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Special Education

The following are past questions and answers from Dr. Larry Silver on this topic.

My child has high test scores but a low IQ and his school wants to remove him from the special education program. What can I do?

My son has a learning disability. The numerous tests done on him at school concluded that he has language, cognition, and comprehension problems. My dilemma is that his school won't continue giving him special education because his recent achievement scores were high on the tests, yet his IQ score was low.

They told me there is no category to place him in; therefore, they have to deny continuing his special education services. I told them that his achievement scores are high because of the special education services he had been receiving. I thought having a learning disability was a reason to receive special education services. What additional information do I need so that my student can continue to receive special education services?

I share your frustration. Some school systems use a discrepancy model for defining a learning disability. The child must be a certain percentile behind what is expected for his or her IQ to meet the criteria for LD. Thus, as a child benefits from help and progresses, he or she might no longer be "far enough behind" to continue to meet the criteria for being coded as having LD. I suggest that you seek the advice of a special education counselor so that you can develop the best strategy for approaching your school.

How can I get the school system to help my son, who is a junior and cannot read, transition to the work world?

I am the mother of a child who has learning disabilities. He is now a freshman in high school and still reads at a first-grade level. His writing skills are also compromised.

Are there any tips you can give me to help my son? I am very upset with the school system in my town and don't know how to approach them calmly to make them understand that he is facing adulthood and needs to be able to get a job, drive a car, etc. What can I do?

I am very upset to learn that your son has gone through at least 12 years of public school and is still reading at the first-grade level. How did this happen? Was he not tested over the years? Did he have an IEP?

If the school system has never been concerned and if your son has never had an IEP, I would find an attorney who knows about education law and discuss what your options are. If he has had an IEP, you need to know that the school system must continue to work with him until the end of his 21st year. During this time he could receive further help with his learning disabilities and he could receive vocational training. If you do not know about this part of IDEA, ask the principal about it.

My son forgets things everywhere. Is this a sign of a disability?

Hi Dr. Silver,

My son forgets things in school, on the bus, in the park etc. He needs a reminder or he will forget things.

Is this related to any disability? If so, how can he be helped? Also, could it be possible that he can't process multiple tasks at the same time?

Without your son's age, I cannot be specific. But the behaviors you describe suggest that he might have what is called an executive function disorder. He has difficulty organizing schoolwork, and loses, forgets, misplaces papers and other materials. He gets to school and leaves things at home. Then he leaves school and forgets things that need to come home. He might have similar difficulties with his personal belongings (coat, pencils, etc.).

If he has executive function disorder, it might be a reflection of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Inattentive Type or it might be a reflection of a learning disability. I would discuss these problems with his teacher. If the teacher notices the problems as well, speak with the principal about the possibility of having a special education team evaluate him.

(If you want to read more about these problems, look in my book, The Misunderstood Child, Fourth Edition, published by Random House/Three Rivers Press.)

My son is in kindergarten and cannot write his name, but the psychologist says he's on track. Should I request testing anyway?

My son is 5 and is having difficulty in school. He started in a child development program last year at age 4 and had a lot of trouble learning anything. We thought it was due to his ADHD and behavior. He could not spell or write his name, did not know colors, numbers, or any of the alphabet.

This year he is doing much better with his behavior. But he has been in school for nine weeks so far and still cannot spell or write his name without assistance. He only knows three letters of the alphabet and can only recognize the numbers one to five. He has trouble gripping a pencil tight enough to write.

He is in speech therapy and has been since last year. My husband was LD in school. My son has been evaluated by the school psychologist but she thinks that even though he has attended school for over a year, he is where he should be. Should I be concerned and request additional testing for him, or is he too young to be diagnosed with dyslexia or other LD?

I share your concerns. Yes, he might be too young to meet the school requirements to be identified as having a learning disability. (Most schools use a model that requires a child to be about two years behind and he is only five.) But, there is the opportunity to evaluate and help a 5-year-old without needing to conclude why the problems exist. If testing shows that he has areas of deficit, services can be provided without the formality of testing. Speak with the principal about getting such help.

If you are not successful, you have two options. First, you could get psychological and educational testing done privately and then take the results to the school, insisting on help. Or, you could set an appeal process in motion. To do this, send your principal a letter, requesting a meeting to discuss the need to evaluate your son. The principal must call such a meeting within 30 days (based on education law).

At this meeting, request an evaluation. If the team does not agree and does not agree to informally provide services, ask for the guidelines on how to appeal the team's decision. Such a process is required by law. Then, appeal to the next level within your school system. If the principal refuses to call a meeting, comment that IDEA, the federal education law, requires that the principal call such a meeting. If he or she still refuses, ask for information on how to appeal.

(Should the principal refuse, I would meet with your superintendent of school or an assistant. Bring your notes about each step you went through and ask what your rights are.)

Good luck.

How can I help a teacher understand her student's behavior disorder?

Dr. Silver,

I am the principal of an elementary school. I have an eighth grade student that has a behavior disorder. He is a great kid and has made great strides in the past few years. He is on medication and when he takes it he does well.

He has problems with a certain teacher and I am struggling to help her understand his disorder. He does not deal well with any kind of pressure and often times this pressure is because of something that is going on at home. He is easily irritated and frustrated. He often closes himself off when he becomes agitated and won't do any work. He becomes easily worried and depressed. He does not like to write and when an assignment requires extra writing he shuts down. (We have offered a computer to type assignments, but it is not an appealing alternative to him.)

He is a very intelligent boy but this behavior is all his instructor can see. She cannot understand why he shuts down sometimes. She becomes easily frustrated and continues to single him out in front of his peers when he chooses not to work. This only agitates him further. She honestly feels that he is making a decision to act a certain way just so he is in control of every situation.

The special education teacher and I have both tried to explain the behavior disorder to her. We are unsuccessful in our attempts. What would you say to her that might help her understand that kids with behavior disorders really are not able to control themselves all the time?

May I thank you for being so sensitive to the needs of your students. My first proposal might not fit your administrative style. I would transfer the child to a teacher who does understand the child's disabilities. I would then request that the teacher he now has receive help in learning how to teach a child with special needs in a general education setting.

If this is not possible, I would assure the current teacher that she will receive supportive help from the special education program. However, this teacher must (not it would be nice if...) follow the recommendations made.

Explaining has not helped. A specific list of teaching approaches that are expected and that will be monitored might work best.

The last thing I would want is to have the child continue to suffer because of the teacher's lack of knowledge and sensitivity.

Who should I go to first to find out if my child has dyslexia — the school or an outside professional?

How does one find out if their child has dyslexia? I have approached the teachers regarding this and they told me to seek help outside school. Yet when I speak to professionals outside school they say it is up to the school to test the child. Can you give me advice to help my daughter before she falls any further behind in school? She is entering third grade.

Thank you,


Submit a letter to the principal requesting a meeting to discuss your child's difficulties. The principal must schedule this meeting within 30 days. At the meeting, present your concerns and ask that the school evaluate her to clarify if she has learning disabilities. The principal must respond by either agreeing or saying that the school will observe her and test her if she continues to have problems. If you disagree, you can request an appeal process.

My son reverses letters and can't see the difference between adding and subtracting. He wears glasses but they don't seem to help. Where do I take him next?

My son of 8 years old shows symptoms of learning disabilities. At first, his teachers thought it was due to vision problems. He is wearing glasses and still doesn't show improvements.

He reverses letters and numbers and has problems with reading. He also cannot see the difference between adding and subtracting, no matter how I teach him. I don't know if I should bring him to a psychologist or neurologist.

Please help! Thanks.

The problems you describe are not the result of a vision problem. They might be the result of a learning disability. I would start with a psychologist who is skilled at doing the necessary studies to clarify why he has such problems.

Is a British psycho-educational evaluation valid in the U.S.?

Our family is about to move to the U.S. and our son is experiencing difficulty in school. His teachers have suggested a psycho-educational evaluation, which would be carried our by a British educational psychologist.

Will this report be valid and useful in the U.S. or will my son need to be assessed again at his new school? We don't want to stress our son with two assessments. We will be moving in December.



If time allows, I would recommend that you have someone do the psycho-educational evaluation in the country (and city) where you will be living. The results would be more relevant to the U.S. school system.

If you plan to enter your son in a public school rather than a private school, it is possible that the principal of this public school would agree to have the school's professionals do the testing.

The school wants to put my social, bright 13-year-old daughter into an all-day program. What should I do?

Dr. Silver,

My 13-year-old daughter has had trouble learning, retaining, and applying information since kindergarten. She has been in a resource program since fifth grade. This year I was informed she needed to attend a special day class that is more intensive than the one she is in. I went to visit the classroom and was so surprised to find 10 6-8th graders with very low functioning ability.

My daughter is bright and social, and never causes problems in school. I feel putting her in an all-day class like this will really hurt her self-esteem. I am wondering if she could have ADHD, although the testing doesn't indicate this.

She also scored low on her intelligence test. However, she comes across as a normal 13-year-old. She is on the cheerleading team and is very good at dance and athletics. Can you please give me some advice?



Your school professionals appear to have developed an IEP to address your daughter's needs. If you are not comfortable with this IEP, you have two choices.

First, you can appeal the decisions (such as diagnosis, needs, and class placement). Your school must then have another team from outside of your school review the case. Or, you can see a private professional knowledgeable in special education problems and request a private assessment. Should this professional agree with you, you can request another meeting of the IEP team and bring this person.

What do I do about teachers who belittle my son in front of other students and do not follow his IEP?

I have a 9-year-old son, who was diagnosed with dysgraphia and ADHD in second grade. He has a special education plan, which his teachers usually follow, but because he is in lots of special groups, math help, reading help etc., he has lots of different teachers.

I am really having issues getting them to positively reinforce him. I fight with them all the time and it is just the same thing over and over — he gets a new teacher who is supposed to follow his IEP and instead they make fun of him or belittle him because he does not learn the same as other children. I am so sad and frustrated, I want to just follow him around and stop anyone who hurts him, but I can't do that.

Is there anything I can do to help his beaten self-esteem? Or maybe a different way to approach the teachers? He is just a little boy and he learns a little differently than others. I have had teachers use him as an example, saying things like, "If you don't do your homework, you'll end up like him." They have told him, "If you don't stop making your letters backwards, you will never have a job or a drivers license." Any help or advice you can give me will be greatly appreciated.



If your son has an IEP that clarifies your sons disabilities and the services needed, do not tolerate any teacher acting the way you describe. Keep a log of each occurrence. When you have enough examples, request an IEP meeting to discuss your sons progress. At this meeting, present your log and ask that this issue be addressed.

If your son has a 504 Plan, based possibly on the ADHD, follow the same process. Here, you would request a 504 meeting to discuss his progress.

Do not allow this to continue. But, you must document, document, and document. If your only data is from your son, see if you can get validation from another student, an aide, or someone else.

How can we help a gifted fifth grader who is forgetful and lacks organization?

Dr. Silver,

I really hope you can help steer us in the right direction in seeking help for our daughter. She is in the 5th grade and has been tested as gifted (IQ of 135). She goes to a private school and is in a gifted pull-out program (one day per week), which she loves.

She is struggling mightily this year with organization. Her grades are just OK, but her effort is definitely lacking. She is not working up to her potential.

She says she is trying her hardest, but her teacher thinks that she does not use her time wisely and does not listen attentively. Her desk is the messiest in the class and no system of organization has seemed to help her. She generally does her work but often "forgets" to turn it in. Her handwriting is awful. I constantly have to remind her to head her paper and mind the margins.

I am at my wit's end with trying to get her to be more organized and responsible, and always give school her best effort. I should mention that she also suffers from anxiety. She has been in therapy for two years and is currently being medicated for it. The anxiety seems to be under control.

I don't know what else to do to help her or what kind of professional to turn to for help. I would love any advice you could give me. Thank you so much for your time and attention.

Respectfully yours,


Most of the difficulties you describe suggest what is called executive function disorder — difficulty with organization of materials, tasks, and time. She also appears to have a fine-motor problem that is affecting her handwriting. It is important that the reasons for these problems be clarified.

She will need a psycho-educational evaluation. The results will explain why she is underachieving and what to do to help her. You are in a private school; however, you are entitled to services from the public school system. Meet with the principal of the public school she would have gone to and request that she be evaluated. The principal must schedule a meeting to discuss your daughter's difficulties. If the principal denies your request for such studies, you may have to have it done privately.

Do not wait until she is in middle school. Her problems will only become worse. Have her evaluated now so that the right help can be introduced now.

What can you do if you suspect the child you're advocating for has a learning disability but the school refuses to test?

Hello and thank you for such a wonderful resource! I am a former teacher and school psychologist. I'm currently providing supplemental reading instruction and trying to advocate for my second grade niece.

She has a long history typical of a child with a specific learning disability or dyslexia. Her language development was slow, particularly with regard to articulation. Letter and number recognition was difficult and her general phonemic awareness still has not been mastered in spite of consistent and systematic reading instruction for the past six months. She has trouble expressing herself with the appropriate vocabulary and word sequence.

When she reads, besides the usual misread words, she still confuses b and d and she often substitutes synonyms for words (i.e. house for home, mom for mother, dumb for stupid, etc.). Independent homework completion is impossible because she cannot read the directions accurately.

She was retained in kindergarten and now is receiving extra small-group reading instruction at school three times a week. Even so, the school has yet to initiate communication or collaboration with her mother or me. The only reason we knew about the extra reading group was because it was mentioned during parent/teacher conferences.

When her mother asked if it might be time to refer her for a special education evaluation, they said she could request it but probably wouldn't get it because her daughter's problems aren't that bad. I'm concerned that all the help my neice has received will ultimately prevent her from qualifying for special education because the school only uses the discrepancy model (and she may be too young to show a significant discrepancy).

Is it enough that a student's mother and advocate suspect the presence of a disability to get the special education evaluation? I've worked in three different states and never heard of a school denying a parent request for an initial evaluation.

Also, can I, as her advocate, make the case from the vantage point of Response to Intervention that she has a learning disability? Or should we stop helping her and let her fall further behind in order to access the services she needs at school? We cannot afford a private evaluation and because I'm not currently employed, I don't think they are going to take my opinion too seriously. I hope you can help!

First, please do not stop helping her. She should not have to experience any more pain than she is experiencing already. I suspect that she is in a school system that waits until the child fails third grade before they do any testing. Why? As you mentioned, they use a discrepancy formula to determine if a student has a learning disability. And, the student has to have failed third grade before he/she is far enough behind to meet this discrepancy. I hate this "wait until you fail before we will evaluate or formally help" you strategy.

Have her parents send a formal letter to the principal requesting a meeting to discuss their daughter's academic difficulties. This request must be in writing. The principal must schedule the meeting within 30 calendar days. The principal, appropriate school professionals, the teacher, and parents should attend this meeting. (You can come as well.) At this meeting, her parents should formally request testing to find out why their daughter is struggling. If the school agrees - great. These studies will be done and then shared with the parents.

If they do not agree to do testing at this time, have the parents say, "This decision is not acceptable to us. We wish to have the minutes of the meeting reflect that we do not agree. And, we would like to be informed of our right to appeal this decision." The school must comply with these requests. Prior to seeing someone within the appeal process, seek help from a private educational consultant on what to say.

Good luck. Your niece is very lucky to have you for her aunt.

Can a teacher place a child in a resource room?

I am a self-contained special education teacher in New Jersey. I would like to know if I can place my students in a resource room setting for subjects such as reading or math. In other words, I might teach this student reading, language, spelling, science and social studies and he might go to the resource room for math. Is this legal?

You must request a meeting of the special education team. In New Jersey, this is known as the Child Study Team. This is the group of professionals who will reflect on your concerns and answer your questions.

How can you get the school system to help a child who is doing well now, but needs intervention to prevent failure next year?

My son is 10 years old and soon to start the fifth grade. In early 2007, he was diagnosed with mild learning disabilities, specifically with a phonemic awareness deficit and short-term memory deficit. It was also suggested that he perhaps has some trouble with CAP, but that no one in this area does this type of testing. His public school can do nothing for him because his intelligence was at a low-average to average level and compared to his academic output, there was not a significant gap between the two.

He makes a few A's, mostly B's and some C's. He loves to learn new things about the world; however, he is increasingly frustrated with the demands of higher elementary school. He is doing as well as he is in school because I work with him so much after school. His teachers try to help in the class as much as they can, but with almost 30 kids, it is impossible. I am concerned that he requires so much help now and wonder how we will get through middle school next year when the teachers won't be so helpful.

I am returning to school to finish my master's degree and will not be available to help him as much. His counselor said we might need to retest him in middle school if his problems become worse because by then, he might be more than a few grade levels behind instead of the one he is now. He would then most likely qualify for special education and an IEP.

It doesn't end here...my son also was born with congenital heart defects and almost lost his life this past year due to his heart issues. However, with everyone's preserverance, he has recovered wonderfully. The point is, my son wants to lead a full life, but that full life may be shortened unfortunately by his medical condition. I can't let him get two or more levels behind. He wants to go to college and do so much more.

Is there anything else that I should be doing? What else can I do to help him? Anyone else I should contact? Any tips on how to help him be a successful reader, speller and writer? Why must my son get two or more grades behind before anyone will help him? It frustrates me and disgusts me to no end that our schools are failing the kids that need them the most.

Anyone can teach a bunch of straight A students. You know, the ones that don't even need a teacher and would do fine on their own. To be a true teacher they must be able to connect with and teach our kids who are having trouble in school; that is the true art and science of teaching. The trouble is finding one of those rare teachers.

Thank You,

Your son is lucky to have you as his mother. You have been there to help and you are not ready to accept what the school is saying. It sounds as if the school is saying that only if you stop helping him so much at home and you let him fail, will he be eligible for help.

Public schools often use a "wait to fail" model for providing help. "Your son has to be two standard deviations behind before he is eligible for services." This is wrong, but it is not uncommon to be used to avoid services. If you can afford to do it financially, seek a comprehensive private evaluation. Get another opinion on where he is and what he needs. (If you cannot afford to do this, seek out a private educational consultant to review the school evaluations and to advise you.) Start an appeal process and use good consultants to help you fight.

You need to be an informed and assertive advocate for your son. Seek help from a private consultant to help you do this. (Ask friends who they have used. Or, go to the website of Learning Disabilities Association of America, then click on your state, which is on the left side of the site. Find out the name of the State chapter of this organization. Contact them and ask for names of advocates in your areas.

Good luck and don't give up.

How can I help my child who is well-adjusted socially in school, yet not doing well academically?

Our fourth grade daughter is dyslexic. She was diagnosed in second grade. She attends a private, independent school where she has attended since Kindergarten. She is happy and loves her school, which has a reputation for academic excellence. We pay for additional tutoring every day by an aid. She is progressing, but she is definitely not in many academic areas on the same level as her class mates.

She will attend there next year in the fifth grade. We have been told that as a consequence of her poor writing skills (due to her dyslexia) that this school will not want her in the sixth grade, even though they go through to the eighth grade. Our question is, do children do better mainstreamed in the arena where they are happy and have their social structure and their friends, or in another school. We would like our daughter to remain at this school. Thanks for your consideration.


From your comments, I am concerned that this private, independent school is not equipped to provide the necessary special education tutoring and accommodations. Special education tutoring requires a very skilled person who has been trained to work with students who have learning disabilities. It is not done by an aide who probably just goes over again what was done in class.

I would go back to the person who tested her in second grade. Ask for an update, showing where she is now. Use these results to identify the type of special education services she needs. It may be that this school cannot provide what is needed. Please do not wait until the end of eighth. She will be so much further behind if something is not done now.

If your child does the work when he chooses to do so, might they still need special education?

I have a six-year-old ADHD son with a learning disability. At school he does not complete the work as he knows how to do, thus making it look like he does not understand the work or is further behind. If he is given the right reward, he will do it. Otherwise, he does not. The IEP team wants to move him to a special education class because they feel he can't do what is expected of him. He can do it when he chooses to do it. Can you offer any help or advice?

The key question is your observation, "He can do it when he chooses to do it." Think about what you do with him. Does he do the work when you insist or does he do the work when you sit down first and make sure he understands what to do? What role do you play with him to be sure that he "does the work"? You might be helping by compensating for any problems. In general, with a first grader, I would encourage you to listen to the IEP team. They are basing their suggestions on formal testing plus hours of classroom observations and efforts.

How can a first year special education teacher learn more about how to document special education services?

This is my first year as a special education teacher. I am finding the paper work overwhelming and frustrating. I am so busy with the paperwork I have little time to work with my students, my classroom aide does most of the one-on-one. There is so much more to special education than even I knew as a five year classroom aide.

How do I understand the results of diagnostic testing? And after I understand the test, what does that tell me about what to actually do with the child? I did not have any training in how to give or even understand the results of any testing.

At the moment, I am trying to understand the WISC III and Woodcock Johnson Test of Achievement results for a student who appears borderline. How can I understand it so if I can show that he needs special education services with my documentation ? Is there a book or something you could suggest that will help me in the future?

I cannot help with the overload of paperwork. This is a common complaint by special education professionals. The problem is that your school system must now document everything (time spent, materials used, base line, progress markers, plus IEPs).

Let's think about your second question. You probably have a non-categorical degree in special education. Thus, you may not have had training in diagnostic testing and how to use the results to develop an intervention strategy. I agree that it is essential that you learn this. There might be books that you can read. I am not familiar with this literature.

Options. Do you know any other professional within your school system who knows how to do this? If so, see if he/she might suggest readings or help you learn. Second, check with the nearest University that has a Department of Education that offers a degree in special education. Find out who on faculty might be able to help you.

Note from LD OnLine: Visit our Tech Expert section to see Dr. Tracy Gray's response to the same question.

How do you evaluate a learning program to see if it is best for your child?

What do you think about cognitive skills training programs for improving attention, memory, auditory and visual processing, logic and reasoning? I recently heard great things about a program called "Learning RX" (that is the newer franchise name, the original, sister program is called "Pace").

It sounds fantastic and they published pre- and post-test scores that show an average of +3 years gain in cognitive skills that were below age level, using the Woodcock- Johnson lll cog. skills test. The speech-language pathologist who owns the Learning RX franchise near me told me that she has used many programs, including Lindamood-Bell and Fast Forword and this program gives phenomenal results in a much shorter time (six months) and across a broader range of skills. I'd love to know if this kind of training is recognized as valid by experts in the field of learning disorders. Thanks so much.

There are so many well-meaning and probably well-trained individuals who what to help our kids. My advice to parents is to do as much research on what is known vs what is claimed before using any, much as you would if you needed the best specialist for a serious medical problem.

Step One: Fully clarify what learning, language, and motor disabilities currently exist. This data would be found in the formal psycho-educational, speech-language, or occupational therapy evaluations. Then, discuss the needs clarified in these studies with someone who can integrate the full picture and develop the best interventions. Your speech therapist might be excellent. However, much as you would if you family doctor told you that your son needs an operation, you might want to get a second opinion.

How do I help a six-year-old boy who is developing unevenly and might have language problems?

My son is six years old and appears to have a language disorder. We have not ruled out an auditory processing disorder because of his age, but have noticed some red flags for ADHD. He has an amazing memory and is a very visual child. He also is already reading on about a second grade level and is interested in doing simple math.

He starts kindergarten soon - how is he going to get an appropriate education when his development is so uneven? What can I do to make sure he is keeping up and being challenged? My child is both "gifted" and delayed - it seems the school system may not recognize these two together. I need advice.

First, might I comment that six-year-olds, especially boys, often develop unevenly. Their language and/or motor skills might be more advanced than the other. These differences often resolve themselves by age seven.

However, if you are concerned, I encourage you to meet with the principal of the school he attends. Present your concerns. If you have speech-language or other evaluations, provide a copy. Ask that the principal schedule a meeting with his assigned teacher and the appropriate special education team at his school. Discuss your concerns with this group and ask that they respond to your concerns.

Should the principal have a “wait and see” attitude, suggesting that you wait until mid-semester or later and you do not want to wait, you might want to get more information on his inconsistencies from the speech-language professional to present to the principal.

Should the school system test a child to see if he should be put on prescription medication?

My seven-year-old son is in the first grade for the second time. Per his teacher and principal, they are encouraging me to have my son tested. I do not have a problem with having him tested.

My problem is this: all I'm hearing from them is he needs to be on a prescription drug. I can not see how a prescription drug is going to help him with his problems. After reading some of the articles LD OnLine has, I totally agree that he definitely has a learning disability, but the school system can not tell me why this requires prescription drugs.

I will do anything in my power to help my son develop. I will not shove prescription drugs down his throat until I understand how this will help him. Can you explain this to me?



Good for you. School staff cannot tell a parent to put their child on medication. The question might be the one you raise. Are his academic problems the result of a learning disability, of ADHD, or of both.

If your son has been hyperactive, inattentive, and/or impulsive since early preschool, you might discuss ADHD with his family doctor. If the main issues relate to difficulty learning to read, to write, to putting thoughts on the page, and to learning basic math and/or relate to his ability to understand oral instructions or reply orally, formal testing is needed to explore for a learning disability. Request such testing.

Many school systems will not test children until the end of the third grade – a “wait until they fail” model. If this is your son’s school philosophy, you might need to have the testing done privately.

Go slowly and clarify the problems before starting treatment. What your school staff is doing is similar to a physician saying, “Your child has a stomachache. He should have his appendix out.” No – first you learn what is causing the stomachache and then you recommend treatment.

Who should test a child for learning disabilities—the school or the doctor?

My nine-year-old daughter is in the third grade. Her work goes from good to okay to poor throughout the school year. She is getting ready to get out of school in less than two weeks. Since first grade, I have asked her teachers, school counselors, and her pediatrician to evaluation her for learning disabilities. Her biological father has ADHD and dyslexia.

I cannot get anyone to take the responsibility to test her. The school says it’s her doctor’s area, but her doctor says it is the school’s. Who really is the one who should be testing her? Her teacher says she spaces out in classes and she inverts digital 2’s and 5’s, the word “a” and “the,” and “b’s” and “d’s.” She also says her mind tells her to stand when she’s repeatedly told to sit, especially at her desk in school and at the table when eating anywhere.

Please help me help her. Her teacher even hinted she’d be better off staying back another year. I don’t know how she would handle that.

Thank you.

Wow!! Talk about passing the buck. Your descriptions suggest that she might have a learning disability and/or ADHD. One does not have to guess which. Given her difficulties with letter/number reversals and her not being where she should be academically at the end of third grade, the possibility of a learning disability is real. This possibility is even greater given that her biological father has a form of LD called dyslexia.

The only way to clarify is to have her take a battery of tests called a psycho-educational evaluation. Insist that her school professionals do such testing. See Sample Letter-Requesting an Initial Evaluation for Special Education Services. If she has LD, she will need special education services plus appropriate accommodations. The question of repeating third can only be answered after these data are available.

Should you have a history, going back to preschool of her being fidgety/hyperactive, inattentive, and/or impulsive, her family doctor should evaluate for ADHD. If she has this disorder, medication might help. Remember, it is not on or the other. Many children have both and both need to be addressed.

How do you get a teenager with a learning disability to accept help when he says he doesn’t want services?

I work with a high school student who is in foster care and was on IEP that lapsed due to numerous placement changes and bouncing from school to school. He recently was evaluated and found eligible for special services. The student has refused to accept these services because he believes that special education means “retarded.” He is failing all classes. How can I influence this student's decision to accept services?


Your brief description suggests that this high school student has been through a lot. He probably does not feel very secure, safe, or good about himself. Getting him to accept yet another problem, “I’m dumb,” will not be easy.

Maybe the school counselor can help him. Maybe a concerned tutor can show him how the help will be useful. Maybe the concept of a learning disability might not be used but, “You know, you have had to move around so much that your education has not been good. You need help to make up for what your school did not teach you.”

What are some symptoms of pervasive developmental disorder?

A student shows signs of inattentiveness. Often, he does not do work without constant one-on-one redirection. Still, minimal work is done. He is often playing with hands in an imaginary way, assuming they are action figures. He shows concern for only himself. He has no empathy for others, even when he uses inappropriate physical or verbal aggression. The child is 8 years old.

His parents are seeing him as gifted, but no classroom observation or information has been used in the diagnosis. Critical thinking activities and a diverse learning environment, as well as curriculum, are given. The child does not complete the basic work even when extensions are given to expand on the subject.

What are the steps to getting a child tested, evaluated as gifted, or having a disability? Can a child be gifted (only) and still not be able to interact with classmates and stay on task in order to get the introduction to a lesson. Thank you for your help.

Based on the descriptions you provide, your student might have what is called a Pervasive Developmental Disorder. Discuss this concept with your school consultants and explore how to get the student’s parents involved in a full evaluation. If my clinical impression is correct, the student will need special education services.

What do you do when the school won’t test your child for learning disabilities?

Dr. Silver,

I am a parent of a 15-year-old son who has not been diagnosed. The school district he is in tells me that they do not have a way to assess him. Therefore, his needs are not being met. They keep sending me to all kinds of doctors to be diagnosed (i.e. medical, eye, psychologist) and they are all sending me back to the school district for testing.

What can I do? It is very frustrating to know that if my child is diagnosed, there are people and foundations that would fit him perfectly. His school's learning disability teacher does not know the techniques that are suggested in the articles at this site. Please help me.

I do not understand what your school professionals mean when they say they do not have a way to assess him. (Is it possible that you have not provided me with other important information?) Your public school system cannot send you to someone else to do studies.

Step one (if not already done), seek a parent consultant/advocate who can advise you on your rights. Step two, with this advocate, present a formal request to the principal of his public school, requesting an evaluation. Step three, if refused, ask for the procedure for filing an appeal and file one. Good luck.

How can I help my sixteen year old son who has not been helped by the school for the past eight years?

My son is 16 years old. After eight years of requesting an evaluation, the school finally did it this past July. This showed my son is ADHD deficit in three areas of Auditory processing and has the age equivalency of an eight year old in speech.

I don't even know where to start with him. He's getting resource room and is repeating the ninth grade. I don't really know where he is at academically or where to begin. I filed complaints with the state education department and they found in my favor on ten findings. This child has been denied FAPE for eight years. How or who can help him?

He is very angry and is seeing someone for this. He says that suicide is not an option, because he loves his family, but it scares me. The first time he was seen by someone they said he was angry, which is something that I always suspected.

I really don't know what I can do to help him. He is meeting with success this year and feels good about it. He talks of summer school so he can join his peers in the eleventh grade. I'm not sure if he's ready for all of this. Your advice and help would be greatly appreciated.


Your story is a sad one. It is because of such stories that I try so hard to educate parents on what to look for and how to address a school system that is not seeing what the parents are seeing. Your legal victory supports that your school let you and your son down.

The real problem now is how to save him. The more he can stay with his friends and age group the better. Please get an outside educational consultant to advise you on what the school must do and what you may have to do privately. He might need psychotherapy to deal with his feelings of frustration and anger as well as the impact the past years has had on his self-esteem. Don't give up. He sounds like a good kid. Work on undoing the damage done over the past years.

How can I help my dyslexic brother who is being homeschooled?

Hi. My little brother is almost 13 and was diagnosed with dyslexia a few months ago. He's homeschooled and has given up on anything that has to do with reading and writing. Our six-year-old little sister can read and write better than him. I'm worried and wondered what there is out there that I can do to help him?


You call it dyslexia. School systems call it learning disabilities. It is still the same problem. Your brother needs specific special education help if he is to overcome or compensate for his disabilities. The problem with home schooling is that most parents are not trained special education teachers and do not have the knowledge or skills to help remediate the problems. He must have skilled special education help if he is to improve with reading and writing. Show this answer to your mother and ask her to think about what I said.

What should a parent do when a child does their homework and then doesn't turn it in?

My son is mildly dyslexic, 16 years old, and a sophomore in high school. Somehow homework and class work disappear between generation and turning it in. It has gotten worse. My son is taking AP Government and has a wonderful teacher. But how do we overcome this "missing link" where homework doesn't get turned it and occasionally class work doesn't get turned in.


Many students with learning disabilities (a term used by school system rather than dyslexia) have problems with organization. They misplace or lose their papers, reports, homework; they leave things at home that are needed in school and in school things that are needed at home. Their backpack may be chaotic. This disorganization might include losing personal objects or keeping bedroom presentable. It sounds as if your son has such problems. He will need a special education tutor who can help him develop organizational skills much as special tutors helped him with reading and writing in the past. Getting upset with him won't work. Get him the help he needs.

When is homeschooling appropriate for a child with many special learning needs?

My six-year-old daughter is very bright. I am home schooling her. Last year she went to a private school for Kindergarten. She coasted through with all A's. I felt she could have done more, but I didn't push because after all, it's only kindergarten. When she asked for more work after school, I gave her work from a first grade workbook. By letting her move at her own pace, she is finishing 2-4 days of school work in one day.

The only thing she will not do for me is read. She says it is boring. I gave her an easier book. She struggled and couldn't read it. I gave her a simple chapter book with a picture on each page and she read two pages with barely any help. It was marked as a level 4 book. After two pages, she was done. I tried to get her to read more of it the next day and she said she couldn't.

In other areas, she is a well behaved little girl. She does not like to be corrected, and will frequently roll her eyes when she is. She has difficulties being distracted, and can rarely fulfill a two-part command. (In fact, my mildly autistic son can perform a two-part command better than she can!) If you tell her that something is behind her, she is likely to turn around in a full circle, look up at the ceiling and say she can't find it. I was wondering if she could have ADD. And I was also wondering if it is important to get a diagnosis for her, even though I do not intend to medicate.

I am hoping to find solutions that can help her individual problems--including finding a curriculum that best suits her needs. But am I doing the right thing by her?


Your desire to help your daughter progress at her own rate of growth rather than the curriculum offered by a general education program is fine. However, I hear several other themes that concern me.

First, she appears to be struggling with reading. Reading is not a skill a student learns on their own. It needs to be taught by someone who knows how to teach reading. Is she behind because of your teaching or because she might have a potential problem with reading or because of some other factor. You need to clarify this question before you can decide how best to help her with her reading.

Second, you question if she might have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. As possible evidence you note that she can be distracted and she "rarely fulfills a two-part command." May I urge you to stop trying to be everything to her. If you do not have a degree in elementary school education; if you do not have a degree in speech-language therapy; if you do not have a professional degree in psychology or medicine, I urge you to see the advise of these individuals. Does she have a reading disability? Find out. Does she have a language disability? Find out. Does she have ADHD? Find out.

For your daughter's sake, love her, help her. But agree that you may not be able to answer all of the questions you ask.

What happens if medication does not seem to be working well?

My son was diagnosed with ADHD and learning disabilities at the end of third grade. He is now in ninth grade and gets very frustrated to the fact that he can't concentrate and do well in school. I feel frustrated myself because I don't know how to help him get out of his frustration.

He used to take Concerta until last year. He now refuses to take the medicine because it makes him feel a different person and he gets angry and aggressive when he takes it. I stopped giving it to him.

Please provide me with some feedback as to how I can help him succeed.


Let me focus first on the ADHD. Maybe he can't concentrate in school because his ADHD is no longer being treated. You should know that there are two consequences of being on too high a dose of Ritalin (Concerta). First, the individual may be more emotionally fragile - more angry or upset. Second, the individual may feel spacey - like someone flattened his personality. Perhaps if he saw someone who knew how to adjust the dose and monitor the medication, he would not resist. Discuss this with your physician.

Second, he has learning disabilities. And, now he is in high school. Does he have the compensatory strategies to handle high school work? Does he have the necessary accommodations in class? Could his frustration also be because he is no longer receiving adequate services?

Will having a student repeat a grade in school help them?

When is it appropriate to retain a student in the eighth grade? My daughter goes to a private Catholic school. She was previously diagnosed with ADHD Combined Type, Visual-Motor Processing Deficit and also appears to have difficulty with expressive writing.

Many interventions have taken place since Kindergarten. She has had years of private academic therapy, vision therapy, occupational therapy, and goes to a psychiatrist for medication management. In addition, she has accommodations as well as some modifications. She sees an Occupational therapist one day per week for two hours and an academic therapist twice a week.

I am also in the field with a (LMHC) & ESE background. In the past two years she has had many external stressors. She was taken off medication for ADHD due to "crashing" in sixth grade. She has also missed school due to a family crisis.

She is in the process of getting an IEP in public school. I know it will be a disaster if she moves on to a public high school and I am at a real loss as to what to do. If I retain her she will graduate with her class and then go to a public middle school for one year and move on to high school.

Should I retain her given the amount of previous and current interventions? I don't want to break her heart but I also want to do what's right for her. With the amount of school she has lost and the achievement level she is at, she might benefit with an additional year in eighth grade. (fourth grade math and beginning sixth grade reading skills according to the WJIIIR.) This is a terrible decision and she may loose what confidence she does have. Please give me your opinion if you can. I would sincerely appreciate it as a feel that I am all alone in the process.


The question is not whether you want to retain your child in her grade or not. The question is what are the many problems your daughter faces and how best to address each. First, may I urge you to clarify exactly where your daughter's current learning disabilities are as well as her learning strengths. She may have had excellent services over the years; however, where is she now. Does she have the skills to handle her current academic needs? Is she provided the necessary services and accommodations to be successful?

Once these issues are clarified, you option would be to keep her in the private school, being sure that she receive all of the accommodations she will need. And, it will be critical that you provide all of the special education services she now needs privately. (You could try to get services from her public school. But, be sure that they are adequate and remember that she must travel to her nearest public school to receive these services.

Or, your option would be to transfer her to the public school. Even here, it will be essential that her IEP reflect all of her needs and services needed.

You also add other factors: She was taken off medication for ADHD due to crashing. No, you do not take students off medication for this side effect. You address this side effect. Second, you note serious family crises that cannot be minimized.

Maybe you need the advise of a good special education consultant regarding her school needs. And, you need to see a mental health professional who is knowledgeable about treating ADHD as well as LD as well as the emotional issues. Probably best to address each of these needs would be a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist.

How do you distinguish between learning disabilities and brain damage?

My daughter, who is now eight, was born at 24 weeks gestation. As a result, she suffered from lack of oxygen and developed a grade 2 bleed. She does not need a shunt and functions fairly well, ambulatory, good verbal skills and such. She does have mild to moderate CP. The best diagnosis we have been given is global brain damage, which means the damage affects every part of her life.

She is in third grade at her neighborhood school. I believe she has been socially promoted). She was in a self-contained school for three years. Her label on her IEP is LD. Since Emily does have brain damage, should she or any child with this type of damage be considered LD?

I have a son who is LD in reading and writing. And they seem different. He learns differently. She, on the other hand, seems slower. There just seems to be missing pieces. She is roughly two years behind in reading and three years behind in math.

Would a change in labeling help with the way she is being served on her IEP? I don't think they take in mind that she does have this damage. The traditional special education instruction for LD may not be what she needs to progress. I am just finding it hard to believe that brain damage and LD are the same.

Thank you in advance,

There is a category within IDEA for Traumatic Brain Injury; however, students with your daughter's history are usually identified based on how the prenatal trauma impacts on their ability to learn. In general, children with her history have a more global pattern of disabilities than the child usually seen as having a learning disability.

The key to your question is that your daughter is not making progress in her current placement and with her current services. What is critical is that the most current psychological and educational evaluations be used to assess her placement, types of interventions, and intensity of interventions. She was in a self-contained program for preschool. You feel that the program she has been in since Kindergarten has not been adequate.

I would advise you to see a private special education consultant who could review your daughter's current educational disabilities and status, review her current placement, and help you decide if you should appeal her IEP placement, asking for a more intensive program.