Some High School Tips That Work  

My very NLD (also SI and Hypotonia) son attends an academic high school where he carries a course load composed of all regular and accelerated courses. His school uses block scheduling, which means there are A, B, and C schedule days, and the occasional D schedule for late start snow days. He currently has 8 teachers and nine courses, a nightmare for any NLD kid, more so for one who also has sensory integration issues. After many years of trial and error, I think we have evolved a structure that works well for him, and that may be able to provide some help or guidance to others.

My son uses most of the strategies and accommodations recommended in Sue Thompson’s sourcebook. He uses a computer for most of his written assignments in class; he has extended time testing; designated notetakers in each class; front-row seating where necessary; and a tape recorder to record his ideas for written assignments. His in-class work is not graded on spelling, punctuation, or neatness.

However, we wanted to take his accommodations a step further – to see if we could make his situation even better and school less onerous. Working from Sue Thompson’s observations about the benefits of both cooperative learning for students with NLD and working with students who can model appropriate study skills and social behavior, we encouraged him to form small study groups with classmates. These groups get together, by phone, to review class materials or prepare for exams, much like the law school study groups portrayed in the Paper Chase. The discussions allow my son to learn or reinforce class material orally – his strength – and to practice anticipated exam responses orally. The other kids also clue him on cues he may have missed that indicate what a teacher might be looking for in an assignment or in a test question. Because of his social skill deficits, the resource teachers had to give this strategy a little help, but now I may be the only parent who asks why my son is not on the phone for hours the night before a test. Unfortunately, this also means there is no phone curfew and mom’s social use of the phone is extremely limited.

With the same thought in mind, we worked, with the school staff, to change the way his teachers assign him to groups for group projects and cooperative learning. Most of his teachers now make sure his workgroups include higher functioning students for him to model. In biology, his assigned lab partner is known for her beautiful lab write-ups and never misses turning labs in on time. Since he has been paired with this student, his lab turn-in rate has soared and his teacher notes his labs are more organized and complete. As an added bonus, he has become friendly with several of the students with whom he has been paired for long-term work. As time passes, his partners become less concerned with his "weirdness," as they get to know the real teenager underneath.

The special education program at his school requires all students who have IEPs to take structured study hall as one of their electives. The special education staff runs the structured study hall, which is where the students finish their extended time testing and receive resource help. Structured study hall provides the special ed. teachers with a set period two to three times a week where they physically check in with each special ed. Student and review assignment books, homework or anything else required by an IEP. If the check-in reveals a difficulty with a particular subject or teacher, the special ed. staff can intervene quickly. It also provides the time for pull-out services such as speech therapy, without interfering with regular classes.

We also have had great luck using a private LD tutor to supplement the school’s services. She does not remediate. She coaches skills and strategies for time management, organization – including cleaning out his locker and backpack twice a month, which I would never touch - and handling long-term assignments. She reviews teacher comments on his work with him, to help him understand specifically what is being asked of him. His tutor comes into the school to work with him, using structured study hall for one session a week and lunch for another, and interacts with his teachers on a regular basis. While we pay for the tutor privately, the school incorporates her into its plan for my son. The instructions given to the teachers at the beginning of the year ask the teachers to notify the LD tutor if there are difficulties. Some now send her copies of long-term assignments so she can use them to teach him organization strategies, and she has sat in on more than one teacher-student conference about written work, acting as an interpreter of sorts, breaking things down into the type of specific direction my son needs. As she does that, she teaches my son how to ask the questions required to get the concrete detail he needs to understand an assignment. He is getting better and better at doing this for himself.

All this is reinforced by some general policies in place in his high school. Some years ago the school created a system that requires teachers to notify parents, in a mailed written parent alert, when any student begins to miss more than the occasional assignment or earns an unusually low grade. Several teachers now post assignments at, which helps everyone, not just students with LDs. And, every teacher has voice mail. Although IEPs are generally only reviewed triennially, each parent receives a copy of the plan for the coming year in August, along with a draft of the cover letter that will accompany it when it is mailed to the teachers. Parents are asked to provide additions to the letter and to sign-off on the whole package.

Of course each child’s experience is unique. But we have found our son has been able to maintain solid grades and carry a full course load with this support in place, despite the fact that the school will not modify its requirements for written work or allow oral testing. With his tutor leading the way he is also improving his self-advocacy skills. It isn’t, of course, perfect. Some teachers never get with the program. Some written work, even with help, still stumps him. Sometimes, it seems no one can make a teacher’s instructions clear enough and concrete enough. And occasionally, with his strong verbal skills, he leads his entire study group galloping off in the wrong direction. But overall, this mix of accommodations and strategies has been quite successful for us.


Copyright Callie B. Gass