Parent-teacher conferences are an important opportunity to gain insight into how your child is doing in school, but it is easy to become overwhelmed by feedback. Because children and teens spend so much of their day in the classroom, teachers may be the first to notice signs of behavioral or learning challenges and can often add context to any concerns you’ve had about their progress.

Warning Signs and Key Phrases

While COVID-related school disruptions can account for some students’ difficulties this year, there are certain behaviors that may indicate a bigger issue. For younger students, teachers may address these using phrases such as difficulty with self-regulation or emotional regulation or indicate that they’ve noticed acting out behaviors. If your student is in middle or high school, their teacher may express concern that they aren’t achieving at the level of their potential, are disengaged, or are not turning in assignments. Younger students may also have difficulty adjusting to the routine and rules of the classroom or adjusting to classroom norms, while older students may exhibit moodiness, withdrawal, and lack of desire to go to school. Ultimately, if your child or teen does not appear to be making progress at grade level, or if their behavior is consistently disrupting the class or interfering with learning, it could indicate there’s something more going on.

Getting Answers

Acting out behaviors, as well as withdrawing behaviors and challenges completing assignments, may be indicators of underlying emotional struggles that are impacting learning. These behaviors can also mask more pervasive learning differences. In these situations, an assessment can be a helpful intervention to better understand the challenges your student may be experiencing and ways to address them. Once concerns have been raised your best first step is to work with your child’s teacher, school counselor, and/or learning specialist. The more detail you can get about your child’s challenges at school, the better equipped you’ll be to support them and get the help they need. If your child is consistently having difficulty accessing grade level learning, requesting a special education assessment is an important step to better understanding and addressing their learning needs.

In some cases, however, even when an attentional, learning, or behavioral issues is identified, a student may be determined to be ineligible for a school assessment or an IEP.  Or, if your child attends a private school, assessments may not be provided. Seeking professional guidance through an independent consultation or assessment can help provide a clearer picture of the challenges your child may be experiencing, as well as supportive recommendations tailored to your child’s unique strengths and learning style.

Understanding an Assessment

An assessment (which may be referred to as psychological testing/assessment, neuropsychological testing/assessment, or educational/learning assessment) can be an important tool in understanding your child’s areas of strengths and challenge, and in determining what unique support may benefit your child in their areas of need. Psychologists with expertise in this area provide comprehensive assessments, which typically include a discussion of your child’s developmental, health, and educational history. Parents can express their concerns, ask questions, and share any additional relevant information. Information about your student may also be provided by their teacher. From there, your child will be scheduled for approximately four – six in-person sessions, which vary in length depending on the age of your child. A comprehensive assessment includes a series of performance-based tasks that evaluate a child’s cognitive strengths and weaknesses, problem-solving style, attention, executive functioning, and academic skills. When the assessment is complete, the evaluator will address questions and concerns in a written report and develop recommendations to support your child’s learning and development. Recommendations may include specific classroom and home-based strategies, as well as additional referrals if indicated.  Overall, the assessment can be a powerful intervention in providing a foundation for you and your child to better understand their strengths and areas for growth, as well as a map for addressing areas of need.

It’s important to remember that concerning behaviors and academic struggles at school are sometimes just the tip of the iceberg. Underneath these behavioral and academic challenges may be symptoms of depression or anxiety, as well as learning differences.  Students with learning differences are often identified in their early school years; however, some are not identified as needing support until the expected level of work exceeds their capacity.  If a change in your child’s academic progress seems sudden, or if your child has experienced increasing difficulty year after year, it’s entirely possible that undetected learning differences are emerging. Regardless of what grade your child is in or what their performance has been up to this point, concerns about their educational progress are worth looking into. With the right information, plan, and support system around them, they can be set up for academic success.