5. School

What to Do If Your Child is Falling Behind in School

What to do when your child is falling behind in school

Regardless of your child’s age, the occasional school struggle is normal. But when that struggle becomes a pattern, it often raises concern―from parents and/or teachers.

If you suspect something isn’t quite right, trust your instincts and speak up!

Talk with Your Pediatrician  

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends talking with your child’s pediatrician about any school struggles. A child’s lack of academic progress is often a symptom of more complex issues such as various types and combinations of behavioral, psychological, and learning difficulties. Social stress, illness, and chronic medical problems may also play a role.

Not sure when to bring up concerns? 

Your child’s yearly checkup is a good time.

Pediatricians track your child’s growth and development at yearly checkups ―this includes academic growth since your last visit. To prepare for these checkups, make a list of topics you want to talk about such as school readiness, behavior problems, sleep issues, eating troubles, or mental health concerns. Bring them up with your pediatrician at the start of the visit.

FACT: Undiagnosed or poorly controlled chronic illnesses in children―such as asthma and type 1 diabetes―are linked with worsening academic performance, as well as poor school attendance. The AAP recommends talking with your pediatrician about developing a school action plan for managing your child’s condition at school.

Dig deeper for clues.  

Learn about specialty referrals and evaluations.

Your pediatrician may refer your child for psychological and educational evaluations to explore possible neurodevelopmental and language disorders, learning and intellectual disabilities, emotional health issues, and sources of stress. Don’t be alarmed if you receive a referral!

These in-depth evaluations can be done by professionals such as developmental-behavioral pediatricians, pediatric neuropsychologists, child neurologists, child psychiatrists, child psychologists, as well as speech and language pathologists, pediatric occupational therapists, and pediatric physical therapists.

Results from these evaluations can help determine why your child struggles in school, help you understand what your child needs, and offer strategies that could help and support your child.

Get Support at School

After an evaluation, pediatricians can help families request and advocate for the best Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 plan at the child’s school. The IEP spells out your child’s academic goals and outlines the exact education, services, and extra support the school district will provide.

Helping your child get back on track takes teamwork.

When a child is falling behind in school, a team-based approach between the family, the school, and the child’s healthcare providers is important. You and your child are the center of that team. 

Great teams are built on effective communication. And parents are often the ones whose shoulders it falls on to make sure all information is shared between everyone on your child’s healthcare team.

Know you are not alone on this parenting journey.An estimated that 6.6 million or 13% of total public school enrollment are supported by U.S. special education programs.In the 2017-18 school year, the most common conditions among children in these programs included:Specific learning disability (35%)Speech or language disorders (20%)Health conditions (13%)Autism spectrum disorder (9%)Intellectual disability (6%)Developmental delay (6%)Hearing, orthopedic and visual impairments, traumatic brain injuries & other (less than 2% each)

Be Patient with the Process

Resolving these kinds of complex issues can be a long and difficult process. As your child’s best advocate, you may need to consider test results, reflect on available choices, and work with your child’s healthcare team to make a plan that allows your child to reach his or her fullest potential. It may take time, and patience is key to keeping stress under control.

(And don’t forget to involve your child in any decision-making processes, if he or she is old enough; this can help build-up any self-esteem lost from falling behind in school).

​Some Health & Developmental Conditions thatCan Affect a Child’s Progress at School
Specific learning disabilitiesDifficulty in understanding or using language, causing struggles with listening, thinking, speaking, reading, writing, spelling, and/or doing math.
Heart, blood & circulatory systemPremature birth related bleeding inside the brainCongenital heart diseaseIron deficiency anemiaSickle cell anemia
Blood clotting disorders
Infectious diseasesMeningitis/encephalitis and certain infections passed from mother to baby
TraumaConcussion or head trauma with brain injuryChild abuse and neglectTraumatic stress
Toxic exposurePrenatal exposure to alcohol (FASD)
Lead and/or other environmental toxinsSubstance use
Attention, affective/mood, autism, and related disorders Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)DepressionAdjustment disordersGeneralized anxiety, separation anxiety, school phobiaAutism Spectrum Disorder
NeurologicIntellectual disabilitiesSeizuresMotor coordination disordersTourette syndrome
SocialPovertyHungerFrequent school absences, truancyParental/family mental health problems, substance use, domestic violenceSeparation and divorce, death of a loved one
Poor school- or teacher-child fitBullying, difficulty making friends, cyberbullyingMilitary deployment of a family member or loved one
Foster care/adoption
SensoryVision problemsHearing loss
SleepSleep hygiene problemsObstructive sleep apnea
Speech and languageReceptive expressive language and speech disordersLearning English as a second languageSocial communication disorder
Chronic diseasesAsthma
Diabetes (Type 1 and Type 2)Thyroid diseaseEczemaDental caries (cavities)
Childhood cancer-relatedAbnormal growths or neurologic effects of prior chemo- or radiation therapy treatment
OtherA number of additional issues can range from medication side effects to complicated genetic disorders and congenital abnormalities. 

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