Parents of children with Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS) are often faced with the decision of whether or not to retain their child in preschool or kindergarten (and sometimes beyond). Sometimes it is the parent’s idea to retain and, at other times, it is the school’s idea.
There are so many questions at hand: Is my child’s speech “good enough”? Will she be made fun of by other children? Does he have the skills needed? Although this decision is never an easy one and many different issues need to be considered, it is ultimately up to the parent in consultation with the child’s school team. This short article briefly discusses some thinking points for parents.
Following are some issues that you may wish to consider:
- Communication Skills. Communication is very important. A child’s ability to communicate effectively with his or her peers is a skill that will serve him or her well. A child who cannot communicate effectively may not be getting the full advantage of education, social interactions, etc. However, if your child’s speech isn’t intelligible yet, there are other ways to promote communication (high-tech augmentative and alternative communication devices, low-tech options such as a picture communication book, etc.). Having a team of professionals willing to help your child is an asset. Seek their input on retention. (Also, if there are concerns, this might be a great time to discuss speech services!) Please note that children with apraxia and other communication problems can and have successfully moved on in grade level or school setting with appropriate support and attention.
- Service Delivery. How will retaining your child affect his/her services? Service delivery models may change based upon age and whether or not a child is in preschool or in public school. Moving services from one setting to another may affect how services are delivered as well as the amount of services. Be knowledgeable about the ways your decision may affect service delivery. Ask the public school therapists who are working with your child or contact the Special Education Department or liaison of your child’s school (or of your local school district). It may be wise to have the person who is sharing the information show you the school district’s policy guidelines or share it with you in writing.
- Social Skills. Developing appropriate social skills is important as well. Some highly experienced kindergarten teachers believe that social skills are more important at school entry than just about any other skill. How does your child relate to peers? Teachers and other adults? Are you looking to the school to fulfill relationships among friends? Some parents actually do consider the school environment to be the most important one to develop friendships. Other parents enroll their children in outside activities, such as church groups, scouting groups, sport groups, etc. Would retaining your child improve his/her social skills? How? Would your child need instruction to develop skills or would one more year of maturity help? Would your child feel more comfortable in the company of peers who have a similar maturity level? Or would they flourish with more advanced speech and social models?
- Stature. Some families readily admit they withheld their children from starting school until a later age to allow them to develop physically . . . this is usually followed by the thought that perhaps they will perform better in sports! Regardless, some parents state that they chose advancing their child to kindergarten or first grade because of concerns with their child being the biggest/tallest in their class. And some families discuss retaining their child because of small stature. One suggestion was for parents to consider the “trend” in the area in which they live.
- Academics. How is your child doing academically? If he/she is behind what is expected for their age or grade level, consider why this is so. Was it the teaching environment? The impact of your child’s disabilities? The support your child received in the classroom? The degree or amount of services? If you retain your child, what sort of guarantee do you have that your child will be ready for promotion at the end of the next academic year? If you are unclear about what would be expected of your child in kindergarten or a particular grade level, ask your school to share the grade level standards for your state. If your child had difficulties this year, and you and/or the school is considering retention, there needs to be a meeting to discuss why your child didn’t do well and how his/her needs will be addressed differently through specific interventions in the following year (regardless of whether or not you retain your child). You do not want a repeat of the previous year! More of the same is unlikely to be effective. So, if you and your child’s school team believe your child should be retained you should assure that a more appropriate program is created to address his or her individual needs.
- Retention Research. It can feel overwhelming to review what is known in the research literature about retention. In a nutshell, it is important to understand that the older the child is, the more “traumatic” retention is to them emotionally. Research also indicates that having a child repeat a grade will not likely help if their individual learning needs are not addressed differently. More time is not necessarily going to make any difference in your child’s achievements. Conversely, simply promoting a student who is experiencing academic, social and/or behavioral problems is also ineffective. Parents would do well to familiarize themselves with factual information, based on the research, as they think about their child’s situation.
- Educators. Talk to your child’s teachers. Your child is neither the first nor the last they’ve had. They’ve been asked this question a thousand times! They know the make-up of the school district, the make-up of the school itself, how services for your child may change based upon grade level, etc. Educators and school professionals typically have an incredible amount of knowledge that goes beyond the classroom. And they are usually very happy to share it, if asked.
- Skills Assessment. Ask the teacher or principal of the school what broad range of skills would be expected of your child in the next grade. Think in broader terms than solely academics. What about skills such as paper cutting, writing, drawing, etc.? If your child is unable to perform such skills or you predict your child will be unable to advance due to such constraints, this might be a good time to bring up occupational and physical therapy services. Remember – simply having more time, in many instances, is not an effective solution to a child experiencing academic or developmental problems.
- School Environment. How is the school environment set up? Is it a cooperative and collaborative environment? Does the school culture foster the inclusion of children with disabilities in positive and respectful ways? In such an environment, the school professionals (teachers, specialists, and staff) create such a cooperative environment that children with disabilities were welcomed and treated with the utmost respect. How is your child’s school environment? Is it set up for making circles of friends? Are there formal policies and programs to proactively prevent bullying? How will your child fit into the next grade level’s group of peers?
- Transition Meeting. Some schools routinely include transition meetings when kids are matriculating from preschool into kindergarten. This isn’t the only time a transition meeting is appropriate. If you would like a transition meeting as your child moves from one grade to the next, request one. This will be a time for the team (present group of professionals and the future team of professionals) to sit down and chat with you about your child and the progress he/she has made. What do they see as significant strengths and weaknesses of your child? How will services look for the next school year (whether retaining or advancing)? What services, supports, and accommodations can be made that will make advancing your child more advantageous than repeating a grade? In some instances, parents have also been able to include the “receiving” team at the next grade level or school building. You may also request a team meeting just prior to the start of the school year, to ensure there is follow through on the items discussed at this meeting.
- Summer school. Is there the possibility that summer school will help your child prepare for the next school year?
- Waiting to make the final decision. Is it possible to wait until school is about to start before finally making your decision? Some parents suggest registering your child for kindergarte, for example, as if the decision is made, and then let the school know of your final decision closer to the beginning of the school term. This may be burdensome for the school itself and make it difficult for it to properly staff and plan, but the most important thing is that you are doing what is right for your child.
- Consult other parents. Find others through parent groups or networks. Talk to parents of your child’s classmates before or after school. Connect with parents: Those who have walked in your shoes may have the best advice.
- Talking with your child. Should you decide retention is a step you will likely take, consider how you will discuss this with your child? How will you and the school handle explaining to your child why and how this will happen? It may be helpful for all adults involved at home and school use the same language to explain the situation. In some instances, the use of a social story has been helpful to particular children. It is important that no negativity be associated with retention. If you decide to retain your child, be sure the school team is prepared to intervene should questions or comments come from classmates.
- You, the parent. Ultimately, you are the parent of your child. You know your child intimately! Trust your instincts, but definitely seek guidance and others’ input. If you really feel your child needs to be retained, know why you believe this way. How will you make sure your child is ready a year from now? Should you decide to advance your child, make sure supports and services are in place to make him/her successful.
There are some resources listed below. Perhaps they can answer any additional questions you may have or give you some more “thinking points.” Alternatively, you can google such terms as retain+child, and you will get a number of sites with resources dedicated to this topic.
Retention, Delays, and Social Promotion from Wrightslaw
Is Grade Retention Right for Your Child: The Positive and Negatives of Grade Retention in Schools
Grade Retention and Promotion: Information for Parents
Tips for Deciding to Retain Your Child
[The lion’s share of this article was derived from posts to the Apraxia-Kids listserv, as well as communications with parents and professionals who have faced or are facing this decision. Special thanks to: posters to the listserv and to Suzi Knowles, Joy Prickett, Christine Murphy, Sharon Gretz, and Jackie Staddon for their review of this article and additional comments and suggestions. My sincerest apologies to anyone else I may have forgotten to acknowledge by name.]