He sits in his classroom, surrounded by kids, but he still feeling alone. He feels “different” from the other kids because he knows he learns differently. The special education teacher comes into the room and calls a handful of children by name, including his. They leave for their learning session and he holds his head down. This is a hard situation to fathom in your youth, but it helps to know his parents are by his side to help through this confusing time.
Learning disabilities range from dyslexia, to ADHD, processing deficits and more. They are unexpected and are related to our cognitive abilities, says Kathy Boggs, Olympus Center coordinator at The Children’s Home. And it’s important to understand, according to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, that “learning and attention issues are not the result of low intelligence, poor vision or hearing, or lack of access to quality instruction.” (NCLD.org).
Detecting a learning disability is a slow and steady process that comes with some emotional challenges for you and your child.
“Observing your child’s struggles is emotional,” says Carmen Mendoza, director of Learning Programs at the Springer School and Center. “If you or a teacher detects that learning is more difficult than it should be for your child, you should seek out professional help.”
Next is the evaluation process where a school psychologist or clinical psychologist can administer assessments to determine if a diagnosis of a learning disability is detected, she continues. This can also be done through an early private comprehensive evaluation to catch red flags early on, according to Amanda Tipkemper, education and autism services director at The Children’s Home.
“Finding out about a phonological weakness means that interventions that target improving phonological awareness can be put into place and perhaps mitigate future reading problems,” she continues.
BE HIS ADVOCATE
No kid wants to feel different or be perceived as having something “wrong” with them. And they don’t. Taking the right actions can be just what he needs.
“Parents should talk to the school/teacher and ask what interventions are being considered or put in place to bring their child up to expected levels in problematic subject(s),” says Tipkemper.
Get involved with the school, discuss your child’s strengths and weaknesses with his teachers and school counselors; being familiar with the IEP goals or the accommodations on the Section 504 Plan or intervention plan is one important step; another is letting him know that every individual has strengths and areas of improvement, and that is OK.
“Children thrive when adults in their lives support them emotionally,” Mendoza continues. “Parents do this by asking questions and listening to their children. Children like to know their parents are aware of their school happenings — positive and negative. When parents and teachers work on the same team, the child feels encouraged by all.”
Kids will feel different when they are having difficulty learning, says Mendoza. The best thing you can do is provide them with the language of their disability, and help him to learn himself. Knowing there are things that can be done to help him is reassuring.
“Emphasize strengths, i.e., focus on the things that your child CAN do, not what they can’t,” says Boggs. “Always express optimism about their future … that (s)he will get there, but it may be by using a different path.”
Don’t be afraid to e-mail your child’s teacher with questions and concerns, ask for suggestions of how you can help at home and allow your child to develop skills in becoming his own advocate for his education needs.
“Be as active at the school as you can,” says Boggs. “Join the parent group, be a room-parent, volunteer to work in various capacities such as in the school library, parent tutor, after school clubs/activities, be a speaker at career day, be a chaperone on field trips. Do what you can so the school/teachers get to know you and are comfortable with sharing information, both positive AND negative about your child.”