Helping Your LD Child Excel in School
What do Albert Einstein, Agatha Christie, George Patton, Charles Schwab and Robin Williams all have in common? Each was plagued by one of the most common – and misunderstood – childhood ailments: a learning disability.
All About LD
What is a learning disability (LD)? The term describes a neurological disorder that impedes a person's ability to receive, store, process and/or produce information, which affects reading, writing, spelling, computation, organizational skills, coordination and/or attention span.
Traits children with a learning disability may have include unpredictable or uneven test performance, perceptual impairments, motor problems and behaviors such as impulsiveness and difficulty in social situations.
Mary Cathryn Haller, educator and author of Learning Disabilities 101: A Primer for Parents (Rainbow Books, 1999), wrote a book based on her experiences with her own learning disabled child. Haller understands why so many parents feel they are to blame for not being able to "see" the problem. "LD is sometimes referred to as the 'invisible' disability mainly because children with LD look and act intelligent and have no obvious physical handicaps. The difference lies in the fact that they process information differently from those children without LD," Haller says.
Several early clues indicate the presence of LD. In preschool children, the failure to use language in communication by age 3 or inadequate motor skills (buttoning, tying, climbing) may herald a problem. In school-age children, failure to learn grade-appropriate skills is an indicator, as are the specific traits listed below:
- Age-inappropriate hyperactivity, impulsivity, distractibility, inattention, short attention spans
- Difficulty with short- and long-term memory
- Difficulty with academic skills in reading, writing, speech and math
- Gaps in parts of the IQ tests
- Lack of appropriate social and adaptive behavior (making and keeping friends)
- Speech, language and visual processing delays
- Transposing and/or confusing similar letters and order of letters
- Transposing and/or confusing similar numbers and sequences
- Low self-esteem
The presence of one of these characteristics listed does not mean your child is LD. Many children do not begin to read as quickly as others. Some may simply need glasses to correct a vision problem. But if your child does exhibit several LD indicators, then consider talking to your pediatrician.
Sal Severe, school psychologist for more than 20 years and author of How to Behave So Your Children Will, Too! (Vermilion, 2004), has a clear-cut recommendation when a child's abilities are in question. "A sit-down meeting involving the parents, teacher and the school psychologist to discuss what is keeping the child from learning" is in order, he says. After parents and educators speak with each other, they are in a better position to work together toward a solution.
Testing, Testing, One, Two Three
Parents are frequently confused and even alarmed when a teacher suspects an LD and suggests further testing. It's difficult not to be frightened of harsh-sounding terms such as "psychological evaluation," but such tests merely provide the information you and your child's teachers need in order to help your child succeed academically. It is important that you are well informed about all aspects of the test. If you are uncomfortable with the testing plan, your child is likely to be as well.
Screening tests are brief and provide a general look at the student's skills or behavior. They determine if more testing in a certain area is necessary. Diagnostic tests are longer and provide more detailed information such as intelligence, reading or behavior problems. More specifically, they determine how well your child performs, where they have the most difficulty and what support is needed.
Achievement tests measure basic academic skills and contain such information acquired through schooling.
Behavior inventory tests comprise a checklist completed by the child about his or her own feelings or by a parent who has observed the child's behavior.
If your child is diagnosed with an LD, don't blame him – or yourself. "It is essential that both parent and child realize that figuring out how kids learn is not a perfect science," Severe says. "Each child learns and processes information in a different manner."
Many times a child with learning disabilities is actually of higher intelligence than a child without an LD is. Severe, dyslexic himself, knows firsthand. "Your intelligence is one thing," he says. "Your disability is another."
Learning to Learn
"LD is a life-long diagnosis that does not necessarily mean that one will have an 'inability,'" says Imy Wax, parent of two children with learning disabilities and a psychotherapist and educational consultant. "The diagnosis is simply a way of understanding how to ... give direction and stimulation in the area that is strong."
When Edwina Lewis' children were diagnosed with LD more than 20 years ago, parents and children had few resources to guide them. Lewis followed her heart then, and modern research supports her decision. Lots of one-on-one time is crucial for children with learning disabilities, she says.