Kids across the country will head back to school in just over a month. For some parents, it’s the best time of year, but for others it brings on feelings of dread and anxiety about what lies ahead.
Parents who have children with learning difficulties, in particular, are often plagued by questions about what is and isn’t right for their kids.
Will my child be able to cope? Will this year be different? How will he or she manage the heavier homework load? Will my child get further behind? How will his or her confidence be impacted?
But the big question weighing on many parents’ minds is, “Should I take my child out of public school and search for other options?”
According to one Eaton Arrowsmith parent, the education system just isn’t designed for kids with learning difficulties – or those who don’t read and write at certain ages.
“I strongly believe that you pay now or you pay later with children who have learning challenges,” said Helen Young. “The problem with school is that it accelerates, so if you don’t know what’s going on in grade five, you definitely won’t be able to keep up in grade six.”
Young’s daughter, Sofia, struggled at several schools before she found Eaton Arrowsmith.
“We didn’t notice a lot of things when Sofia was younger. When you have a child with learning challenges, you’re with them all the time and you just adjust,” she said.
For her, a major eye-opening moment happened when Sofia was in grade two.
“The teacher said she wasn’t really understanding instructions in either French or English. We were shocked,” Young said. “ We didn’t realize we had been simplifying things in conversation with her.”
The mainstream education system works for children who learn “normally”. However, it can sometimes take more out of kids with learning difficulties than it puts in. So recognizing signs that a school can’t do anything more for a child is important.
Young said, looking back, Sofia experienced the following challenges:
These signs might not be the same for every child, but Young said a dive in confidence should be a major red flag for parents.
“At the end of the day, once kids finish high school, no one cares if they know how to do algebra or have memorized historical facts,” she said. “But if your child has a learning disability, he or she could spend more than a decade losing confidence in themselves because they can’t keep up with their peers.”
Young never wants Sofia to be in a situation where she feels like the dumbest person in the room.
“The reality is that Sofia is really smart, she just learns differently,” she said.
At the same time, Young wanted her daughter to discover what she could do on her own – without additional help that is offered to children through special education programs. So she started to look for alternatives and discovered Eaton Arrowsmith.
During a tour of EA, Young remembers another couple expressing concern that their child wouldn’t be taking all the academic subjects offered in mainstream classrooms. The person giving the tour responded with, “Is your child getting anything out of academics?”
A light suddenly clicked on. Young knew Sofia wasn’t learning much at her current school and that she didn’t have anything to lose at age 11 by not taking a full academic course load.
“I thought, we’ve exhausted special education programs. She can’t go back into the public school system. She’s young enough. What’s the worst that can happen, she loses a year?”
Young was away for work during Sofia’s first three weeks at Eaton Arrowsmith, but when she returned she noticed a huge difference in her daughter.
“The first day I picked her up, she started telling me about her day! She had never talked about her day before. I was so startled I had to pull over,” she said.
Sofia has now completed her first year at Eaton Arrowsmith and Young has noticed even more changes in her daughter. She’s less anxious, she tries new things, she’s more engaged in the world and she feels more confident talking to people she doesn’t know.
“EA is keeping my daughter’s brain engaged all day long and teaching her valuable skills,” Young said. “Sofia has learned that she can achieve her goals if she’s organized and works hard every day and that’s a huge step forward for this little girl.”
* The names in this article have been changed to protect the privacy of the student and parents.
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