Friday, June 23, 2017

What if there are too many options?

One of my treasured blog readers contacted me a couple of days ago and asked if we could have a chat. I was so excited that someone who reads my blog actually wanted to talk to me about education!

My reader was wanting to hear my thoughts on the best way forward for their child. Their child has a learning disability. It's one of those 'tricky' situations whereby their child's needs do not qualify for government funding for support in their school. However, the child would benefit enormously from the provision of classroom aide support and speech therapy, the cost of which would need to be covered by the family.

Let's face it, we would do anything we can to help our children get through school successfully, yet at the same time, we don't have thousands of dollars at out disposal to invest in therapies, classroom aides, and parent training courses. We also can't afford to dedicate our every waking hour to the needs of just one of our children when we also need to go to work, provide meals for our family and look after our other children. The challenge is to choose the best option for our child that will give them the support they need without sending us broke.

This article sets out some of the options for children with a mild learning disability that does not qualify for government funding yet would benefit from additional educational support.

Here are some of the options before you: 

Do not pay for any additional intervention:

Many students travel through our mainstream school system with an unidentified learning disorder. Sometimes these are the children who work so hard everyday in order to 'just grasp' the material being presented to them. In other cases, it's the children who 'appear' to be misbehaving but really are just trying to avoid revealing that they are struggling to understand what is being taught.

Then there are the children who have a diagnosed, mild learning disability. These children make their way through school at their own pace without any additional support beyond the classroom teacher. It's hard going, but many make it through okay. The flip side is that some young people become overwhelmed with the pressure of school when they find learning difficult. These students end up leaving school prematurely when they could have stayed had they have been provided with some additional support.

Classroom teachers are trained to cater to the wide range of abilities in their classroom and will do everything they can to support children for whom learning is difficult. Many schools will also run numeracy and literacy groups to give free additional support to children who are struggling in the classroom. Before you dive into paying for tutors and therapists, check what support the school offers as a part of their services and ask that your child be considered for any additional learning support opportunities offered. 

Pay for an integration aide to support your child:

Most schools will have a number of staff, known as integration aides, who work alongside students to assist them in the completion of their classroom work. Their hourly pay is mainly covered by the government funding provided for students with significant learning needs. The integrations aides, also known as classroom aides, are caring people who have been employed because they have the ability to patiently support children at school. Many will have completed a short-course to become an integration aide, others are qualified school teachers who have chosen to work as an aide for the sake of the shorter hours and reduced stress and responsibility. There are also many aides who are parents of children who have additional needs and understand from firsthand experience how to support children with learning difficulties.

Some schools ensure their integration aides give first priority to the students who have been given government funding on account of their disability. Other schools use their funding to place integration aides into many of their classrooms so that all children benefit from the support of an additional adult in the classroom. Schools are welcome to use their funding as they please and there are arguments for and against each model. However, what it means for children with mild learning needs is that they may already be receiving the support of a government funded integration aide without you having to pay another cent. Some teachers 'piggy-back' a struggling student with a student with an identified learning need and get the integration aide to work with both students. 

It is worth asking the classroom teacher if your child needs and /or receives additional support whilst in the classroom. 

In many cases, schools will allow you to pay for an integration aide to support your child for a set number of hours per week. An experienced integration aide will be paid around $26 per hour and so that is the rate you should be required to pay for the benefit of an aide for your child. This sounds like inexpensive tutoring, but you do need to keep these factors in mind:

  • Integration aides will generally only come to your child's classroom at the same pre-arranged time each week. This means that some weeks they will turn up and be able to help your child through a difficult task. Other weeks they might turn up whilst the teacher is going into an extended rant about the benefits of 'commas' and the integration aide will sit there unable to assist your child until a task is actually set. Some weeks you'll get value for money, other weeks you won't. 
  • An integration aide is a 'helper'. They are not paid to prepare an alternative program for your child (although some may kindly do that for you). Their main task is do whatever they can do help your child progress through the work they have been given by the classroom teacher.
  • There may be a number of children in the classroom using the same integration aide. Your child may need to 'wait their turn' to receive help when they really need it. In other cases, your child may not request the help of the integration aide at all during a lesson.

All that being said, as a teacher, I loved having integration aides in my classroom and I attempted to make the most of their time in providing tasks that they could help their allocated students with. I saw some of my students make amazing strides in their learning with the support of their integration aide. Was that money well spent? Absolutely 

When I worked as an integration aide myself, I also tried to give parents 'value for money'. Some students loved having me around and would willingly let me support them. Others were embarrassed by my presence, so even if they needed help, they wouldn't let me help them.

If your child is in upper-primary or high school, it would be wise to ask them how they feel about having an integration aide support them in the classroom. That conversation alone may help you to decide whether to pay for the classroom support or not.

Pay for a private tutor:

This is a good option if your child is just struggling with one subject in particular and needs a bit of a 'leg up' to fill in the gaps in the understanding of the subject. You can pay anywhere from $30 for half an hour to $100 for an hour depending upon the skills and experience of the tutor.  Some tutors will focus on helping your child with their homework in the given subject whilst others will identify your child's area of weakness and provide them with tutoring specifically designed to teach them new skills and build up their confidence in the subject. Some tutoring schools will have a set curriculum that the tutor will systematically work through with your child regardless of their areas of weakness in the subject.

It's up to you which tutoring style you choose but here are some tips for making private tutoring work:
  • Tell the classroom teacher that your child is receiving tutoring and work out a way by which the classroom teacher can communicate any specific learning needs that they have noticed to the tutor. 
  • Be specific with the tutor about the concerns you have and let them know what you want them to work on in as much detail as possible. If you only give the tutor vague instructions, they may end up working on areas that don't require attention.
  • If you don't feel comfortable with the tutor or your child doesn't seem to be enjoying their time with them - cut your losses early and find someone that does work for you. 
This is a good option if your child is just struggling with one subject in particular and needs a bit of a 'leg up' to fill in the gaps in the learning so that they can keep up with the rest of the class at school.

Pay for your child to see a Speech Pathologist:

If your child is having trouble keeping up with their work across a number of subjects, there may be an underlying issue that needs to be addressed. Speech Pathologists are trained to do more than just correct mispronunciations of words. They can actually assess, diagnose and treat a variety of learning, speech and language problems that a teacher is not trained to identify. Having recognised your child's needs, they are able to design a specific, targeted intervention program to assist your child in managing their learning challenges. They work with the long-term goal of equipping your child with skills that will enable them to understand and communicate ideas far more proficiently in the future. 

It is an expensive option, with reputable speech pathologists charging between $80-$130 for a 30 minute session. However, you need to approach speech therapy sessions with a long term perspective. It won't fix your child's immediate problems, but over time, you will see a development in their overall skills as they are able to understand, process and communicate their knowledge to educators.

Deciding what is best for your child is a heart-wrenching decision, and everyone is going to give you slightly different advice. My best advice is always to start with the teacher. Make an appointment time and let the teacher know that you want to talk to them about how your child is progressing overall. This will give the teacher an opportunity to go through all their notes and records so that they can give you an accurate idea of what is going on. Your teacher may also be able to advise you on whether your child would benefit from additional help either in school or by outside tutors or therapists.

I am always very happy to hear from my blog readers too. We all want to do the best for our children, and sometimes we just need to hear unbiased advice from someone who can see everyone's perspective.  Feel free to drop me an email on if I can be of assistance.

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