School can be a daunting place for any child. Add a learning disability like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, learning disorders, or a developmental disorder, and the frustrations can quickly mount. As a parent, you can help your child face educational obstacles, and make school go much more smoothly.
Before the first school bell rings, make sure your child is ready. Talk about expectations, walk through the school to become familiar with the schedule, and meet with teachers to get them on board with your child’s abilities and challenges.
Go over important skills while school is out to avoid the “summer slide” — where kids forget much of what they learned the previous year, advises Rebecca Branstetter, PhD, a child and adolescent psychologist in the San Francisco Bay area and author of the book, “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Children with Executive Functioning Disorder.” “Students with learning disabilities are particularly vulnerable since they may already be behind academically,” she says. “Consider weaving academic tutoring, educational therapies, or special camps with an academic focus into your child’s summer to keep his skills progressing.” Make time for fun, too, so summer doesn’t turn into an extension of the school year.
If you suspect a learning difficulty but haven’t yet confirmed it, get your child evaluated by a psychologist, speech therapist, or other educational professional. The assessment, called a psychoeducational evaluation, includes tests of intelligence, information processing, language, academics (reading, writing, math), and behavioral and social development.
Your public school district should offer you a free evaluation. Or, you can opt to pay for the test yourself. “They can be costly, but they can also be more comprehensive, and the professional may be able to rule in or out other reasons why your child is underperforming, such as ADHD or an emotional difficulty such as depression or anxiety,” Branstetter says.
Based on the results of these tests, your child may qualify for special education. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, schools are required to evaluate kids with special educational needs, and provide specialized services to meet those needs. You can help by writing a formal request letter to the school, and by being an advocate for your child throughout the process. “You have ‘behind the scenes’ knowledge of your child’s struggles and the interventions you have already tried, which can build support for extra help,” Branstetter says.
As part of these special education services, the school will provide your child with an Individualized Education Program. This document will describe your child’s current performance, educational goals, and what modifications and other services the school will provide to help her achieve those goals.
If your child is in private school, you’ll probably have to pay for special tutoring or educational therapy yourself, Branstetter says. But some private schools do have specialists available to help you figure out what kind of support you’ll need.
Learning doesn’t have to end when the school day is done. Foster your child’s progress by teaching organizational strategies, and by reinforcing what she’s learning in the classroom. Figure out how your child learns best. Is she a visual learner? Use books, drawings, and other visual aids to help her study. Is she an auditory learner? Read her notes and other study materials out loud. You can also incorporate apps, websites, learning games, and other educational tech tools to make learning more fun.
Kids with learning disabilities can become frustrated if they’re not progressing as quickly as their friends. Let your child know that he is special, smart, and talented. Emphasize his strengths, and work together to overcome his weaknesses.
If the learning disability is too much for you to tackle alone, call in extra help. A tutor can help bring your child up to speed in a particular subject, such as math or English. Kids with more severe learning disabilities may benefit from an educational therapist, who can give them pointers on how to study most effectively based on their learning style.
“Finally, if your child is experiencing emotional blocks to learning, or global attention problems that interfere with her ability to keep up academically, she may profit from seeing a child psychologist for counseling,” Branstetter says. “Be sure to choose a psychologist who has experience with children and helping with school problems.”
To learn more about helping your child with a learning disability, visit the Learning Disabilities Association of America, National Center for Learning Disabilities, or the Center for Parent Information and Resources.
August 11, 2015
Janet O’Dell, RN