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My Teen Couldn’t Handle Virtual Learning This Spring. Should I Have Them Evaluated?

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The nationwide pandemic abruptly shifted all schools to a distance-learning model last spring.

And while some students might have thrived in this new educational setting, many students suffered. This article addresses this latter category: those whose academic performance suffered – maybe severely – when schools shifted to a virtual platform.

If this happened to your teen, they might have struggled through every virtual class, assignment, and online exam. Or they may have given up completely and stayed in bed all day.

Whatever your individual case, you may have been hearing a voice in the back of your head:

Maybe I should get my teen tested for a mental health, emotional, or learning issue?

Does My Teen Have a Problem?

Lisa Faguet, LCSW, Program Director of Evolve Agoura Hills, says parents shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that their child has a learning disability, or another mental health or emotional issue, solely because they struggled with distance learning in the spring.

“Don’t just jump to ADHD or a learning difference,” she says. “If they haven’t had learning issues or a history of mental health issues in the past, then don’t start panicking now.”

Of course, you can always get a professional assessment, but Faguet says it shouldn’t be the first thing that comes to mind.

“This is a difficult time for everyone in general,” she says. “We are all struggling. None of us know what we’re doing – whether it’s the parents, teachers, school administrators, or students. I’d be cautious about parents over-pathologizing their child at this time. “

Questions to Ask If Your Teen Was (Or Is) Struggling

At the same time, there are several steps to take if your teen struggled with online learning. Ask yourself:

Did my teen…

…have a quiet place to work, or were they in bed, in their pjs?

…have a good Wifi connection and a reliable digital device to work from, on a daily basis, both for class and for homework?

…eat breakfast and lunch every day, or just snack on junk food because no one was home to make lunch?

…have some sort of routine every day that included a set wake up time, breaks, homework time, and exercise?

If none of these issues were the problem, then dig deeper.  Ask yourself what your teen has been like ever since school ended. Since the summer started, have they been better, or the same? While virtual school was in session, did you notice their issues taking over the entire day and weekends, or solely when they were supposed to be in class?

To get to the root of the problem, try to remember whether they seemed fine to you once you removed the school element, or if the problems persisted all throughout the day, and continued through summer.

Was it Academics?

If you determine the problems were brought on exclusively by the academic challenges of distance-learning, talk to the school. Get in touch with their teacher from last year and ask for their thoughts on the previous couple of months. Often, teachers have the best insights. They might suggest tutoring. If the teacher suspects a learning issue, they will probably recommend a psychological evaluation.

Of course, some teens have already been diagnosed with a learning difference. In these cases, Faguet suggests reaching out to the school in advance and seeing how they’ll accommodate your teen this coming fall. Whether it’s an IEP or 504 Plan, how will the school assist in implementing those extra resources they’re entitled to?

“Your child is still entitled to that specialized assistance even though school will look different this year,” she says. “Parents will find the most success when they advocate for their teen.”

Or Is it Mental Health?

On the other hand, if issues persisted all day, all weekend, and through the summer – even once school officially ended – they might have developed a mental health issue. Or, if they had a preexisting condition, their symptoms may have gotten worse. To determine whether your teen has a mental health or emotional issue like depression or anxiety, seek advice from a mental health professional.

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