Your child is struggling in school, but you may not be ready to have him evaluated. Is there a way to get him help without going through the special education process? The answer, most likely, is yes. At least for the short term.
His teacher may be willing to try some informal supports in the classroom to see if they’ll help. These can include a wide range of strategies, from taking quick breaks between tasks to getting class notes from another student. They don’t change what your child is expected to learn. But they may show that with extra support, your child can learn better.
Informal supports aren’t a substitute for special education accommodations and modifications. Your child will get the best services by having a full evaluation for special education. Informal supports can, however, be a first step toward getting your child the help he needs.
Informal Supports vs. Formal Accommodations
To get accommodations and modifications, students must be found eligible for an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or a 504 plan. Formal supports are then written into the IEP or 504 plan and guaranteed by law.
Informal supports don’t require an evaluation or diagnosis. But schools are not obligated to provide them. There’s also a limit to the kinds of help that teachers can provide without a formal plan in place.
Examples of Informal Supports
Here are some ideas for informal supports you can consider requesting for your child:
- Seating where he learns best. This could be near the teacher’s desk or away from the distraction of doors and windows.
- Quick breaks after finishing tasks. He could take a walk to the water fountain.
- In-class tools to reduce fidgeting. Your child could hold a squeeze ball. Or his teacher might wrap your child’s chair legs with a latex resistance band for him to kick. (Learn more ways to make a low-cost sensory chair.)
- A quiet area for test taking and studying.
- Frequent eye contact from your child’s teacher, to keep him engaged.
- A cue to quietly keep your child on task. This could be a touch on the shoulder or a sticky note placed on his desk.
- A master notebook for all subjects, to help stay organized.
- A homework notebook that teacher and parents can sign off on daily.
- Key points from the day’s lessons listed on the board.
- Use of his own laptop computer for taking notes during class.
- Class notes shared by another student.
- A routine of checking in with the teacher after class to briefly discuss the lesson.
For more ideas, explore common accommodations for students with learning and attention issues.
How to Get Informal Supports for Your Child
There’s no set process for getting informal supports. It starts with a conversation between you and your child’s teacher. If you know of strategies that have worked in the past, share them with the teacher. But also seek the teacher’s recommendations based on what’s been happening in class.
Here are suggestions for how to talk to your child’s teacher about informal supports:
- Describe the problem, not the solution. You might want your child to use his laptop for taking notes. But starting off by saying that isn’t the best approach. Instead, tell the teacher your child’s notes are suffering because he writes so slowly. The teacher may arrange for another student to share notes with him. And she may be more supportive since it’s her idea.
- Seek simple and flexible supports. Asking a teacher to never move your child’s seat may go against her teaching routine. Instead, ask if she can keep him in the same general area (near her desk, for example).
- Show respect for her concerns. For example, high school teachers may be unwilling to provide supports because they think it’s unfair to other students. Acknowledge concerns like this. Then ask the teacher what she might feel comfortable doing to help your child.
During your discussions, the teacher may suggest bringing in other school professionals like the guidance counselor or reading teacher for their input. Some schools may even have an intervention team that serves this purpose. The teacher may also bring up response to intervention (RTI) to help with academics.
When Informal Supports Aren’t the Best Option
While it’s important to know how to ask for informal supports, it’s equally important to know when they are and aren’t appropriate. If you think your child’s challenges are fairly short term, or if you’re weighing the benefits of evaluation, they can be a good option.
Any informal strategies the teacher tries should be reassessed after a month or so to see what effect they’re having. If they’re working, you can see if the teacher will continue with them. But if it appears that your child will benefit from having them for longer than a few months, having him evaluated can get him the best help possible.
Explore our beginner’s guide to evaluations. If you’re ready to request an evaluation, follow these steps.