Not enough support?

My child's school isn't doing enough to help my child read! What should I do?

This blog was prompted by a phone call from a special education teacher about a child with reading issues who had progressed only slowly over the last 12 months.

During the phone conversation the teacher mentioned a particular child who had come along to our office for a speech pathology assessment just over 12 months ago. He was assessed because his literacy development wasn’t going so well. The student had some mild difficulties with his language but quite significant difficulties with his literacy and phonological awareness. Phonological awareness skills are early literacy skills such as being able to hear syllables in words, hearing the first sounds of words, breaking words up into their sounds; all important skills for children learning to read and spell. The student had a report provided with recommendations, a program was written and explained to his parents and therapy was started. Unfortunately after only one therapy session his parents cancelled saying ”my child’s school isn’t doing enough to help, so I’m not going to pay for therapy if it isn’t followed up at school.” So for the next year the child has had only what the school provided him for support.

A year later, this child was STILL having problems with his literacy. He was a year older and the gap between his abilities and those of most of his peers was probably even wider. His self esteem may have suffered and he may already not be enjoying school. For many children the situation becomes more complicated as they avoid things that are challenging and sometimes even start to behave poorly. I’m sure that is not what his parents wanted for him or they wouldn’t have brought him to see us in the first place.

Part of the problem is that schools have a limited amount of money that they are allocated to spend on helping children who have additional needs, so they have to prioritize. Children therefore receive funded support based on their scores on specific tests. Children who have mild or moderate difficulties in these tests may still have severe difficulties in other areas, but don’t qualify for extra school funded support. Just like in this young student’s case, assessment tells us what difficulties he’s having and what we can do to help, but he needs to have therapy with a skilled person to learn the skills he doesn’t have yet.

It is easy to feel quite cross for this child. Cross that the system wasn’t providing the help he needed, and very cross that his own parents withdrew the help that would have made a difference because “the school wasn’t doing enough”. Surely his parents wouldn’t sacrifice their own child to make a point like that? But then perhaps it’s just about information? Perhaps people just need another perspective on situations?

So here are some of the common myths speech pathologists hear and some thoughts for consideration.

1. The school aren’t do anything to help so I don’t see why I should spend my money on therapy? If their children were drowning in the ocean and the life guards were busy saving somebody else, would parents refuse to pull their child out of the water? I think not! Children need their parents to advocate for them and to help them when nobody else will. Great parents (and we are fortunate to work with so many in our practice) are parents who get their children the help they need even if they have to put their hand in their own pockets to do so. If you won’t do it for your child, can you reasonably expect someone else to?

2. I send my child to a private school and already pay them a lot of money. They should fix the problem. Schools provide students with an educational opportunity. They typically work very hard to help their students learn, but some children have learning challenges that require specialist help. Many children need the support of trained professionals who can help them to learn so they can benefit from the opportunities presented at school. I think sometimes we as parents hope for more than what schools can reasonably provide. If your child has additional learning needs, a professional in that field is the best place to go for assistance. Teachers are teachers, not speech pathologists, occupational therapists, medical practitioners, and all the other things we parents wish they were. They are trained how to teach a class full of typically developing kids and then do the best they can to accomodate those that need something different.

3. If my child really needed help the school would provide it. They don’t, so it musn’t be too bad. Schools and Government funded services have a limited budget. There are thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands of children who NEED help that aren’t going to get it through public services. People who work with children and families I believe all wish they could spread themselves further, but they are typically already stretched to capacity. Would we like to see every child who needs help get it for free from the Government? The answer is a resounding YES! However the reality is that there aren’t the resources and only the most severe, or people who fit specific groups are going to get some services. Whether those services are enough is another question. Again, sometimes parents need to step in and say “My child deserves more and I’m going to make sure they get it!”

4. I can’t afford it. This isn’t a myth like the others, but perhaps some families if they were honest should say “It’s not a priority for us” rather than they can’t afford it. People make choices about how they spend their money and sometimes children’s educations are sacrificed for more tangible, touchable items. We understand the financial burden of paying for therapy or tutoring with specialists as many of us have children with additional needs. We too have made sacrifices to pay for the support our children need, just like our clients do. There are a few options that may assist some families financially. For more information about funding options that might be of assistance there is information on our webpage.

5. My child has dyslexia, not speech or language problems so we don’t need a speech pathologist. Speech pathologists specialise amongst other things in supporting students who have been diagnosed as dyslexic or have dyslexic characteristics as dyslexia is a language based problem. Speech pathologists are ideally skilled to identify the areas in which children need assistance in learning to read and write and are skilled in knowing how to teach children new skills in communication. Writing and reading are after all forms of communication.

If you feel your child’s school isn’t doing enough to help, talk to them first. Open and respectful communication between schools and parents usually gets things moving along to the best of everyone’s abilities. If the school don’t have enough resources to provide your child more help, then look for help elsewhere. A good paediatric speech pathologist is a good place to start and they will often know other professionals that can help if something else is needed.

Investing in your child’s educational future by organising the specialist support they need while they are young will be one of the best decisions you make. I know it was for our family.

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