Academic Concerns

Student surrounded by piles of books

Academic concerns, which might include issues such as learning difficulties or disabilities, underachievement, lack of attention from teachers, and bullying, affect a number of students throughout their academic careers, from elementary school to college. Academic concerns may influence a student’s performance in the classroom negatively, but they are also likely to have a significant effect on other areas of life, often placing undue stress on a child and interfering with home, work, and play dimensions. A student who experiences some type of academic concern may benefit from speaking to a mental health professional.

Understanding Academic Concerns

Concerns of an academic nature can relate to a child’s performance in the classroom, but they might also include a child’s behavior toward teachers or fellow students. Some typical academic concerns include:

  • Learning disabilities

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  • Lack of proper attention from school officials
  • Bullying at school
  • Inability to pay for schooling or lack of financial means
  • Disinterest in topic(s) of study
  • Confusion about or misunderstanding of topic(s) of study
  • Underachievement in studies
  • Procrastination and time management issues

Parents and classroom instructors who maintain an awareness of any difficulties the children in their care might be having may be able to recognize an academic concern early in its development. This mindfulness may benefit a child significantly, as academic concerns, especially those that go unrecognized, may have a lasting impact on a child’s educational outlook. For example, a child who struggles with reading in primary school will be more likely to consistently underachieve in the classroom throughout high school, at which point he or she may find it difficult to prepare for college-level work. Areas of concern in the classroom may also have an effect on a child’s mental health.

Academic Concerns and Mental Health

Academic concerns are closely related to the mental health of children. According to reports from the United States Department of Health and Human Services, 21% of school-age children have a diagnosable mental health condition. However, only about 20% of these children are diagnosed and treated. The remaining 80% often experience difficulty in school and may be more likely to drop out of school. They are also more likely to attempt suicide: More than 90% of adolescents who commit suicide have a serious mental health condition.

Academic concerns may result from mental health issues, such as anxiety or attention-deficit hyperactivity, but at the same time, a child might also develop mental health concerns, such as stress, as a result of his or her academic difficulties. A child with a learning disability that is not recognized or correctly treated, for example, might become stressed due to parental pressure to earn better grades and frustrated with teachers who do not offer adequate assistance. The child might then become anxious about school, and the stress might also manifest as aggression toward the child’s teacher or peers.

Support for Students with Academic Concerns

Students who are struggling with school might obtain help in a number of ways. Concerns that are academic in nature can often be resolved with greater support from the academic system. A child who struggles with a particular subject might benefit from specialized study or a tutor, while a child who has a learning disability may be able to complete assignments with accuracy but need more time to do so than his or her peers. Classroom accommodations for students with disabilities are often effective at meeting the different needs of students, and special education classrooms might be an option for some students whose current classroom placement may not allow them to thrive. School tutoring programs might also benefit some children, and teachers can make sure that all students are aware of the counseling services, accommodations for disabilities, and tutoring services that are available to them.

Children who experience stress as a result of academic pressure may benefit from counseling. School counselors can often help identify causes of concern and refer a child to a therapist, if necessary. Academic concerns can also occur as a result of a traumatic experience, personal or family problems, or family financial issues. Psychotherapy can address those underlying issues and help treat them. An adolescent who experiences difficulty in school after a traumatic incident, for example, may find his or her performance in the classroom improving once he or she is able to discuss the trauma in therapy.

Accommodations for Students with Learning Disabilities

As awareness of learning disabilities has increased, so have classroom-based accommodations for students who have learning disabilities. Learning disabilities can fall into several categories, potentially affecting a student’s abilities in the areas of spoken language, written language, mathematics, or reasoning, and a teacher can work with a student and the student’s parents to accommodate these disabilities.

A student with a learning disability or other special needs will often benefit from an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP, which describes a child’s needs and goals for any given school year and outlines the accommodations that a child might need to reach those goals. The parents, teacher, and student might work together to create this plan in order for the student to obtain the most benefit from classroom instruction. For example, a student who has difficulty writing might be allowed to type assignments or record them orally, and a student who cannot read easily might benefit from reading along to a recording of the lesson. An IEP may be used both within a special education classroom and without.

Some students who have learning disabilities are able to develop academically without being placed in a special education program, but other students, who may be identified as “exceptional” by school boards, are determined to potentially obtain more benefit from a special education classroom. The goal of special education programs is to allow those children with exceptionalities to receive the same opportunities and benefits from education as their peers.

Students with disabilities may also, under the Section 504 statute, develop a plan that provides for their reasonable access to services that will meet their specialized needs. A 504 Plan does not refer to specialized instruction but ensures that a student with a disability will receive any accommodations necessary to allow that student the same opportunities to succeed academically as a student without a disability. Students who are considered to be eligible for a 504 Plan may have a mental health condition, learning disability, medical condition, or physical impairment that somehow impairs their ability to adequately access learning in the classroom and limits their activities. They generally do not need placement in a special education classroom, only accommodations that allow them to succeed.

Case Examples

  • Poor academic performance resulting from vision problems: Rosalin, 8, visits the school counselor because her teacher has expressed concern about her sudden poor performance in the classroom. She does not participate in classroom work, has stopped turning in homework assignments, and puts her head down on her desk often, as if she were tired. The counselor asks Rosalin if she is getting enough sleep and tries to identify other potential problems. Rosalin does not have anything negative to say about her home life and reports that she eats three meals a day and sleeps often. In fact, she tells the counselor, she takes a nap every day after school because her head always hurts, and she has difficulty seeing. The counselor asks if that is why Rosalin has not been completing assignments, and Rosalin says yes. The school nurse finds that Rosalin's vision seems to be very poor and calls her mother. An eye doctor determines that Rosalin needs glasses. Once she begins wearing her glasses, her classroom performance returns to its former state.
  • Classroom performance affected by dyslexia: Mateo, 11, is beginning the fifth grade for the second time. He has always experienced difficulty in language arts subjects, especially reading and spelling, but past teachers have told him that he just needs to try harder and spend more time reading at home. His new teacher, who notices that he does not speak much in class and seems to have difficulty when he does, realizes that there may be another factor and refers Mateo to the school counselor. The counselor suspects, after talking to Mateo, that he may be dyslexic, and she refers him to a psychologist, where he is diagnosed with dyslexia. At school, the counselor works with Mateo's parents and teacher to help develop an IEP and establish him with a tutor, who begins to work with Mateo individually each day. His teacher offers alternative assignment formats to Mateo, allowing him to use a computer to complete certain assignments, and slowly Mateo's work begins to show an improvement.

References:

  1. Accommodations, Techniques, and Aids for Learning. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://ldaamerica.org/accommodations-techniques-and-aids-for-learning.
  2. Diagnosing Dyslexia. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://dyslexiahelp.umich.edu/professionals/learn-about-dyslexia/diagnosing-dyslexia#13.
  3. Durheim, M. (2010, January 1). A parent's guide to Section 504 in public schools. Retrieved from http://www.greatschools.org/special-education/legal-rights/868-section-504.gs?page=all.
  4. Facts on Children's Mental Health in America. (2010, July 1). Retrieved from http://www2.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=federal_and_state_policy_legislation&template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=43804.
  5. Lyness, A. (2014, September 1). Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). Retrieved from http://kidshealth.org/parent/growth/learning/iep.html#.
  6. Taking a Closer Look: My Child's Academic Success. (2008, July 28). Retrieved from http://www.readingrockets.org/article/taking-closer-look-my-childs-academic-success.
  7. What is the difference between an IEP and a 504 Plan? (2013, January 24). Retrieved from http://www.washington.edu/doit/what-difference-between-iep-and-504-plan.

 

Last updated: 07-03-2015

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