Frederick's Child Magazine - Oct/Nov 2011

Does My Child Have A Learning Disorder?

Alexandra Mirabelli 0000-00-00 00:00:00

It is normal for children’s attitudes toward school to fluctuate, especially during the first few weeks of school. However, when a parent sees their child struggling more and more as school progresses, it causes concern and a myriad of questions. Often, one of those questions is, “Does my child have a learning disorder?” A learning disorder may be diagnosed when a student’s achievement on individually administered, standardized tests in reading, math, or written expression are substantially below expectations, given his or her age, education, level of intelligence, and any present sensory deficit. The learning problems must significantly interfere with academic achievement or daily activities which require reading, math, or writing to be considered a learning disorder. The most common learning disorder is a reading disorder. Because reading is an important skill needed to master all academic subjects, deficits in reading can be particularly worrisome. Seeing your child struggle academically in school can be not only troubling, but surprising as well. Many parents are confused when they hear from a teacher or observe for themselves that their child is not grasping certain academic skills, particularly those related to reading. Parents may accurately state that their child is bright and has always shown an interest in learning. In this case, poor grades do not seem to make sense. Some of the concerns which may emerge during the first several weeks of school include: • difficulty defining single words (expressive vocabulary) • problems decoding words • difficulty identifying words that rhyme • notably slow reading speed (aloud or silent) • poor spelling • letter transposition • omission or substitution of words • poor reading comprehension “Unevenness” in skill development may also signify problems. For example, if a student is able to impressively recount or write about events she experienced or learned about through a lecture or class demonstration, but is unable to tell you what she just read in a paragraph of written text, it may signify a problem. Some variance and fluctuation in skill mastery is normal, but extreme fluctuations in skill development can signify an underlying problem. Because difficulty reading can affect a student’s success in so many areas of his life, he may feel frustrated and demoralized when he cannot master things which seem to come more naturally to his peers. Thus, social and emotional difficulties often accompany academic problems. Discouragement, a decline in self-esteem, and deficits in social skills may be associated with learning disorders. A student who has difficulty reading may seem inattentive at school, appear socially withdrawn, or begin acting out. As so many factors are associated with learning disorders, it is important to rule out difficulties with inattention and social/emotional concerns. The reauthorized Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a law ensuring services to children with disabilities throughout the nation. IDEA governs the provision of assessment and intervention to eligible students with disabilities. In general, most schools will place a greater emphasis on initial intervention when it is first discovered that a child is falling behind academically. Examples of initial intervention include small group or individualized instruction in reading with a reading specialist. If the student does not respond to intervention, formal testing may be conducted through the school or through a private practitioner (usually a psychologist specializing in assessment and testing) obtained by the parents. Before intervention or testing is pursued, however, the child will need to have her vision and hearing tested to ensure that the difficulty is not simply the result of vision or hearing problems. The focus of psychoeducational assessment is on measuring a student’s general intellectual abilities and academic achievement. Additionally, a comprehensive assessment will often include an evaluation or screening of the child’s behavior, emotional functioning, and attentional skills. The goal of a psychoeducational assessment is to determine whether the child has a specific learning disorder or a more subtle academic, social, emotional, or attentional problem requiring intervention or classroom support. A goal of the assessment should also be to make appropriate recommendations to support the child’s success academically and socially. Facing a learning disorder can be daunting. While it is true that the school drop-out rate for students with learning disorders is approximately 1.5 times that of those without learning disorders, there are many individuals who have achieved great success despite their learning problems. Charles Schwab, Albert Einstein, and F. Scott Fitzgerald are examples of such individuals. Appropriate intervention may improve the odds of success, so accurate assessment and identification of problems is essential. It is important for parents to discuss any concerns they have about their child’s academic success as early as possible. The child’s teacher and school personnel are a good place to start. Further information can be found on the Learning Disabilities Association of America website (http://www.ldanatl.org/ about/index.asp) or by consulting a clinical or educational psychologist with experience in this area.

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