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Success Strategies for Struggling Students

School is your child’s work, but like most jobs, there are good days and bad, great bosses (teachers) and not so great ones, and classes that are easier than others.

For some of even the brightest kids, however, like my youngest daughter, nearly every test can seem difficult, every teacher hard and every assignment a major hurdle. With the challenges of online learning during the pandemic, these challenges can be more pronounced than ever. Tutors can help, of course, but they’re expensive and can’t do everything without cheating your child out of the “I can do it” sense of self-efficacy that can serve her well throughout life.

How can you help your aspiring scholar reach her potential? We asked educators and learning experts for their top tips. Here are five of their best answers that can serve your child well long after the pandemic is over.

Seek out testing early.
If your student gets extra help at school but isn’t making progress academically, seek out a school evaluation and/or at a private neuropsychology assessment center.

Studies suggest that 15 to 20 percent of the population has a learning disorder of some type, such as dyslexia, a specific reading or language comprehension issue, or a math disorder.

“Learning disorders occur throughout the range of intelligence. Even very highly functioning students can have them,” says E. Mark Mahone PhD, ABPP, a pediatric neuropsychologist director of the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center at the Kennedy Krieger Institute at Johns Hopkins University.

A learning disorder is when a child or anyone who has had adequate opportunity for instruction and has the adequate intelligence to be able to learn specific skills, isn’t learning those skills in a way that’s appropriate for his or her age. Learning disabilities are biological conditions that lead to a set of behaviors that can be challenging. They tend to run in families.

“Kids can’t help it,” Dr. Mahone says. If your child has a learning disorder, it’s important to diagnose it early, if possible, to prevent harmful repercussions. Continually tanking on tests and quizzes or not understanding the material can affect your child’s self-esteem and brain development. “The average child with a reading disability doesn’t get identified until the second or third grade. By then, that child has two, three or four years of failure before getting the appropriate intervention,” Dr. Mahone says. Intervention, which may include medication and behavioral treatment, can help the brain reorganize more efficiently so that academic skills build naturally over time, making school easier and less stressful.

It’s important to note that learning disabilities don’t typically occur in isolation. For example, 35 to 40 percent of students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) also have dyslexia and vice versa. “Whenever you find one learning disability, you should look for others,” Dr. Mahone says. “For the best outcome, everything should be treated concurrently.”

Teach kids to make oatmeal.
“Learning is like driving a car. You have to keep filling the gas tank,” says Sharon Rose Sugar, an academic interventionist and author of

Smart Grades: Every Day an Easy A. “It takes tremendous energy to learn, but many kids are running on empty.” Cold cereal for breakfast doesn’t cut it. “What can make a big difference in the morning is just a bowl of oatmeal,” Sugar says, topped with nutritious add-ons like walnuts, blueberries, cinnamon, honey or maple syrup.

Kids should fuel homework sessions with wholesome study snacks too, such as an apple or rice cake with peanut butter or carrots and hummus and water. The brain is a power tool. To boost performance, “after every homework assignment, kids should eat something healthy,” Sugar says.

Preview homework, then take a brain break.
If your child is typically anxious about homework, teach her to go over her homework assignments when the school day has ended, including the questions she needs to answer, then to take a break before diving in. “Kids aren’t under any pressure to answer those questions right away. But their brain starts working.

When they come back to their homework, it’s a lot easier for them to start their work because they’ve previewed it,” says Katherine Firestone, founder of the Fireborn Institute and “The Happy Student” podcast.

Turn reading into a workout.
Kids have so many facts coming at them in every online and in-person class and homework assignment. To help them retain key ideas they’ll later need for the test, they need to be active readers.

Before reading a chapter in their textbook, students should read the chapter title, the headings and subheadings and the questions at the end. “Reviewing chapters first helps kids understand the key ideas,” says Firestone. Then, while they’re reading, they should underline the main idea and jot down notes to review for the test. These techniques can make all the difference, as Firestone knows firsthand. (She was diagnosed with ADHD in high school.) Active reading takes more time and effort, but it helps the facts sink in. “It resulted in a huge transformation for me,” Firestone says.

Talk yourself into better grades.
“When you get As or Bs, school is more enjoyable, but some kids, especially those with learning disorders, have emotional roadblocks to getting good grades,” says Paul J. Hughes, a college professor and author of Change Your Grades. Change Your Life. Early on, kids can form negative self-perceptions, such as

“I’m bad at taking tests,” which gets hardwired into their subconscious, programming them for failure. “Our thoughts affect outcomes,” Hughes says.

To help his struggling students talk themselves into doing well on tests, Hughes teaches them to write and recite “afformations,” which are questions that address their specific academic concern, but stated as a positive, such as: “Why am I so comfortable and confident taking an exam?” and “Why do I always perform up to my expectations on an exam?”

“The why at the beginning is what the brain picks up and runs with, reprogramming the subconscious to believe what you’re telling it,” Hughes says. “I say to my students, ‘I know afformations are weird but they can change everything.’ The more you read them to yourself, the sooner they kick in.”

By Sandra Gordon

8 Facts About ADHD

It’s just my ADHD kicking in,” is what a lot of people say when they can’t focus, have too much energy or they become easily distracted. But actually, ADHD is a very serious condition that must be treated by a professional. What are the real facts about ADHD? What are the things you don’t know about the condition?

As a child and adult psychiatrist and founder of Saranga Comprehensive Psychiatry, I’d like to offer these 8 facts that everyone must understand about ADHD:

  1. Boys vs. girls: The reason it seems that girls aren’t diagnosed as much with ADHD as boys is because they develop symptoms a little later on than boys, and those symptoms are different. Generally speaking, girls seem to show less disruptiveness and more inattention.
  2. ADHD can continue into adulthood: As we age, ADHD can present itself in other ways and lead to mood disorders, anxiety, substance abuse, agitations, sleep difficulty, and other behavioral problems. The hyperactivity/impulsivity symptoms are more prominent in childhood years, but these symptoms tend to improve as a child gets older. The inattention symptoms tend to continue on into adolescence and adulthood.
  3. ADHD is often mischaracterized as a learning disability: The reason ADHD is sometimes mischaracterized as a learning disability is because roughly 2/3 of kids with ADHD do have some sort of diagnosable learning disorder or other mental health disorder. However, there is a clear distinction between ADHD and learning disorders.
  4. It’s not that ADHD is overly-diagnosed: We see more kids being diagnosed with ADHD because of greater awareness and improved detection of the condition, including those kids who may have less severe forms of it. As more people learn about ADHD and can recognize its symptoms, children as young as age four, and more adolescents, girls, and adults with this condition are being identified and treated.
  5. ADHD is not just acting out or failure to concentrate: Unfortunately, in our society, it’s become all too common to mischaracterize children who misbehave or act out as having ADHD. ADHD is not a term to toss around lightly. ADHD is a very serious condition that can hamper the behavior and functionality of both children and adults. It must be treated by a trained professional.
  6. Trying harder is not the answer: If you have ADHD, don’t let people convince you or your kids that they need to try harder, concentrate more or try to control their hyperactivity. It’s the equivalent to telling a diabetic that his blood sugar shouldn’t spike out of control. Medication, therapy and behavioral changes are what’s needed to see an improvement.
  7. Get a proper diagnosis: 10 percent of children between the ages of four and 17 are reported by their parents as being diagnosed with ADHD. Make sure and get a proper diagnosis from a trained mental health professional who specializes in ADHD and can prescribe the right combination of treatment including medication and therapy.
  8. ADHD is not a reflection of parenting style: Parents should never be blamed because their child has ADHD. ADHD is a real condition rooted in the makeup of the brain just like depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders and other psychiatric illnesses. Your child would have been diagnosed with ADHD regardless of how he/she was raised. To learn more go to

By Vinay Saranga M.D.


Hummingbird Therapy & Enrichment Center
Our 15,000 square foot pediatric therapy center and Children’s Academy boasts a modern, mid-century and totally kid-friendly vibe! We have three amazing professionally designed sensory-motor gyms, twenty-eight?? private therapy rooms, two feeding therapy rooms and our innovative, STEAM based therapeutic academy classrooms! Our staff is very experienced, all with Masters & Doctoral trained therapists. Some of our services include: Speech/Language, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Feeding Therapy, Developmental Therapy, Hippotherapy (off site), Social Groups. Our therapeutic academy is for 3-6 year olds and led by speech therapists, and children receive OT, PT & social-emotional therapies each day. 750 Pasquinelli Drive #204, Westmont, IL 60559.

SEASPAR is a special recreation association offering therapeutic recreation programs and services – including two multi-sensory rooms, and virtual and in-person programming – for people with disabilities served by the park districts of Clarendon Hills, Darien, Downers Grove, La Grange, La Grange Park, Lemont, Lisle, Westmont, and Woodridge, and the villages of Brookfield, Indian Head Park, and Western Springs. Visit or call 630.960.7600 for more information about our year-round programming for all ages and all abilities!

Shepherd’s Flock Child Care & Preschool
Shepherd’s Flock is a newly remodeled Intergenerational Christian Child Care Center located on the campus of Lutheran Home.  The center holds a Silver Circle of Quality through Excelerate Illinois which shows we are committed to quality improvement and excellence in education.  We have several openings in our toddler and infant rooms.  For more information or to schedule a tour please contact the Director, Jen Soukup at 847-368-7391 or our email at

Saint Ignatius College Prep
Saint Ignatius College Prep, a Jesuit Catholic school in the heart of Chicago, is a diverse community dedicated to educating students for lives of faith, love, service and leadership. Through outstanding teaching and formation, we challenge our talented student body to intellectual excellence, integrity, life-long learning and growth. Inspired by the gospel of Jesus, this community strives to use God’s gifts to promote social justice for the greater glory of God. Located at 1076 W. Roosevelt Road, Chicago, IL 60608. For more information visit

Bridgedale Academy
Bridgedale Academy is a boys-only private school for athletes offering 5th through 8th grade. We provide an in-person classical education, so integral to a youngster’s proper intellectual development. We also provide elite-level athletic training on a daily basis, featuring a 70-minute on-ice session followed by a 40-minute off-ice session. Training is rigorous by design, challenging our athletes physically, mentally and emotionally. We nurture leadership qualities in our student-athletes so they develop the mental toughness to overcome obstacles and gain an edge over the competition, in sports and in life.

6690 S. Route 53, Woodridge, IL 60517. 708-712-5079.

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