What to do if you think your child has a learning disability

Last week, I talked about the most common signs of learning disabilities that children exhibit. Many of you have been observing your children and may have noticed some of the signs I had mentioned. If so, he or she is far from being alone. According to the National Institutes of Health, fifteen percent of America’s school children have some sort of a learning disability. If you suspect that your child may have one, below are some important steps you can follow to ensure that your child gets the help he or she needs:

1. Collect information about your child’s academic performance

Before approaching the school about your suspicions, collect information about your child’s performance. Observe his or her ability to study, do homework, and finish the tasks you assign at home. Keep a file of all the materials about his or her educational progress, such as: corrected homework and classwork assignments, progress reports, and test results. This information will help you to monitor your child’s progress and will be important in planning for your child’s academic assistance.

2. Meet with your child’s teacher

Set up a meeting with your child’s teacher(s) to find out about his or her academic performance and attitude toward school, and to discuss your concerns. During the conference, you and your child’s teacher(s) should develop an intervention plan to help your child improve his or her academic performance. Also, your child’s teacher should give you specific suggestions that you can do at home to help your child. You will need to give this plan at least eight weeks to work. You and your child’s teacher(s) should decide to meet every few weeks to discuss progress, lack of progress, and any changes that need to be made to the plan. Continue to keep thorough records during the intervention period.

3. Have your child evaluated

If, after working with your child and implementing the intervention plan you still feel that something is wrong because he or she is not making progress, request that the school give your child a comprehensive educational evaluation. This evaluation will include interviews with teachers and other professionals who work with your child, direct observations of your child in the classroom, and a review of your child’s educational and medical history. There will also be a test that will measure your child’s intelligence and academic performance.

4. Working together

Should the results of the evaluation indicate that your child has a learning disability, she or he will be eligible for special educational services. You will work with a school team, which will include your child’s teacher, to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP). This is a written document that summarizes your child’s educational performance, plans for annual goals, and develops short-term educational objectives to meet the annual goals. It also outlines the methods for measuring progress. Parents are partners in the IEP process, so be prepared to get involved.

If your child doesn’t qualify for special education services, then the school will inform you about how it plans to help your child academically. It will be important for you to work with your child’s teacher(s) to create an informal program that meets your child’s needs.

5. Talk to your child about the disability

Reassure your child that having a learning disability only means that his or her mind works a little differently from others when it is processing information. It does not mean that he or she is stupid or lazy. Explain that though learning may be difficult, he or she can succeed.

6. Foster your child’s strengths

Children with learning disabilities are often very smart and have many talents. Focus on and develop your child’s strengths while helping him with the difficulties.

7. Learn your legal rights

Learn about your legal rights by asking the school for a copy of your “Parental Rights.” Under IDEA, the law that governs special education, every child with a learning disability has the right to a “free and appropriate public education.”
 Meet other parents whose children have learning disabilities to learn more and for emotional support. Joining support groups will help you get the latest information and find new ways for your child to reach his or her full potential.

Elizabeth Hamilton, M.Ed, MA, is a teacher with 30 years of professional experience. You can write to her at successfullearner@yahoo.com with your questions or comments.

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