ACCORDING to the National Institutes of Health, 15 percent of America's school children have a learning disability.
If you suspect your child has a learning disability, don't despair. Below are some important steps you can follow to ensure your child gets the help he 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 ability to study, do homework, and finish the tasks you assign at home. Keep a file of all the materials about his 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 academic performance and attitude towards 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 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 sufficient time (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 intervention 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 something is wrong because he 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 his academic performance.
4. Work Together
Should the results of the evaluation indicate your child has a learning disability, 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 objectives to meet the annual goals, and provides for modifications. It also outlines the methods for measuring progress. Parents are partners in the IEP process, so be prepared to get involved.
If your child does not 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 his mind works a little differently from others when it is processing information. It does not mean he is stupid or lazy. Children with learning disabilities are often very smart and have many talents, so focus on and develop your child's strengths while helping him with the difficulties.
Elizabeth Hamilton, M.E., MA, is a teacher with 22 years of professional experience. You can write to her at successfullearner[at]yahoo.com with your questions or comments.