1) I think my child may have a learning disability but I'm not sure how to describe to the school exactly what I want assessed. What should I do?

If it is hard to verbally state why you have concerns, bring your child's work samples with you to the school to show what is hard to articulate. A full psycho-educational assessment should give you the answers that you seek.

Before going elsewhere, you might want to find out exactly what services the school system could offer you – and when they could provide them. If the timeframe or suggestions for providing needed services is unacceptable to you, there are independent educational testers that you can go to privately. The following articles will give you an idea of what to expect from the testing process:

There are several national organizations that can help you through this process and provide referrals to local professionals. You can contact the International Dyslexia Association or the Learning Disabilities Association. In addition, you can look in your local phone book for “educational testing” or “psycho-educational testing” for someone close to you. LD Online has a Yellow Pages service that might be helpful. There are also educational consultants and educational advocates that can help you through the process locally.

Be a good consumer in this process. Ask potential testers, tutors, and consultants about their experiences and specialization before you choose a provider. You want to make sure that the person you choose will be a good match for your child.

2) How can I find a professional who can diagnose a learning disability?

A full psycho-educational assessment would be helpful to give you more information about the way this student learns.

First, find out from a school administrator exactly what services the school system can offer and when they could provide them. Express your concerns and find out the procedures involved in going through a screening process for your child. If the timeframe or suggestions are unacceptable, there are independent educational testers that you can go to privately. The following articles might be helpful to you:

There are several national organizations that can help families through this process and give local professional referrals. They might also have information about financial assistance for testing. You might want to contact:

In addition, you can look in your local phone book for “educational testing” or “psycho-educational testing” for someone in your area. LD OnLine also has a Yellow Pages service that might be helpful.

Be sure to ask potential testers, tutors, and consultants about their experiences and specializations before choosing a provider.

3) Can a five year old be evaluated for ADHD?

It is good to consider early intervention. As a parent, it is within your rights to request a 504 evaluation for your child. This evaluation is free and will be conducted at your public school. Ask to meet with the principal to find out how to proceed. If your child is in preschool, contact your local school division for a phone number of an early intervention service.

These next articles may answer some other questions that you might have about 504 plans:

4) My child was tested in kindergarten for dyslexia but they didn't find anything. What should I do now that he is in 3rd grade and still struggling with reading and writing?

It is sometimes challenging to detect learning difficulties in very young children. When your child was tested in kindergarten, he may have been able to compensate for his learning challenges to the point where there was little discrepancy between his ability and achievement. In order to be diagnosed with a learning disability, and therefore receive special education services, a child must exhibit both a processing deficit and a discrepancy between what he is capable of doing and what he is actually achieving in school.

As your child gets older, it may be increasingly difficult for him to compensate, so the gap between his ability and achievement may be widening. If your child does have a learning disability, it will be easier to detect now than when he was in kindergarten. The following articles describe characteristics common to children with dyslexia and other learning disabilities. You may want to look through them to see if you recognize some of your child’s challenges in these descriptions:

If you see some of these characteristics in your child, you may want to request that his school give him an educational evaluation. It is within your rights as a parent to request this free evaluation and to have a vote throughout the evaluation process.

The educational evaluation will help you and the school better understand your child’s academic strengths and weaknesses and how best he learns. The following articles will give you a clearer idea about the evaluation process:

Please be sure to share any of the interventions that you have been trying at home and the concerns you have. The following articles may give you some ideas of how you can make the most of the local screening meeting and subsequent meetings throughout this process:

Your willingness to help your child at home will go a long way in giving him additional academic and emotional support, as well as the comfort in knowing that he is not alone in his struggles. This next group of articles suggest ways in which you and your child can work together at home:

Remember that you can be the strongest and most knowledgeable advocate for your son, so trust your instincts and don’t give up! The sooner your son receives the assistance he needs and the quicker you and his teachers can work together to develop a plan for helping him at home and school, the better his outcome for truly reaching his academic potential.

5) My child struggles academically, but the school tells me he does not qualify for special education services. Why not?

Many schools use a discrepancy formula to determine whether a student is eligible for special education for a learning disability. Often, there needs to be a specific number of points between aptitude and achievement. It may be that your child's discrepancy is not yet great enough for him to qualify for services.

The discrepancy system is a hotly debated topic, both within schools and within federal legislation. We are now seeing a trend toward the Response to Intervention system, which addresses a student's needs as they arise, rather than waiting for him to fall significantly behind.

If your school is still using the discrepancy formula, there may still be services available, such as a tutoring program or a reading specialist who could do small group or individual work with your child.

The following articles have information about the process of determining whether a student is eligible for special education services:

6) My son is far behind in school both academically and developmentally. Should he stay back a grade?

Your question about retention at grade level is a challenging one. Most of the research done on the subject points to damaging social effects as well as a lack of long term academic improvement for most children. That said, given the way most schools are currently structured, moving students on to higher grades who are lacking skills and knowledge is also unlikely to ensure academic success. The following article may help you understand the challenges involved in that decision process and proposed strategies to overcome the issue.

If your school is one in which 1) at-risk students are given intensified learning experiences; 2) differentiated instruction is provided; 3) teachers are continually improving their skills; 4) lessons are geared to ongoing performance assessments; and 5) very young students receive the help they need early and often – you can safely support promotion for your child. If you are not convinced that your child will get the support he needs to succeed in the next grade, you may want to strongly support his retention. In addition to academic factors, it is important to weigh the child's age, size, emotional maturity and physical development when considering retention. Also examine the program that will be offered – it should be a new, challenging experience not a repeat of the same lessons and texts.

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