Suspecting a Learning Disability


Children grow and develop at different rates and we are stuck in a purgatory — reassuring a friend their child is fine, telling her there is nothing to worry about and “all kids do that,” but equally convinced that there is something wrong with yours. Whether it is a learning disability, or some other condition that impacts your child’s education, here are some tips on when to get screened and what the process will look like.

Many learning disabilities do not show up until a child is school aged. In toddler and pre-school years, many children are working on the pre-requisite play and social skills needed for elementary years. Academic demands are limited and any learning problems can easily go unnoticed. However, once a child with learning difficulties encounters a more rigorous setting, the symptoms of a learning disability will become more apparent.

What to Do If You, or the School, Suspect a Learning Disability:

Speak to Your Child’s School Teacher, Guidance Counselor or School Psychologist

Share your concerns with the teacher so they know what to look out for. Establish a schedule of regular communication to monitor the situation. With my son, we knew that focus and attention were problematic in kindergarten. We had a daily behavior chart that made sure that we were all aware of the daily triumphs and struggles for him. This way, there were no surprises.

Speak to Your Pediatrician

In our case, our son was struggling with sustaining attention and impulsivity. After speaking with his teacher, he would not qualify for an evaluation by the school because he was not disruptive to the learning environment (since he only disrupts himself) and although his grades were much lower than his ability, he was proving that he was learning. This lead us to our pediatrician for an ADHD screen. Because ADHD is a medical condition, a family doctor can assess this issue.

Speak to Other Parents

You will be able to get a sense if your child’s difficulties by just talking about their day to day routines. When speaking with my teaching assistant, I asked her if her daughter (in the same grade at the same school) was on a behavior chart. The answer was no. While this was no reason to jump to conclusions, it showed me that my son was obviously still behind in some developmental areas.

Learning Math
Talking with other parents can help you understand if your child’s academic struggles are typical or a sign of something more serious.

If the School Suspects a Disability:

A school will suspect a disability if the student demonstrates an inability to learn certain material in a specified amount of time. A student may also be referred for an emotional or behavioral disability if a child’s behavior becomes increasingly intense and presents an obstacle to learning.

In either case, if the intervention team suspects a disability and would like to test your child, please allow it. It’s of no cost to you. It gives the team a unique perspective on your child’s learning strengths and weaknesses and provides a lot of insight into your child as a learner. While you may not agree with their reasoning, there is no harm in having your child assessed.

Once testing is complete, a team will convene to discuss the results. You will be part of this team and if you do not understand something, ask questions. Education professionals do this every day so it is easy to get lost and confused by all the acronyms and jargon. However, this is frequently new territory for parents. It is your absolute right to ask questions when things aren’t clear.

The team will then determine if your child has a learning disability. If the team decides that there is a learning disability present, they will be provided with the opportunity for specialized instruction in that area of difficulty.

The bottom line is that when parents and struggling students are on the same page, the child undoubtedly benefits. Maintaining communication and understanding your child’s strengths and weaknesses can help you become a become a better advocate for your child in their journey to be the best little learner they can.

Have you or someone you know dealt with a learning disability? How were you able to identify the symptoms?


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