Something just doesn't seem right. Your daughter struggles for hours with reading assignments her teacher says should take no more than 30 minutes. Or your son, once a bright-eyed, excited kindergartener, has become withdrawn and frustrated, bristling at even the most casual, "How was your day at school?" Maybe it isn't anything specific, just a hunch that when it comes to your child's life as a student, something is definitely wrong.
Every kid goes through perfectly normal periods of aggravation when it comes to schoolwork. However, if you suspect your child is suffering with issues beyond the occasional grumpiness and frustration that come with being a student, there may be something else at play … a learning disability. Here are a few things to do before you call the physician:
- Your child's teacher can be a great resource, schedule a conference and prepare a list of things you would like to discuss. Find out if your child has been keeping up with in-class work. Has he been participating in discussions? Does he seem attentive or bored in class?
- Observe your child at home. Does homework go fairly smoothly or is it a constant struggle? Examine your child's handwriting, is it age appropriate? Does your child ever read for pleasure?
- Make an effort to rule out possible physical or emotional causes of your child's problems in school. Has your child had his vision and hearing tested recently? Are there difficulties in your family life that could be causing him to flounder when he is away from home?
If it looks as though your child is suffering from a learning disability, the next step is to have him evaluated. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a federal law with counterparts in every state, requires school districts to evaluate students suspected of having a disability. The evaluation is free and involves a thorough assessment of your child's abilities using a variety of data, including academic records provided by the school as well as the observations and information you as the parent provide. If you disagree with the results of the school evaluation, you have the right to obtain an independent educational evaluation which the school must then consider.
Services provided under the IDEA are linked to specifically defined conditions. These include speech, language, and visual impairments, autism, emotional disturbances, and specific learning disabilities. Specific learning disabilities are those involved in understanding or using language, which can affect skills such as reading, writing, and math. There is also a catch-all category called “other health impairments,” which is the basis for services for children with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).
If your child is diagnosed with a learning disability, the school will hold a meeting to establish an Individualized Education Program (IEP). This meeting will include your child’s teacher, a school counselor or psychologist, and you. You may bring other people, such as a tutor, a therapist, or an advocate. If you’d like, your child may also attend. The IEP meeting will review the evaluation results, set goals, and determine which educational and related services (speech, occupational, physical, and psychological therapy) your child may need.
Don't think of a diagnosis of a learning disability as the end of the world. Think of it as the first step in getting your child the help he needs to survive and thrive in school.
The Technical Assistance Alliance for Parent Centers has nationwide listings of parent centers: http://www.taalliance.org/centers/.
Wrightslaw helps parents understand the procedures involved in requesting an evaluation and helping to create an effective IEP: http://www.wrightslaw.com/.