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Collaborating for success
by Kristin Holtz
Feb 04, 2012 | 637 views | 0 0 comments | 2 2 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tim Johanson
Tim Johanson
They say it takes a village to raise a child.

Getting the village on board isn’t the problem. Sometimes the real challenge is speaking the same language.

Two local pediatricians are spearheading an effort to ensure schools, doctors and parents are using the same information when making decisions for a struggling student.

Last summer, a consortium of doctors and local special-education directors began looking for ways to improve communication for the three main stakeholders of kids with potential learning and behavior disabilities.

Dr. Tim Johanson of Metropolitan Pediatrics Specialists and Dr. Cynthia Harvath from Park Nicollet Clinic organized the con-sortium, which includes special-education directors from the Belle Plaine, Eastern Carver County, Jordan, Prior Lake-Savage and Shakopee school districts.

The purpose is simple: open dialogue among schools and medical professionals so that they can better work with parents together.

“I think this allows us to have a more consistent, collaborative relationship when we’re working with parents of struggling learners — so we’re all working together,” said Scott Hare, director of special education services for the Jordan and Belle Plaine school districts.

The challenge for doctors and educators is twofold. First, doctors and schools use different models for diagnosing a child with a disability, since schools must work within government mandates, Hare said. Students must fit very specific, state- and federal-defined criteria before schools can begin offering special-education services.

This “bureaucracy,” as Johanson calls it, can understandably lead to frustration for parents who feel their school isn’t doing enough.

Also challenging is the communication link among stakeholders sharing reliable information. For example, if a doctor diagnoses a child with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and prescribes a particular medication, but does not talk to the stu-dent’s teacher, the doctor could be missing out on key information about whether the medication is working, Johanson said.

“When kids are struggling in school, there’s a lot of cooks in the kitchen,” Johanson said.

The consortium has been spending much of the last few months educating one another about their processes in order to “learn what each other is saying,” Hare said.

The consortium also recently developed teacher-to-physician feedback forms so that teachers can provide input directly to the doctor. Johanson has been using the forms since mid-January.

“It really gives me a great understanding how this child is responding to their medication trial,” he said.

To help further build the connection, the consortium is hosting a symposium, “Successful Students: One at a Time,” Thursday, Feb. 9, where parents will be invited to attend breakout sessions related to learning and behavior issues.

The event, which is open to all parents, will include 10 speakers talking about topics such as literacy, autism, over-parenting, at-tention and focus and neuropsychology. Each session will be given three times, Johanson said.

While this past year has focused on building the relationships and the topics of learning and behavioral issues, Johanson hopes to see the consortium expand its perspective next year to educate the public better on mental health diseases in kids.

Hare said he’s been very pleased with the consortium in creating a forum of communication and hopes to see further symposi-ums and events.

“Coming together, this is just the beginning of a good future,” Hare said.

Successful Students

What: “Successful Students: One at a Time” is a symposium of local school districts and medical professionals who are working toward improving coordination of services for children with learning challenges. The symposium will feature 10 breakout sessions. Dinner is provided beforehand for those who register.

When: 5:30 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 9; speakers start at 6:15 p.m.

Where: Prior Lake High School, Savage

Admission: Free

Register: or (952) 226-0080. Registration is preferred but walk-ins are welcome.

Break-out sessions

Parents are invited to attend any three of the sessions:

* Understanding Challenging Behaviors: Tips for Parents: Discuss behaviors that may indicate mental health concerns and how parents can help with those behaviors in school.

* May I Have Your Attention Please? There is More to this than Meets the Pill! Discover strategies to improve attention and focus beyond medications.

* What is Neuropsychology and How Can it Help Your Child? Learn the role of pediatric neuropsychology in the diagnosis and treatment of childhood disorders.

* Keeping it Positive at Home: Learn the impact of negative reinforcement and emotional connections to behaviors, plus how rules and discipline at home help form habits.

* Over-Parenting: Three Mistakes Parents Make that Hinder their Child’s Maturity: Hear how overindulgence, over-affirmation and overprotection are preventing our children from growing up.

* Positive Behavior Support; from School to Home: Behavioral support is available at school, get tips on how to access them; behavioral assessments and intervention plans.

* Guiding Your Child on the Path to Literacy: Learn the fundamentals to support reading development and how to bring literacy into daily routines and activities.

* Interventions that Work: Discuss first step interventions for children struggling with learning.

* My Child has Autism. What Can I Do? Get an overview of autism spectrum disorders, resources and how autism impacts learning and social relationships.

* Navigating the Education System: Learn how children with potential disabilities are identified in schools and the criteria for special education services.

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