What can you do if your child is struggling in school?

Ellen Passloff, MD, is a pediatrician with The Everett Clinic at Shoreline.


Fall is upon us, and parent-teacher conferences are around the corner.

We all want to hear that our children are well-behaved, learning, having fun, and getting along well with their classmates. But what if that’s not the feedback you receive? You may be told that your child is struggling with reading, writing or math, they are disruptive and fidgety in class, can’t follow directions or complete assignments, have difficulty making friends or may be aggressive towards others.


It’s crucial that your child has an evaluation as soon as learning challenges become apparent. According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, one in five children have learning and attention issues such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Evaluation starts with testing at your local public school, even if your child attends an independent school. Testing can be started as early as 3 years old, when delays in speech, gross motor, fine motor and social skills are often identified.

If there are areas of concern, an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) is developed and your child can receive special education services through the public-school district. Typical services include speech therapy, occupational therapy (OT), physical therapy (PT), social-skills training and extra help in reading and math for older students. Your child may need additional help outside of school such as a reading specialist, tutor, private speech therapist, occupational therapist or physical therapist.


If your child doesn’t have a clearly identified learning disability, but can’t pay attention in class, sit still, or is frequently disruptive, see your pediatrician to discuss additional testing. ADHD may be one possible diagnosis. According to the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 9.4% of all children in the U.S. between the ages of 2 to 17 years had an ADHD diagnosis in 2016.

Children with ADHD may struggle both inside and outside of the classroom. It may be difficult to pay attention in sports, respect personal space of others, control impulsivity, or wind down to go to sleep. If ADHD is diagnosed, medications and therapy can make a huge difference, as can working with an organizational tutor to build lifelong skills. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that two out of three children in the U.S. with an ADHD diagnosis have at least one other mental health diagnosis such as anxiety, depression, Tourette’s Syndrome, or Autism Spectrum Disorder.

A pediatrician, psychiatrist and neuropsychologist can be instrumental in diagnosing ADHD. The detailed testing done by a neuropsychologist can more clearly identify disabilities such as ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder, as well as dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia. The testing can also reveal whether there is anxiety or depression present as well. The neuropsychologist can provide recommendations for the school’s office of learning support.


Both public and independent schools will review recommendations and help create a 504 accommodation plan for your child. Accommodations can consist of extra time to complete assignments, extra time on tests, electronic instead of written tests, scheduled breaks during a test, the opportunity to take tests in quiet, distraction-free classrooms and other accommodations. The accommodations outlined in your child’s initial 504 plan typically support accommodations when testing for higher education (such as the SAT and ACT). Working with your child’s school to keep learning plans current helps your child develop the best plan for each stage of their education. As your children advance in school, they need to learn to advocate for themselves and their 504 plans. It will be a lifelong skill for them to know when to ask for help and to know which accommodations will benefit them most in their future life paths and careers.


Ellen Passloff, MD, is a pediatrician with The Everett Clinic at Shoreline. Dr. Passloff says that there is nothing more gratifying to her than providing guidance and reassurance to families while working together to analyze and treat health concerns and illnesses. She is currently welcoming new patients to her practice.


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