4 Challenges of English Language Learners Who Learn and Think Differently
Jane Ragno, MST
At a Glance
You can ask the school to evaluate your child for learning and thinking differences.
It can be helpful for you to get to know your child’s ESL or bilingual teacher.
Your child may need special services in a language other than English.
English language learners (ELLs) with learning and thinking differences face some unique challenges. Here are some common ones that ELLs may encounter—and what you can do to help.
Challenge #1: Your child has undiagnosed learning and thinking differences.
It can be hard for schools to tell whether a child’s challenges are related to language and cultural differences or to learning and thinking differences. Because of this, it might take awhile for your child’s school to recommend an evaluation for
Solution: Talk or
email regularly with your child’s teachers. (Here are
sentence starters you can use.) Getting to know your child’s
(ESL) or bilingual teacher can help you feel comfortable discussing your child’s issues with the team at school that determines whether he qualifies for services.
Keep in mind that you don’t need to wait for the school to suggest getting an evaluation. You can
request one, too.
To learn more, watch as an expert talks about the challenge of diagnosing
Challenge #2: Your child’s IEP is difficult to understand.
The world of education is full of
acronyms. And many of these acronyms change from year to year. It can be particularly tough for parents to follow along when these acronyms don’t match up with the translated terms in their
. If your child qualifies for an
(IEP), it will contain many of these acronyms. These terms will also be used during your child’s
Solution: The school has to take steps to help you understand what’s happening at your child’s IEP meetings. That includes
providing an interpreter who speaks your preferred language. If you need the IEP to be translated, ask the school if it can do this for you. Many schools are given money for translation services, so your child’s school may be able to have the IEP translated.
Before you leave each meeting, be sure you understand all the acronyms in your child’s IEP. This includes the description of your child’s classification as well as all the services he’ll be receiving.
Remember that the IEP is a legal document. When you sign it, that means you’re agreeing to it. It’s important that you understand and agree with everything in it because once you sign it, it can be hard to get the school to make changes to it. Here are some things to
double-check before signing the IEP.
Challenge #3: Your child isn’t receiving services in the right language.
Many schools don’t have bilingual service providers. This means your child might end up receiving services in English even if the school psychologist determines that your child is more fluent in another language.
Solution: Learn more about
your child’s rights. Schools must take steps to ensure that ELLs can understand and participate meaningfully in educational programs. These steps are sometimes called “Lau remedies.”
This term refers to Lau v. Nichols. In 1974, the Supreme Court ruled in this case that school districts must comply with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin in programs and activities that receive federal funding.
Lau remedies might include hiring a contractor to provide services in another language. Some schools may leave it up to parents to call or take other proactive steps to start receiving these services at another facility or, in some limited cases, in their home. The most important thing is for you to be persistent. Regardless of where the services are provided, make sure each service is provided in whichever language is listed in the IEP for that service.
Challenge #4: Your child is frequently pulled out of class to receive services.
Scheduling can be a big challenge. Because ESL instruction and other services are provided during the school day, it’s likely that your child will miss part of his regular classroom instruction. This can make it harder for him to keep up with his peers.
Solution: Ask your child’s teachers for a detailed copy of his schedule. Make sure you understand which subjects, if any, he’s missing during the day. Discuss whether it’s possible for some of his services to be provided in his regular classroom. These are referred to as “
push-in services” and can help keep your child from missing out on core instruction.
Remember that you are your child’s No. 1 advocate. But there are many educators out there who will fight for your child, too. Being the parent of an ELL with learning and thinking differences can be challenging at times. But there are ways to face these challenges and get your child the services and support he needs to succeed.