When Bright Children Fall Through the Cracks

When Bright Children Fall Through the Cracks

Daniel is a bright, 4 ½-year-old boy who is having trouble in preschool. He taught himself to read when he was three and he knows everything there is to know about dinosaurs,

outer space, and automobiles. Everyone who meets him thinks he’s a genius. School, however, is really hard for him. He gravitates to the teachers, constantly chatting about his favorite topics. He likes to play by himself, always choosing cars and trains. He tends to avoid the other children, but when he does interact with them, he is awkward and inappropriate. He might poke them, grab a toy, or even suddenly hug them. He may want to interact with them, but he doesn’t seem to know how. When he makes a mistake, when he loses a game, or when he is asked to do something, he doesn’t like, he often flings himself on the floor and screams. The teachers don’t know how to help him. Daniel’s parents are distraught. They thought that things would get better for him at school, but they are actually getting worse. His is also difficult at home. They wonder what kind of school would be better for him, and they wonder as parents how to get the support they need.

Duncan is 5 and in kindergarten. He is bright, lively, eager to learn and curious about everything. However, he has difficulty keeping up with the academic demands of his class. He had delayed language but with the help of language therapy, he is now quite verbal.

He cannot sit still for more than a few minutes. He is easily distracted, and he flits from one activity to another with dizzying speed. It is not surprising that the structure of school is difficult for him. His teachers are constantly calling his name, urging him to stop talking, to stop running around the room or to stop continually jumping out of his seat. He is a friendly boy, and he likes playing with kids. However, if he cannot control the play, or if he doesn’t win, he often screams and throws things. Duncan’s parents are concerned that his teachers are losing patience with him and that they may not want to keep him in this school. They have already suggested that Duncan repeats kindergarten because of his immaturity and his difficulty with the curriculum. They are desperate. They don’t know where to turn for help.

Four-year-old Sarah is sweet-natured and smart, but highly anxious. All children have some worries, but Sarah’s anxieties are pervasive enough to interfere with her functioning. In school she is shy and withdrawn, rarely initiating play with the other children. Although she observes the children closely, she rarely speaks with them. She hasn’t made any friends. She is compliant with the teachers and follows all the routines of the classroom. But she always looks anxious, and she rarely smiles. She does classroom projects and assignments with great care, but if she makes a mistake, she cries inconsolably. As the social and academic demands increased at school, Sarah has felt increasingly stressed. She now has frequent meltdowns at home, and she has difficulty going to sleep. Recently she has refused to go to school altogether. Her parents have resorted to bribery. They are desperate to find a program that will be less stressful for Sarah and will help her feel better about herself.

Do these children remind you of your own child? There are some young children who are very smart and have great potential, but because of a variety of developmental challenges and emotional fragilities, are initially unable to flourish in a large, typical class or even in some special education programs. What kind of school will help these children reach their best potential, and who will help their parents? There are so few options. Yet without specialized help, these children, because they are so bright and because their issues may be hard to test, often fall in the cracks of our educational system. With the right foundation however, these amazing children can blossom.

I am the Director of The Springboard School at Lubavitch on the Palisades (formerly The Therapeutic Nursery at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades). For over 40 years, our unique curriculum has helped this underserved group of preschool and kindergarten children and their parents. We focus on core issues that prevent them from succeeding in a mainstream setting—we teach the students how to play, socialize, communicate verbally, and regulate their behaviors, through manualized lessons and direct teaching. We use role play, puppets, stories, and scripts to teach topics such as how to compromise, how to be a good sport, how to be flexible, and how to control yourself when you get too mad or when you don’t get your way. Teachers act out scripts, first showing the wrong way and then the appropriate way to handle these situations.

Each child gets a turn to act out the lesson appropriately. Visuals are sent home so that parents can practice the lessons at home, thus generalizing the new skills. The teachers also help the children organize their thoughts by using graphic organizers, which makes it easier for the peers to follow their verbalizations.

In addition to the social skills curriculum, The Springboard School provides a variety of stimulating activities, including science, cooking, creative art, music, playground and indoor playtime. Each child also receives individual language therapy and occupational therapy.

Parents are included in their child’s treatment, receiving weekly parent counseling sessions weekly conversations with every teacher and regular evening parent support meeting. Their collaboration is crucial to the success of their children, many of whom go on to highly competitive colleges, graduate schools, and professions. This comprehensive treatment approach can be life changing, not only for the child, but for the whole family as well.

I feel privileged to have helped so many children and their families over the past 42 years. If you feel that your child may benefit from our curriculum, I welcome you to contact me at lemendelson@gmail.com or 917-871-1152 for a free consultation. We are now enrolling for the fall and I look forward to welcoming new families to our community.

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