Child Caring

Mom is struggling with holding back a son with developmental delays

Hi Barbara, I have a first grader with some developmental delays. He's had a very difficult time with reading, and although he's made progress this year, he is no where near his peers and a few levels under the benchmark level. He is on an IEP [Individual Education Plan] for language and sensory issues.

I'm considering holding him back, but I'm not sure how to make that decision. The school he's in is great, but because he's on an IEP, I've been led to believe (by my own peers) that they will not consider holding him back with the same consideration as a typically developing student. His teachers have commented (lovingly) that he's a "very young" 6. (They mean emotionally.)

There seems to be so much polarizing information out there, I don't even know where to begin. To complicate things, his sibling is one grade behind, so if my son is held back, he would forever more be in the same grade as his brother; this decision impacts both of their lives in a very direct way.

My son is very sweet, bright and imaginative, and very sensitive emotionally. He doesn't have many friends his own age - somehow they are all a year or two older or younger.

My fear is that he will always be struggling to catch up, which will eventually wear away at his confidence and his ability to love learning.

I'm fearful of the "social stigma" of keeping him back a year, however there's no guarantee that he's not going to get picked on anyway because of his learning issues. In his mind, staying back a year might not be a big deal, but I don't dare ask him because I don't want to tip my hand, and he has no real power over this decision.

Can you point me towards some sources that would help me make this huge decision? Obviously, I'm fearful of making a mistake.

From: Kate in Southie, South Boston

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Dear Kate,

It's true that most school systems rarely retain a child on an IEP. The reason is that the extra year typically doesn't close the gap and, in fact, can add to problems of self-esteem. In your son's case, there's a potential double whammy of self-esteem woes if the brothers are in the same grade. Consider when the younger brother starts to read at a higher level. That may happen anyway, but if they are in different grades, the older boy can still be the big brother because he's in the higher grade.

But wait! You haven't consulted with his teachers, the school psychologist, or members of the IEP team? They are the ones whose opinions count most, not your peers and not me. Next to you, they know your child best. What's more, they know other children with developmental delays and that gives them a basis of comparison about whether holding back might help him close the gap. But make sure they know about the younger sib.

In the end, the more you understand about your son's delay, But in the end, there are no guarantees and you'll have to go with your gut. Which brings me to the last line of your letter. You write, "Obviously, I'm fearful of making a mistake." Kate, it is not possible to be a parent and not make mistakes. The best any parent can do is gather information from responsible sources and make educated decisions. I don't just mean "educational" sources, like books and websites. Absolutely get input from people whose opinions you trust -- your pediatrician, your son's team, your parents. But put aside the idea that somehow the decision you make could be a mistake. Whatever you decide, it will be a considered decision based on love and information. It will be the best decision you can make at the moment in time when you make it. Even after you make it, you can adjust and adapt and tinker. What you can't do is look back.

Meanwhile, if you don't already know about it, Federation for Students with Special Needs is a great website.

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