Friday, March 16, 2012

High (School) Anxiety

Your blogger has had the opportunity recently to visit two local private high schools whose missions are to educate students with learning and related difficulties. Both The Churchill School in Manhattan and the Community School in Teaneck, New Jersey had invited me to speak to parents about the issues addressed in my book Life After High School.

In both schools, parents shared a very palpable concern about how their children would manage the transition from a specialized, supportive high school to post secondary education -- college or another kind of program -- and eventually to adulthood. These parents had all been through the special education process with their children, having emerged with spots in coveted, state approved (and publicly funded) schools where their children are taught in small classes by teachers with expertise in remediating learning difficulties. Many of these parents had provided their children with significant levels of support with tasks like organization, advocacy, and academics, beyond that customary for more typical learners.

The parents that I met at these presentations are far from unique in their concerns. Parenting any child is a complex process, but parenting a child who struggles in school is even more so. So what can parents of teens do now, while their child is still at home, to help foster independence beyond high school? Some helpful steps include:

Help your child understand how he or she learns. By really understanding their strengths and weaknesses and knowing what learning strategies work for them, students will be better able to arrange their academic accomodations and supports and to ask for the right kind of help.

Foster Affinties. Studies have shown that children who build on their interests and who pursue special skills, tend to be more resilient as adults. Students who may struggle with academics can have many areas where they are successful and should have opportunities to pursue their interests -- sports, hobbies, or the arts.

Build Self Advocacy Skill. By the time a student graduates from high school he or she should have attended one or more of the meetings where their IEP is developed, and certainly should have an understanding of the services they receive in school and why they receive them. It is not easy to get a teenager to deal with this aspect of their lives, but it is important to enable them to work towards independence.

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