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What to Do If You Suspect Your Child Has a Learning Disability

Learning disabilities are real

According to the National Institutes of Health, they affect 15% of America's school children. With early intervention, children with learning disabilities can learn strategies to achieve as well as other youngsters do.

If you suspect that your child has a learning disability, don't despair. Follow a few important steps and you will be on the way to helping your child and educating yourself in the process.

Collect information about your child's performance

Organizing information about your child will help you to monitor progress. Meet with your child's teachers and other school personnel to understand his or her performance and attitude towards school. Observe your child's ability to study, do homework and finish the tasks you assign at home. Keep a file of all the materials about his or her education including tests and results. Keep a record of what you notice and about your talks with professionals. This dated information will be valuable in planning for your child.

Have your child tested

Ask the school administration to provide a comprehensive educational evaluation. This will include interviews, direct observation, a review of your child's educational and medical history, a test that will measure your child's strengths and weaknesses, and conferences with professionals who work with your child. Either you or the school can request the evaluation, but it is only given with a parent's written permission.

Teamwork

If the results indicate that your child has a learning disability, she or he is eligible for special educational services. You will work with a team including your child's teacher to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP). This is a written document that summarizes your child's educational performance, plans the short-term educational goals and outlines annual goals. It also gives methods for measuring progress. You are a big part of this program so don't be afraid to speak up.

If your child does not qualify for special education, it is still important for you to work with the teacher to create an informal program that meets your child's needs.

Find ways to help

Changes can be made in classroom routines to help children with learning disabilities. Talk to your child's teachers about these ideas: reading aloud, allowing extra time on exams, taping lessons and using new technology.

Talk to your child about the disability

Reassure your child that having a learning disability only means that his or her mind works on words and information a little differently. It does not mean being stupid or lazy. Be honest and optimistic with your child. Explain that though learning may be a struggle he or she can still succeed.

Know your child's strengths

Children with learning disabilities are often very smart, or good leaders, or outstanding in sports or creative areas like art or sculpture. Focus on your child's strengths as well as helping with the difficulties. If time allows, encourage your child in after school activities.

Work with your child at home

Help your child do homework by establishing a regular time and a specific place for it and giving lots of encouragement. Praise your child for work well done and practice good school behavior at home.

Know your legal rights

Learn about your legal rights by asking the school for a summary of them. Under the law, every child with a learning disability has the right to a "free and appropriate public education."

Join with others

The best way to learn more about learning disabilities and to meet other parents is to join one of the groups listed here. You will get the latest information and find new ways for your child to reach their full potential.

The Coordinated Campaign for Learning Disabilities is a collaborative public awareness effort of the following organizations:

(1999)