material is just too hard for them to handle, and they turn off. Troubles with math, difficulty with language (understanding concepts and following directions) are telltale signs of a learning disability. Make sure that your son gets a thorough assessment. It's hard to believe the teacher has not responded to your request to move your son to the front row, but before you take this any further, consider that the front row might not be the very best place for him. If the teacher spends most of her time in the front of the room (oh, how I hope the answer isn't yes!), then your son might do better in the second or third row. Why? If a teacher (even a short one) stands in the front of the first row, she doesn't actually make eye contact very often with the little ones in those front seats. She's more likely to actually see the kids in the second row and farther back. So you might ask her to think about that.
More important is the fact that the teacher has not responded to your request for an evaluation. According to special education law, a school MUST respond to your request for an evaluation within a reasonable amount of time. Make the request in writing, and this time send it to the administrator of special education with copies to the principal and the teacher. You might want to tell the teacher you're doing this, so she won't be surprised. This is your right under law. If they don't respond within a week to ten days by setting up a date for the evaluation, then contact the special education office at your state's department of education and tell them about it. Or call the Office for Civil Rights in your state (since your child's civil rights as a person with a disability are probably being violated). The school might offer to hold a meeting of the child-study team, if one exists in your school, but you still have the right to request a formal evaluation. Ask the school for a copy of your rights as a parent of a child suspected of having special needs. Remember: It is against the law for them to do nothing! Warm up that word processor and roll up your sleeves. (And let us know what happens!)
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Jerome (Jerry) Schultz is the founding clinical director of the Learning Lab @ Lesley University, a program that provides assessment, tutoring, and case management services for children with learning challenges. Schultz holds a Ph.D. from Boston College, and has completed postdoctoral fellowships in both clinical psychology and pediatric neuropsychology.