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How to Respond When You Suspect Your Child Has a Learning Disability

Rather than focusing solely on your child’s deficiencies, emphasize and reward your child’s strengths.

Know your child’s strengths

Children with learning disabilities are often highly intelligent, possess leadership skills, or are superior in music, arts, sports, or other creative areas. Rather than focusing solely on your child’s deficiencies, emphasize and reward your child’s strengths. Encourage your child in areas of interest outside the classroom.

Collect information about your child’s performance

Meet with your child’s teachers, tutors, and school support personnel to understand performance levels, and attitude toward school. Observe your child’s ability to study, complete homework, and finish tasks that you assign at home.

See the tips below on how to organize information about your child’s learning disability.

Have your child evaluated

Ask school authorities to provide a comprehensive educational evaluation including assessment tests. Tests for learning disabilities are referred to as assessment tests because they evaluate and measure areas of strengths and weaknesses. A comprehensive evaluation, however, includes a variety of procedures in addition to the assessment tests, such as interviews, direct observation, reviews of your child’s educational and medical history, and conferences with professionals who work with your child. Either you or the school can request this evaluation, but it is given only with your written permission.

Since you are one of the best observers of your child’s development, it is important that you be an active participant in the evaluation process. If you don’t understand the test results, ask questions!

Work as a team to help your child

If the evaluation shows that your child has a learning disability, your child is eligible for special education services. If eligible, you will work with a team of professionals, including your child’s teacher, to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP). The IEP is a written document summarizing your child’s current educational performance; annual goals and short-term objectives; nature and projected duration of your child’s special services; and methods for evaluating progress. For students 16 years and older, an IEP must include a transition plan to move the student from school to the “real world.”

If your child does not qualify for special education, it is still important for you to work with your child’s teacher to develop an informal program that meets your child’s learning needs. You are a vital part of your child’s education!

Talk to your child about learning disabilities

Children with learning disabilities must be assured that they are not dumb or lazy. They are intelligent people who have trouble learning because their minds process words or information differently. It is not easy to talk with your child about a disability that you do not fully understand. Be informed. It is important to be honest and optimistic-explain to your child that they struggle with learning, but that they can learn. Focus on your child’s talents and strengths. Tell them you are confident that with effort and the right help they will be able to meet the challenge and succeed!

Find accommodations that can help

Teachers can change classroom routines to help children with learning disabilities. Meet with your child’s teacher about these possibilities: reading written information aloud, allowing extra time on exams, taping lessons, and using technology. Have your decisions written into the IEP.

Monitor your child’s progress

Watch your child’s progress to be sure that your child’s needs are being met. Keep your child’s education folder up to date, adding new samples of schoolwork and test results. If your child is not making progress, discuss your observations with school personnel and work together to make changes. Keep a copy of your child’s IEP and review it before each IEP meeting.

Know your legal rights

Learn about your special education rights and responsibilities by requesting a summary of legal rights in your native language from your child’s school. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) says that your child has the right to a “free and appropriate public education.”

IDEA is a law that requires all states and territories to provide a public school education to children with disabilities between ages three and 21, no matter how severe their disabilities are. As soon as children with learning disabilities are identified, they are entitled to services under this law.

If your child is identified as having a learning disability, it is your right under IDEA to have an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Basically, this is a written document that summarizes your child’s educational performance, plans short-term educational goals and outlines annual goals. It also identifies criteria for measuring progress. You are a big part of this program so don’t be afraid to speak up.


Tips on how to organize information about your child’s learning disability

  • Start a folder of all letters and materials related to your child’s education.
  • Add copies of school files and names and dates of all tests and results, including medical exams and information from other professionals.
  • Collect samples of schoolwork that demonstrate your child’s difficulties, as well as strengths.
  • Keep a contact log of discussions with professionals.
  • Keep a log of your own observations. 

This information will help you monitor your child’s progress. Review it with other professionals as your child grows.

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