Learning Disabilities: A Parent’s Guide
Welcome to Doctors’ Notes, our contribution from Urban Health physicians (and husband and wife) Dr. Rob and Dr. Karla Robinson. The dynamic duo will be fielding questions about health, as it relates to African Americans. Please feel free to send them questions via firstname.lastname@example.org. We promise to keep it anonymous.
Having a child with a learning disability can sometimes be stressful. There are often many questions about the next steps, the resources available, and the future. We interviewed Jillian Youngblood of Noodle.com—one of the nation’s most comprehensive education websites—about what it means to have a child with a learning disability, some signs to be aware of, how to choose the right school, and how to navigate the process.
JET: When a child has been labeled as having a learning disability (LD) what are the child’s chances for success in school?
Jillian Youngblood: In short, the label “LD” is an explanation, not a stigma. Many students with learning disabilities can and do succeed in school, especially when they get the right interventions and accommodations. In reality, having a learning disability actually confers a variety of advantages. For every challenging symptom a child with LD experiences, there is a mirroring positive trait. For example, people with dyslexia are often more creative, more able to understand abstract concepts, and have better three-dimensional spatial reasoning. People with ADHD may be very stubborn, but also show higher levels of perseverance.
JET: What are the early signs and symptoms of some of the more common disabilities?
Jillian Youngblood: Different learning disabilities have different symptoms, and parents, teachers, and caregivers may not notice them until a child is in school. Here are a few symptoms of common learning disabilities:
High-Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder:
*Inappropriate eye contact
*Difficulty with changes in routines
*Trouble expanding interests
*Trouble understanding written text
*Difficulty with spelling and sounding out words
*Difficulty holding attention to play or tasks
*Forgetfulness in daily activities
*Trouble organizing tasks and activities
*Tendency to fidget or tap feet
*Child speaks less than his peers, or in shorter, less complex sentences
*Difficulty with plurals, word tenses, and word order
Speech Sound Disorders:
*Child substitutes one letter sound for another (e.g. says “wed” instead of “red”)
*Consistently substitutes the same types of sounds for other sounds (e.g. says “tup” instead of “cup”)
But remember: these symptoms do not necessarily indicate that your child has a learning disability. For example, what looks like a speech or language disability may actually be a hearing impairment—so it’s important to determine if there is a physical basis for what you may be noticing.
JET: How do I go about choosing a school for a child with disabilities?
Jillian Youngblood: Many parents struggle to find the right school for a child with a learning disability. Public schools are required to evaluate and provide services for your child, though parents should know that the wait time for an assessment can be long. Private schools are not required to provide special education services, so if your child is in a private school, he or she may have to receive services from another school.
In some cases, public schools will pay for students with LD to attend other public schools that have more appropriate support systems, or for special education services at private schools. Know that some private schools have instructors highly-trained to provide support services for students with LD, while others do not. If possible, ask other parents about their experiences with the school and whether it has a reputation for success in serving students with your child’s particular disability.
JET: What is the next step for a child after receiving the diagnosis?
Jillian Youngblood: Once your child receives a diagnosis, you’ll work with your school to create an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP. This is a legal document that spells out your child’s learning needs, the services the school will provide, and how your child’s progress will be measured. If you and the school disagree about whether your child needs an IEP or what should be included in it, you can request a mediation session or due process hearing to come to a resolution. You can also seek out an independent evaluation, although the school is not required to pay for or accept it.
Another option is to pursue what’s called a 504 plan, named after the part of the federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against public school students with disabilities. A 504 plan may be right for a child who needs an accommodation like extra time on standardized tests (this is often appropriate for children with ADHD). Because Section 504 defines “disability” in very broad terms, your child may be eligible for an accommodation even if he is not eligible for an IEP.
JET: How do I find out more information on learning disabilities?
Jillian Youngblood: Noodle is a great place to start. We work with a panel of experts who write about every aspect of learning disabilities, and recently released a 7-part series of articles that walks parents through recognizing the early signs of a learning disability, working with your school to get services, and supporting your child’s learning both in the classroom and at home. The series also includes recommended further reading for parents who want to go in depth. Understood.org and the American Academy of Pediatrics are also excellent resources.
It’s a health thing…we’ve got to understand!
About the Doctors: Dr. Karla and Dr. Rob are the founders of Urban Housecall, a multimedia health and wellness resource, and also hosts of the Urban Housecall Radio Show. For more from the doctors, visit their website at www.urbanhousecall.com, like them on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter @urbanhousecall!