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Managing Anxiety in the Classroom

Anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues in our country, affecting millions of adults and children alike. Children with anxiety at school may be experiencing it for several different blog-anxiety-in-school-main-landscapereasons. A few common reasons children may be anxious at school revolve around separation from parents or caregivers, social anxiety or test anxiety. Sometimes, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the cause is, which is okay too. The important thing is that the symptoms are managed appropriately. Since kids spend the majority of their day in a classroom, it is paramount that teachers and other staff are trained to recognize, support and advocate for anxious students.

Identifying anxiety early on is a very important step as it can help mitigate larger problems later on in adolescence and adulthood.

Let’s start by discussing some common signs and symptoms that we may see in an anxious child. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Refusal or reluctance to attend school
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Negative self-statements
  • Perfectionist tendencies
  • Withdrawing from other children
  • Lack of participation
  • Tearfulness
  • Excessive worrying
  • Frequent trips to the nurse
  • A decline in academic performance

Over the years, our education system has made tremendous progress in identifying and helping children struggling with anxiety. One of the most common are accommodations under a 504 Plan. An example of an accommodation used in a 504 Plan would be adjusting the child’s seating arrangement (often referred to as “preferential seating”). An anxious child may feel more comfortable sitting closer to the teacher, or further away from a highly-energetic or rambunctious child. Another accommodation is extra time on tests (often referred to as “time and a half”), since test-taking can be a common trigger for anxiety. If you feel a 504 Plan might be helpful and appropriate for your child, it would be a good idea to plan a parent-teacher conference to discuss your options.

Close communication and collaboration between teachers and parents is a great way to ensure that your child is getting his or her needs met in the classroom. Sometimes, anxious kids just need a little extra encouragement and reassurance. Positive reinforcement is an excellent tool used for pointing out a child’s successes and efforts, and rewarding them for it. Many schools have a social worker or counselor on staff as well. Social workers and counselors are specifically trained to help children struggling with anxiety and other social-emotional issues. One-on one or small group sessions can be extremely beneficial in helping manage anxiety at school. Incorporating social work minutes into your child’s schedule is a great way to provide your child with extra support during the day.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee! If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

Social Work

5 Benefits of In-Clinic and In-School Therapy

The new school year is underway, and children are adjusting to new routines, parents are meeting new teachers, and backpacks are filling with homework. Children are also starting in-school therapies again, often as stipulated through either an individualized education plan (IEP) or a 504 plan. Some children took the summer off from therapy, and others supplemented by participating in clinic-based therapies. With so many extracurricular activities, parents may wonder if their children need both school and clinic therapies. It is a decision based on a variety of factors, including, but not limited to, severity of disorder, insurance coverage, scheduling, and therapeutic minutes received at school. There are numerous benefits for children attending both in-school and clinic-based therapies. See below for the top five reasons.

5 benefits to doing both in-clinic and in-school therapy:

  1. Increased frequency: Children attending multiple therapies per week benefit from havingThe Benefits of Therapy In-Clinic and In-School increased frequency of services. They are being exposed to more direct therapy, as provided in both school and clinic. Children are able to target goals more often, and they tend to make greater gains in a shorter period of time.
  2. More personalized, individual approach: Children receiving clinic-based therapy are often in a one-on-one session, targeting a child’s specific needs. Children in school often participate in groups, targeting both their own goals as well as the goals of peers. Both types have benefits, as an individual session is tailored specifically to a child’s needs, while an in-school group session often targets goals as well as crucial peer interaction.
  3. Generalization across environments: As children make gains toward goals, clinicians often look to see how well skills translate, or generalize, across environments. For example, if children have mastered a skill in the clinic, the question will be how well they are able to reproduce the skill at home. Having children attend therapy in two environments can aid in their generalization.
  4. Collaborating therapists: Oftentimes, clinic-based therapists will reach out to their client’s in-school therapist to collaborate. This allows both therapists to be aware of a child’s goals, while keeping apprised of progress, as well as ongoing areas of need. Collaborating between professionals can ensure best practice and that a child is receiving the best possible care.
  5. Targeting variety of goals: Therapists in schools are often limited to goals that can be tied to specific academic needs. School therapists are bound by goals that may be impacting a child academically, and they are not always able to look at the entire scope of a child’s need. Clinic-based therapists are able to target on more functional goals, ensuring that all areas of need are addressed. Working on all areas of need together can help children reach their goals and maximize progress.

If parents have specific questions about how their child could benefit from both in-school and clinic-based therapies, their child’s therapists can help highlight advantages. Therapists often welcome collaboration, and in doing so, children receive the best care.

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NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

ADHD and School Success

ADHD and School Success

Even though it feels like summer has just begun for many in the Chicago area, it is not too early to begin preparing for success in the upcoming school year. We all want our children to be successful in school, especially those children with challenges with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Below are some helpful tips to prepare your child with ADHD for back to school time:

  • Review your child’s IEP or 504 Plan. Take a look at the current plan and consider which goals were met andADHD and School Success which areas still need to be addressed (click here for more on how to have a successful IEP meeting).
  • Organize school systems together. Head out to an office-supply store (with your child) and check out different ways to help your child with organization and time management. Be open-minded to trying different approaches.
  • Stock up on school supplies. Have fun picking out some of the child’s favorite items as well as some of the supplies you anticipate they may need (poster board, pens, protractors, etc.).
  • Consider this year’s after-school activities. Talk to the child about interests and activities for the school year. Build on what your child has done in the past and what activities they want to try.  Be creative and encourage him to not only try activities that enhance proven skills, but also ones he finds challenging.
  • Find a tutor or homework helper. If you foresee some areas of struggle reach out now for people to assist in the fall.
  • Make a calendar. In order to give your child a sense of control and have him more engaged in the process, talk about daily, weekly and monthly schedules.
  • Set goals together. Brainstorm goals for school. Focus on strengths and challenges.  Make goals attainable in order to empower the child.
  • Focus on the positive aspects of heading back to school. Discuss the areas your child is interested or excited about with regards to returning to school.
  • HAVE FUN! Make sure to spend quality time with your child this summer. Talk to them about their feelings about returning to school.  What are they looking forward to most? What fears or anxiety do they have?

Click here to read 8 ways to ease homework time stress.

ADHD Resource Center

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

504 or IEP

504 Plan or IEP: Which Is the Best Vehicle for Your Child?

 

 

Today’s guest blog by Pam Labellarte, Special Education Advocate,  explains how to navigate accommodations plans when your child receives a diagnosis.

Before we can even address the question of whether a 504 plan or an IEP is the best vehicle for your child, we need to unravel the process required to get your child identified as a student with educational needs that cannot be addressed through the general curriculum, without support of additional accommodations and/or services.

Your Child Has a Diagnosis, Now What?

You get the news from your child’s teacher, your pediatrician or after your child has been evaluated by a neuropsychologist…your child has a disability. Maybe it’s a Learning Disability, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), or any one of several other disabilities that is limiting your child’s academic progress. Your first inclination is to ensure your child is provided whatever supports are necessary to maximize his potential. But, you are at a loss as where to begin. If your child’s teacher has not taken any further action, the first step is to connect with your school district’s Special Education Director/Coordinator. The initial request for consideration for services should be a letter hand delivered, sent certified mail or an email with a letter attached.

The “Special Education Maze”:

You are now about to enter what is often called “the Special Education Maze”. Understand, Special Education is NOT a PLACE. Special education services are driven by the needs of the individual child. Therefore they are delivered in a variety of places, sometimes within the classroom and other times outside the classroom in a smaller setting. It is critical that the initial and any future contact with the school district be documented in writing. This means documenting any important verbal conversations that occur between you and the school district staff, with an email confirming the conversation. By law, once a school district receives written requests from a parent regarding special education, they are required to respond within specific timelines, hence, the importance of written documentation.

Important Steps to Take to Receive Special Education Services:

Upon receipt of your written request for consideration of special education services for your child, the school district is required to respond to you in writing within 14 school days whether they believe your child should be evaluated. If they agree, a meeting will be scheduled to identify specific areas to be evaluated. Often referred to as the “Domain Meeting”, it the place where the school team and the parents review the major areas or “domains” to be evaluated, such as achievement, cognitive, communication, etc. The Domain Meeting is one of the most important meetings you in which you will ever participate, because you and the school team will determine which areas need to be evaluated and how (formal evaluations, informal assessments, observation, review of records, etc.). In order for the process to continue you have to provide “informed consent”, agreeing to allow the specific evaluations/observations to be conducted only after you understand what information they will provide. If a critical area is not addressed it may negatively impact the services provided to your child.

Developing the IEP:

Once you have provided consent, the school staff has 60 school days to complete all evaluations and observations, publish their findings and conduct an eligibility meeting. Most parents do not realize they can request that the draft reports be provided in advance of the eligibility meeting (three school days prior is sufficient time). If you wait to review the reports at the meeting, how can you hear the information (much of it foreign to you), digest what you have heard and then make “informed” decisions about your child’s programming? Once your child is found eligible the school district has 30 days to develop and implement an Individual Education Plan (IEP).

IEP or 504 Plan?

What if your school district has responded to your request in writing that they do not believe that your child has a disability requiring special education services provided under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). But, they are willing to consider developing a 504 Plan to provide accommodations to your child. Would a 504 Plan be appropriate? How do they differ? Which would provide your child the most appropriate support?

Click here for a Section 504 and IDEA Comparison Chart (obtained from the National Center for Learning Disabilities) that provides details regarding the differences in the two laws. Don’t make any quick decisions until you understand the basic difference between the two educational programs.

Click here to view the webinar: Getting the Best IEP for Your Child!

How to Explain a Language Disorder to a Teacher

Of all the categories available under IDEA law, language impairments are often one of the most difficult to understand. It is not a surface level issue and is often lost in the shuffle. Explaining what a language disorder is and how it will impact your child to a teacher can be tricky. Here are some tips.

How to Explain a Language Disorder to a Teacher:

  1. Language disorders come in a wide variety of cases. Each child will present differently and as an advocate, you need to do your best to describe your child’s needs specifically. Language disorders can impact a child’s ability to verbally express themselves efficiently, effectively and with appropriate grammar. It can result in difficulty understanding sentences, following directions, asking/answering questions or in a number of other impairments.
  2. Enlist the school Speech Language Pathologist. Ask for help in explaining the disorder to the teacher and ask for ideas. Discuss options for adjustments and supports for your child like a visual schedule, repetitions of the directions or having him repeat the direction back to the teacher to ensure comprehension. Many school districts or state programs have materials and resources that can educate teachers on strategies to ensure better classroom learning.
  3. Remind the teacher to notice how your child interacts socially. Teachers will be able to identify a child that is isolating themselves from peers secondary to trouble communicating with them.
  4. Discuss the difference between listening, understanding and attending. One of the biggest complaints of teachers will be “He’s not listening to me!” As often as not, your child does not understand the direction provided and is not complying simply because he does not know what is required of him. It can be very frustrating to have difficulty communicating effectively and patience will go a long way.
  5. Know your child’s IEP or 504 plan and take the opportunity to discuss it with the teacher. Be specific about the types of services and accommodations he will receive and what they will look like in the classroom.

Remember, be proactive and provide as much information up front about your child and his diagnosis to avoid potential difficulties. Refer to this page from the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities for 8 Tips for Teachers who have students with speech and language issues in the classroom.

What is a 504 Plan?

I have received several telephone calls over the past few weeks from anxious parents about their child’s school wanting to create a 504 Plan in the academic setting.  Many times parents are not informed about what this means or about possible benefits that might be exhibited from such a plan.

What is a 504 Plan?

Section 504 is part of the Rehabilitation act of 1973 which was designed to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities in any facility that receives federal financial assistance.  What this means for a school age child is that the school is unable to deny academic services to a child because of a specific disability.  These plans were originally established for children with medical concerns such as being confined to a wheelchair or having a medical condition such as a seizure disorder.  Today, it is quite likely that the main reason 504 Plans are offered to children are from diagnoses of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

 How do 504 Plans and IEPs Differ?

There are a few major differences between a 504 Plan and an Individual Education Plan (IEP).  A child with an IEP has significant academic concerns in which he or she requires intervention from either a learning resource teacher, or specific therapist such as a speech and language therapist.  The 504 Plan should be thought of as accommodations within the classroom setting to help address the specific concerns that a child may exhibit.  These accommodations are designed such that the child’s academic demands are the same as his or her peers but there is assistance given such that the child can reach his or her academic potential. Read more

Why Can’t Johnny Sit Still? ADHD and How it Affects Your Child’s Classroom Behavior

 

A parent asked me this the other day:  She and the teachers were so frustrated with her son’s behavior.  It turns out that “Johnny”, as he is known in this blog, is a bright child with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  Luckily for him, his parents, and his teachers, he is not alone and there are many well-validated interventions to get him to “sit still”. Johnny is just one of the estimated 8-10% of school aged children who have a diagnosis of ADHD.  The DSM-IV, which is the diagnostic manual for all mental health disorders, indicates that there are several symptoms of ADHD including:  inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity.

Read more