In 2020-21, parents got an eye-opening look at their child’s education. Teachers had to pivot instantaneously to a virtual classroom, keeping 25-30 kids engaged via Google or Zoom. Some parents witnessed their child turning off his or her laptop camera to watch YouTube, play video games or simply tune out completely.
There were some silver linings. Some online learning proved fun and engaging, parents on Twitter called for paying teachers $1 million as we realized how hard the job can be, and families were instantly more involved in their children’s education.
Sydney Moses, director of Arcadia Literacy & Learning, said ultimately this closer look during an unusually difficult year left lots of parents concerned. Some are seeing learning losses that left their children behind in skills needed to excel. Others worry whether their child’s inability to focus was the result of a more serious learning difference, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Here’s what she shared about helping kids catch up.
During the pandemic, a lot of parents got an up-close look at their child’s (online) school performance, and for many, it wasn’t reassuring. Are you busier than usual with questions from parents?
Absolutely! I had a huge amount of inquiries from parents asking if their experience was “normal.” Some of them were witnessing the characteristics of a learning disorder such as ADHD or dyslexia, but most parents were just getting their first insight into the classroom experience. One family was upset that their kindergartener was just completing worksheets and singing songs, but this is what the class was like prior to COVID! The important metric is how they compare to their peers. If you see a large difference between your child’s performance and the other students, you may want to consider seeking additional support.
What advice would you give parents who felt their child fell behind this year?
This year has been anything but typical. While online learning was better for some, many found it to be a more difficult adjustment. Because of this, it is unclear whether an individual is falling behind their peers, or they simply did not connect with the online format. Parents know their child better than anyone else. Parents should trust their gut and if they feel that there may be something impacting their child’s learning, they should seek an assessment to get a better picture of their child’s academic abilities.
Because it is especially difficult for some kids to focus online, how can parents know whether such issues are a sign of a larger learning difference, such as ADHD?
I think parents often forget just how distractible kids can be in and out of the classroom. It’s normal for a child to lose focus and need redirection. In my own remote sessions, the biggest change I’ve noticed is not the child’s ability to focus, but an off-screen helper who often assists me in refocusing their child by holding a chair straight or removing a particularly exciting pencil. For older children, the introduction of virtual meeting links, various classroom software and keeping track of assignments presented a challenge. A child’s executive functioning skills were certainly put to the test. For children with ADHD, this year’s more demanding executive functioning requirements likely highlighted the comparison between them and their peers. If your child often finds themselves emotionally distressed about these requirements, it may be beneficial to seek an assessment.
Are all assessments the same, or are there standards for learning assessments that parents should request or seek out?
Assessments are a measure of an individual’s abilities in a certain neurocognitive task, for example phonemic awareness or working memory. The tests themselves are ubiquitous amongst professionals of varying backgrounds, and there’s not much variance between tests done at one clinic versus another. The one exception is the neuropsychological evaluation. Certain tests that are necessary for a technical diagnosis can only be administered by a neuropsychologist. If you are fighting for an IEP [Individualized Education Plan], it is best to go through the school for a psychoeducational evaluation or to seek a private neuropsychologist. If you are simply seeking a general overview or assessment of your child’s literacy, then a local clinic can often be just as effective and more affordable.
Do you deal with parents or teachers who think ADD is more of a discipline (or lack of discipline) issue?
Absolutely. A few harsh words or a stricter schedule doesn’t change the reuptake of dopamine in the brain. ADHD presents some very real difficulties in the way our school and work systems have been structured, but the good news is ADHD is one of the most well understood learning differences. There is an extremely rich body of research and methodologies for helping a child with ADHD. Harsher discipline is not included among them.
Some parents hear ADD and ADHD and automatically worry their kid will have to take Ritalin. Can you explain some other ways that you work with/help kids with ADD or ADHD?
There are many parents who choose not to treat their child’s ADHD with stimulant medication. That decision should always be a conversation with the child’s medical professional and the parent(s). Regardless of whether or not the parent(s) decide to pursue medication as an option, there are tried and true strategies for helping with ADHD symptoms. An executive functioning coach should be strongly considered, and a parent or educator should make every effort to familiarize themselves with the disorder and its symptoms.
Can you recommend any helpful books/resources for kids of parents with possible ADHD or learning differences?
Russell Barkley is the foremost ADHD researcher. His book, “Taking Charge of ADHD,” is written directly to parents of ADHD children.
What kind of qualifications should parents look for when looking for a tutor for a child who needs to catch up?
Your child’s self-esteem is more critical to learning than you may expect. Find a tutor who is not just knowledgeable but is invested in making sure your child has the confidence to succeed academically. No matter how great a curriculum is, the skill set necessary to keep a child engaged and excited for their lessons requires compassion and patience. When seeking a tutor, parents should always meet and interview the tutor first to ensure that it is a good fit. The tutor should be able to describe their plan of action and explain why they chose this plan as it pertains to your child’s specific learning goals.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
This has been a trying and unusual time for families and teachers alike. Parents are concerned that their children may be falling behind socially or academically. I wish I could comfort them and let them know that they are not alone in this feeling. Almost every parent I have spoken with has experienced similar fears and concerns. If your concerns have not been adequately addressed, seek assistance such as tutoring support or a meeting with the teachers. This year, parents were able to get more insight into what their child’s daily life was like. It is important that when things return to normal, that parents continue to check-in on their child’s academic and social progress. In my experience, having a parent as an ally can be one of the most critical factors in a child’s success.