My Child Is Struggling in School. What Should I Do?

By Allene Grafman, M.S.
CAA Special Education Advocate
Former CT Public School Administrator, Special Education

Now that the school year is in full swing – with its new routines, hectic schedules, and oh yes, more homework – many parents are seeing signs their children are growing in multiple areas of physical, academic, social and emotional development.

For some parents, however, the new year and its new challenges have brought new, or renewed, concerns. This article is written to help parents who are concerned that their child appears to be lagging behind his/her peer group in one or more of the developmental areas, and those who may be coming to the realization that things are just ‘not right’.

The first step is to recognize the need for action, and the next step is to know how to proceed.

Common warning signs:
Experts say to look for the following behaviors in your child and note the consistency, longevity, severity and patterns of occurrence:

• Difficulty falling asleep and/or maintaining sleep
• An over dependence upon adults
• An unwillingness or resistance to attending school
• A discomfort about sharing or retelling about his/her school day when asked
• Limited attention to homework or an extreme fixation on homework with a compulsiveness for perfectionism
• An aura of sadness or aloofness
• Demanding excess attention from adults/peers
• Behavior or attention problems in the classroom
• Giving up on tasks easily
• Impulsive response to typical requests
• Crying easily (especially with an older child) Physical behaviors such as biting nails or tics
• Pretend illnesses or feeling of being sick

This list is by no means exhaustive or exclusionary. However it will help you focus on behaviors that may be associated with a school-­‐related problem that requires close attention.

Look for the following information and develop a timeline:

• Phone calls or emails from teachers relative to your child having a difficult day or incident at school
• Homework that your child had difficulty with or refused to do
• Behavior incidents or office referrals
• Difficulty with peer social relationships at school
• Inconsistent and/or poor grades on homework, tests, quizzes, classroom assignments and projects

You will want to start a file that documents this information, as it will prove a helpful reference for you and school staff if further analysis is required.


When behaviors, school work and teacher input indicates the need for a more detailed and targeted approach, it is time to act and become a more proactive advocate for your child.

How to advocate for your child:

• Contact your child’s teacher and schedule a conference.
• Bring your portfolio information and ask for the teacher’s input and feedback.
• Ask the teacher if your child should be considered for general education
intervention. In Connecticut this is known as Scientifically Based Researched Instruction (SRBI). Request an SRBI referral meeting.
• Familiarize yourself with the SRBI process by going on the CT State Education Dept. Website (
• If your child receives SRBI, become an active participant with the school team. Attend meetings and help to set timelines for intervention.
• Work with the teacher and school psychologist to develop strategies at home and in school to provide the support your child needs.
• Work with the school social worker or school psychologist to develop a plan
on how best to communicate with your child regarding any new changes he/she will be receiving at school.
• Develop a schedule of on-­‐going progress monitoring between you and the school (through emails, phone calls or meetings).
• After a reasonable amount of time (established by the SRBI timelines) if your child is not showing adequate progress, then request a referral to the
• Planning Placement Team (PPT). The purpose of the PPT is to determine if your child requires individual specialized instruction and is eligible for special education.
• If parents feel their concerns are not being adequately addressed, they may wish to seek out private professionals to administer evaluations that can assist in determining if there is a specific cause for their child’s struggles. Such findings might include a specific learning disability, attention deficit disorder or possible intellectual disability, to name a few. If you decide to go that route, again, do your homework because there are many, many evaluators, but few who produce a written report that gives specific recommendations for how their findings should be addressed in the educational environment.
• Research the special education process by going onto the Connecticut State website.
• As a parent entering into the special education process, you will receive your procedural safeguards. These are laws and are specific to your legal rights
under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). It is critical you review and familiarize yourself with them.

The process that leads to special education can be overwhelming and confusing to parents. Understanding the PPT process and how a PPT is conducted and carried out is essential to achieving positive results.

There are many organizations and resources that parents can turn to for information and direct support in navigating through the PPT process, and facilitating effective communication between home and school.

Here is a sampling of some organizations and resources:

The U.S. Department of Education

CT State Department of Education

The Special Education Resource Center

Center for Parent Information & Resources

Special Education Network

The Pilot House –
Special Needs Resource Foundation

Some parents determine that they need more than information, and that they need direct support to help them advocate with the schools to ensure that their child is getting the help they need. In this situation, parents need to do their homework to make sure that they identify the right person – from among the many who promote themselves as advocates – to help them.

An effective advocate is a professional whose possesses the background experience, expertise and understanding of school practices, special education procedures and protocol as well as personal style of collaboration and open- mindedness, to coordinate with a school team and work collectively on behalf of the child.

As a parent, you know your child best. Often it is your instinct that drives you to make the decisions you do on a daily basis. Don’t ignore these basic signs. It is the intent of this article to give you the impetus to move ahead by alerting you to the warning signs and establishing clearly the next steps for an action-based plan. You will then become the advocate you need to be for your child.

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