What to Do If You Suspect Your Child Has a Learning Disability
If you suspect that your child has a learning disability (LD), don’t despair. With early recognition and targeted intervention, children with LD can achieve as well as other children do. Students whose LD is identified and addressed before they leave third grade have the best chance at academic success, but it’s never too late.
Fortunately, not every child who struggles in school has a learning disability. For example, common reasons for reading problems in young children are insufficient reading practice and a lack of background knowledge. This type of learning difficulty can often be remediated without the need for special education services.
However, it’s critical that you are proactive about your child’s learning difficulties. The sooner you address your child’s struggles, the sooner he or she can receive appropriate support.
Here are some important steps you can take to work with teachers and other professionals to find out if your child has LD and ensure that he or she gets the necessary help to succeed in school.
Collect Information About Your Child’s Academic Performance
Gathering and organizing information about your child’s academic development will help you monitor his or her progress over time. (Because having LD can also affect a child’s social skills, make notes about his relationships and friendships as well.) To track the patterns of your child’s development, mark the dates of the notes you keep.
In addition to keeping your own notes, be sure to maintain a file of all school-generated reports, including standardized test results, report cards, progress reports and written comments from teachers. Also keep a record of what you observe at different stages as well as discussions you’ve had with school personnel and other professionals. Through this process you’ll start to develop a keen awareness of your child's ability to learn, study, do homework and finish the tasks that are assigned.
Share Your Concerns With Your Child’s Teacher
Explain to your child’s teacher what you’re concerned about, and ask what she’s observed in your child’s academic performance and interactions with peers. Together you may come up with strategies to try in the classroom and at home to support your child’s learning and behavior needs. Honest and open communication, together with some creative thinking and flexibility in planning, can go a long way toward discovering how best to address your child’s unique needs. Working closely with you, the teacher can help you identify available school resources and methods for pinpointing and addressing your child’s special needs.
Before Formal Testing: Approaches to Pinpoint a Child’s Learning Problem
Before referring a student for a formal special education evaluation, many schools today try alternative methods to pinpoint and address a student’s learning problems. If you feel your child is struggling in school, speak up and request that the school consider one of the following approaches.
An approach that is often used to help struggling students is pre-referral intervention. In this approach, a team made up of teachers, a school psychologist, and other school personnel is established to brainstorm and suggest educational procedures and practices that a student’s teacher might implement to help that child in his or her regular education classroom. If the teacher uses the suggested procedures and they’re successful, the child may not need to be referred for special education or go through formal diagnostic testing. Note: Depending on the school, such a team might also be called a student study team, teacher assistance team, or child study team.
Another recommended approach is a research-based method known as Response to Intervention (RTI). RTI is a way to help all students succeed, include struggling learners. Teachers provide interventions as soon as students show signs of difficulties. When students are allowed to fail, they get further and further behind, making it more and more difficult to get them back on grade level. By helping students early, schools can keep every student on grade level and on track to graduate. The manner in which states and school districts implement RTI varies greatly, so be sure to check with your state or local school district for additional information about RTI in your child’s school. Note: The RTI process is sometimes called Responsiveness to Intervention or Multi-Tier System of Support (MTSS) depending on the state or school district.