Parenting Children with Learning Disabilities (page 7)
Determining whether your child has a learning disability is a complicated process. After going through all of the assessments and evaluations you may feel overwhelmed if a learning disability is identified. It’s not uncommon to feel relieved that you now have a word for what you’ve known all along. On top of dealing with the emotional issues that are coming up, you have to figure out what you’re going to do about it, and what your options are. The first thing to do is to take a deep breath.
This overview will provide you with important information about the resources at your disposal to help you through this. As you will see, the public school system has a legal responsibility to provide your child with free services. This guide for parents and caretakers includes tips for coping during this stressful time and suggestions on how to work with teachers and school administrators in securing the best education for your child.
Gifted Children Who Have Learning Disabilities
Characteristics of high intellect can mimic other disorders causing misdiagnosis
Many gifted and talented children (and adults) sadly have been misdiagnosed by mental health professionals and other health care providers as having a disorder that they really don’t have. This occurs because there are many characteristics of gifted children, both social and emotional, that are mistaken to be a symptom of different disorders.
Characteristics of Gifted Children Mistakenly diagnosed as having: (followed by possible alternative cause of behaviors)
Borderline hypoglycemic conditions can mimic hyperactivity when combined with a child’s temperament of intensity and sensitivity
Gifted children have intense emotional responses that can look like increased motor activity (hyperactivity) and physical restlessness
Oppositional Defiant Disorder
Gifted children are strong willed, and power struggles with parents and teachers are common, especially when they receive criticism. Sadly they are often criticized for the same characteristics that make them gifted: sensitivity, questioning and doing things differently
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Gifted children get upset with others if their rules aren’t followed. They are perfectionistic, bossy, intense about wanting consistency in their environment, have a sense of urgency, and are intolerant when people make mistakes. They have a drive to understand and question everything
Depressive Disorders and Bi-polar Disorders
Gifted children feel alienated and alone which can cause depression
Their concern for social and moral issues can cause anxiety
Social situations are sometimes awkward for them because their academic development levels are so much more advanced then their social development. Often their judgment lags behind their intellect
Sensory Integration Dysfunction
Gifted children are extremely sensitive to emotions, sounds, touch, and taste
Disorder of Written Expression
Many gifted children have poor handwriting. Their thoughts go so much faster then their little hands can move
Relational problems and giftedness
Parents often lack information about characteristics of gifted children, and as a result the relationship between parent and child can suffer. These children can be both exhilarating and exhausting. Their behaviors can appear extreme, they are impatient, argumentative, and have temper tantrums. It is common for them to engage in sibling rivalry, power struggles within the family or with authority figures, or disengaging by withdrawing or underachieving. The child’s behaviors can be seen as mischievous, impertinent, weird or strong willed. The child is often criticized or punished for behaviors that really represent curiosity, intensity, sensitivity, or the lag of judgment behind intellect. They are easily bored while waiting for the other children in the classroom to keep up with them and as a result can become disruptive because of their frustration and impatience.
Most gifted children show a scatter of abilities
The difference between the highest and lowest scores on individual subscales within intelligence and achievement tests is often quite notable in gifted children. When the child is tested using the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children - III, it is not uncommon to find subscale differences greater than seven scale score points for gifted children, particularly those who are highly gifted. Most psychologists interpret these score discrepancies to indicate a learning disability, and in a functional sense they do represent that but most gifted children show a scatter of abilities ranging from Very Superior to Average level of functioning depending upon the area tested.
Is it a learning disability?
In children with a full scale IQ score of 140 or greater, it is not uncommon to find a difference of 20 or more points between Verbal IQ and Performance IQ. Most psychologists think that such a discrepancy is a serious cause for concern and is an indication of a serious brain dysfunction or learning disability. However, for the highly gifted individual, such a discrepancy is far less likely to be an indication of a pathological brain dysfunction, although it would suggest that the child has an unusual learning style and they may have a learning disability.
Without intervention, self esteem issues are almost certain in the life of a child who is both gifted and has a learning disability. You can help your child have a more appropriate sense of themselves by reassuring them that there are specific reasons for their behaviors and sharing with them what the realities are of their particular and unique abilities.
Tips for how children with learning disabilities can succeed at school
Ways to help a student with a learning disability succeed at school
- Accommodations - these can be as simple as being seated in the front row, having extra time on tests, or can involve electronic equipment and auxiliary personnel
- Compensatory strategies - ways to use their cognitive strengths to offset weaknesses. If they have poor auditory memory but strong visual memory, have them draw or write down the instructions
- Special education - instruction taught by specially trained personnel in smaller classes which focuses on working on specific skills
- Self-advocacy skills - empowering students to ask for what they need in order to learn in the most effective way. Motivate the child to ask questions if they don’t understand the instructions
Working with your child at home
When you work with your child at home on academic and life skills, you help them recognize their own strengths and increase their self-esteem. Examples of activities you can implement at home fall into several categories – accommodations, organization, critical thinking, and emotional support.
Ways to cope
- Take frequent breaks when doing homework
- Know your child’s primary learning style and adjust accordingly. For more information on primary learning styles see Helpguide’s article: Learning Disabilities – Types, Symptoms and Interventions
- Accommodate for the child’s primary learning style by allowing them to pace around, listen to background music, attach visual displays to the walls, or wear earplugs or headphones if distracted by noise
- Provide a computer for written assignments if the child has difficulty writing
- Model and teach them how to make “to do” lists and prioritize their homework
- Set aside a regular time each week for organizing workspace, belongings, schoolwork, and activities; make a game of it or provide a reward
- Give your child a task that requires organization: grocery shopping required for a recipe, planning a birthday party on a budget, using a map to figure out the route from one place to another
- Play games of strategy
- Talk about current events and ideas with multiple points of view
- Encourage all sorts of age-appropriate reading and writing
- Praise your child for the positive qualities they exhibit during the whole process of doing homework not just when they finish their homework
- Engage them in social problem-solving: how to resolve conflicts with friends, teachers, and kids who may be bothering them at school
- Encourage activities that your child enjoys and excels in
- Keep open lines of communication so your child feels comfortable discussing feelings with you
- Regulate your stress and help your children learn to regulate theirs (see Helpguide’s article: Coping with Stress: Management and Reduction Techniques)
- Let your children know that you enjoy their company by playing and talking with them. It’s important not to ignore other children in the family. Many activities geared for learning disabled children can include and benefit children without disabilities as well
The role of schools in accommodating learning disabilities
If you know your rights and are informed, you have a better chance of getting the services you are entitled to under the law. Your child may be eligible for many kinds of accommodations and support services, but the school might not provide them unless you ask for them. You can request that the school district pay for tutors and other service personnel, you can teach your child at home, or even request tuition for a private school (nonpublic school) that specializes in teaching children with learning disabilities. Understanding your rights under certain laws which protect the learning disabled can help you be a better advocate for your child.
Federal law on disabilities: access and accommodation
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and its successor, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), are civil rights laws that prohibit barriers to people with disabilities in a number of institutions, including public schools, which receive federal funding. They define “disability” as a “substantial” and “pervasive” physical or mental impairment that affects one or more basic life activities, including learning.
The ADA and Section 504 are limited: they keep schools from denying education to children with learning disabilities and require “reasonable accommodations … for eligible students with a disability to perform essential functions,” such as extra test time or large-print books. However, they don’t mandate specialized education for children with disabilities and therefore can’t guarantee that the schools will have the environment needed to maximize your child’s learning potential.
Special education law
Because Section 504 clearly didn’t provide for the educational needs of disabled students, in 1975 Congress passed Public Law 94-142, which was revised as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1997, and updated in 2004. Also there is a commentary to the regulations published in 2006. This is the federal law that mandates “a free, appropriate public education” in the least restrictive environment, for children who meet the law’s criteria for disability that impedes educational performance. Services provided by IDEA include special education facilitated by specially trained teachers and even interventions provided by companies outside the public-school system, such as nonpublic agencies that provide behavior intervention services. If it is written into the child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP), the child can work with a behavioral intervention therapist one on one in the classroom.
IDEA calls for a more rigorous evaluation process and much more paperwork than the ADA does, along with regular reevaluation and the direct participation of parents. Having a child identified with a learning disability warrants classroom accommodation, specialized teaching and related services.
Understanding Individualized Education Programs
While some accommodations cost nothing and are easy to carry out in the classroom, many interventions that help learning-disabled students require that they have a formal diagnosis. Such identification can give these students access to special education, equipment, and support personnel that they would not be entitled to otherwise. So once your child has been diagnosed with one or more learning disabilities, it’s in your child’s best interest for you to pursue a formal identification through the IEP process.
IDEA is the Federal government’s special education law. Prior to receiving special education services in the public school system, a child must have an IEP. The IEP enables teachers, parents, school administrators, related services personnel, and students (when appropriate) to collaborate and design a customized educational program for the student’s unique needs to help them participate in the general curriculum and make continued progress. The IEP is the blueprint which guides the delivery of special education services for the student with a disability.
Accommodations to assist students at school
Once the IEP has been written by the IEP team and they have identified your child’s goals for the year, and how those goals are going to be accomplished, you will have a better understanding of what options are available for your child. The following are some of the recommendations you may see on your child’s IEP:
|Special accommodations offered to students with learning disabilities|
A special education class for a period of time each day; an assignment to special education classes full time; or a transfer to a special school for students with learning disabilities (nonpublic school). For a list of nonpublic schools in your area go to the website for your state's Department of Education. For example, in California see: Nonpublic Schools Database.
Behavioral interventionists, 1:1 shadows, tutors, note-takers, readers, proofreaders, and transcribers
Speech and language therapy; occupational or physical therapy; psychological or social services; and transportation
Word processors, voice synthesis and voice recognition programs, recording devices, talking calculators, audio books, electronic dictionaries and spelling aids
Preferential seating; alternative homework assignments; permission to repeat material out loud or softly; extra time on tests; worksheets and quizzes with extra space
Communicating with your child’s school
How to get your child’s needs met
Being a vocal advocate for your child can be challenging. You’ll need superior communication and negotiation skills, and the confidence to defend your child’s right to a proper education. If you need help, one option is to hire a parent advocate who can speak on your behalf.
Following, are a number of helpful tips that can help you communicate clearly and effectively with your child’s school:
- Clarify your goals. Before entering into a meeting with school personnel, write down what you want to accomplish. Decide what is most important, and what you are willing to negotiate on. Take the list with you and don’t be afraid to consult your notes – this can help keep your mind on track and reduce feelings of distraction or intimidation.
- Be a good listener. Allow the school officials to explain their opinions and desires. If you don’t understand what someone is saying, ask for clarification. Statements such as “What I hear you saying is…” can help ensure that both parties are communicating well. Also, make sure your own points are being clearly understood. If you don’t think they are, ask them to reflect back to you what you just said.
- Offer an alternative. You have the advantage of not being a “part of the system.” Therefore, you may have solutions or ideas that no one has thought of. Perform your own research, find examples of what other schools have done to help the learning disabled, and bring this research to your meeting. At the very least, it will provoke some healthy brainstorming.
- Keep the focus. The school system is dealing with a large number of children, you are only concerned with your child. Help the meeting stay focused on your child and their individual needs. Mention your child’s name frequently, don’t drift into generalizations, and resist the urge to fight larger battles.
- Stay calm, collected and positive. Go into your meeting assuming that everyone is on your side. It doesn’t help anyone to start out in a negative state of mind. However, emotions may get the best of you because you are fighting for your child’s education. If your temper flares up or you say something you regret, don’t let it ruin the entire meeting. Simply apologize and get back on track.
- Don’t give up easily. If you are unsatisfied with the school administration’s response to your requests, ask them to reiterate why they can’t come to a compromise. Let them know you understand their position, but that you believe there is a better way to help your child.
Adjusting to a newly diagnosed learning disability
What to tell family and friends
One of the trickiest aspects of adjusting to a newly diagnosed learning disability is how it affects other members of the family. Extended family and friends may not understand the disability and mistakenly think your child’s behavior is stemming from laziness, being spoiled or hyperactive. Siblings of a child with a learning disability may feel that their brother or sister is getting more attention then they are. Dealing with your other children at this time can be particularly challenging. No matter how much your children understand on an intellectual level, they can easily feel jealous or neglected when parents are so focused on the sibling with special needs. Parents can help curb these feelings by reassuring all of their children that they are loved, and by including siblings in any special routines established for the child with a learning disability.
Some parents attempt to keep their child’s learning disability a secret. Unfortunately, even with the most heartfelt intentions, this secrecy can come off looking like shame or guilt to others, including the child who has the learning disability which can be detrimental to their self esteem. Many people actually find that sharing the details of a learning disability diagnosis with those closest to them can help fuel positive feelings of support and reduce isolation. Once friends and relatives are aware of what’s going on, they are far less likely to say harmful things to you or your child regarding their behavior or progress.
Keep in mind that some people may need time to fully grasp the meaning of a learning disability. Certain members of your family may be more resistant to the idea at first and need a bit more time to adjust. If problems within the family do crop up, you may be able to turn to people outside the family for help. Parent support groups, in which you can talk with other parents who have the same kinds of problems, can make you feel less isolated and offer encouragement, information, and advice. Family counseling, psychotherapy for the family as a group, allows everyone in the family to air their feelings and to seek solutions that address everyone’s needs.
Becoming a more involved parent
Parents of children with learning disabilities must be especially involved with the educational process, both at school and at home to ensure optimal progress is made. There are ways to strengthen alternate skills to compensate for cognitive challenges. There are things that can be done to retrain parts of the brain to take over for the affected areas of the brain, a term called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity describes the brain’s dynamic capacity to change and reorganize neural pathways after new experiences and learning occurs.
For more information on neuroplasticity, see Helpguide’s article: Learning Disabilities – Types, Symptoms and Interventions.
Related links for parenting children with learning disabilities
Evaluating and managing your child’s learning disability
Overview of the IEP Process – Detailed explanation provided by the U.S. Department of Education outlining the steps involved in the IEP process for children with learning disabilities. (ed.gov)
Questions Often Asked by Parents About Special Education Services – Describes what makes a child eligible or not eligible for special education services under the IDEA and takes you through the IEP process when dealing with a learning disability. (NICHCY.org)
IDEA Parent Guide – Guide to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. A great resource for navigating the meetings, tests, and negotiations that will help make the school an active partner in your child’s education. (National Center for Learning Disabilities)
Understanding the IEP Process and Developing Your Child’s IEP – In-depth information about how schools compile IEPs for children with learning disabilities and the role parents play in developing them. (LD OnLine)
LD Evaluation Process – Excellent series of articles to help you understand how students are tested for learning disabilities. (SchwabLearning.org)
Nonpublic schools database in California – Locator of private schools specializing in learning disabilities.
Help and support for parents of children with learning disabilities
National Center for Learning Disabilities Parent Center – Extensive information for parents of learning disabled kids, including being your child’s advocate in the school, and coping strategies to use at home.
Parent Tips – Overview of the learning disability testing process and advice for parents, plus detailed information about how to evaluate and the best ways to teach a child with a learning disability. (LD Online)
Talking about LD & AD/HD – Collection of articles that offer ideas about how to talk with children about learning disabilities and personal success stories of those who have learning disabilities. (SchwabLearning.org)
Supporting Family Members – A great range of articles discussing the important topic of how learning disorders affect families. (SchwabLearning.org)
Misdiagnosis and dual diagnosis of gifted children – Provides the characteristics of a gifted child and how gifted children, some with learning disabilities, are commonly misdiagnosed. (www.sengifted.org)
Reprinted with the permission of Helpguide. © 2001-2008. All rights reserved.
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