As an educator, the hardest thing to do is tell parents that their child is struggling. Whether the struggle manifests itself through behavior or math, reading, and writing deficits - you want nothing more than to take the struggle away. When you hear the term learning disability, what comes to your mind? Did you know that children and adults with learning disabilities are of average or above average intelligence? Did you know that there are multiple resources to help, evaluate, and support children with learning disabilities? Did you know that a learning disability cannot be "cured" or fixed"? March is National Learning Disability Month. Whether you, your child, or a friend has walked down this path or is headed there, the information is valuable and essential to us all.
Before we continue, let's discuss the main learning disabilities that fall under this umbrella and the issues they can cause:
- Auditory Processing Disorder - Difficulty hearing differences between sounds. This can cause struggles with reading comprehension and language.
- Visual Processing Disorder - Difficulty interpreting visual information. This can cause struggles with reading, math, maps, charts, symbols, and pictures.
- Dyscalculia - Difficulty with math. This can cause struggles with solving math problems, understanding time, and using money.
- Dysgraphia - Difficulty with writing. This can cause problems with handwriting, spelling, and organizing ideas.
- Dyslexia - Difficulty reading. This can cause problems with reading, writing, spelling, and speaking.
- Language Processing Disorder (Dysphasia) - Difficulty with language. This can cause problems understanding spoken language and poor reading comprehension.
- Sensory Integration Disorder (Dyspraxia) - Difficulty with fine motor skills. This can cause struggles with hand-eye coordination, balance, and manual dexterity.
If you or your child's teacher have noticed any area(s) of struggle, take time to listen, research, and take action. Getting a learning disability diagnosis is a lengthy process, but one that is necessary to help your child succeed in school. There are many specialists that can diagnose a learning disability. Depending on the issues and the type of evaluation you are seeking, will determine what type of specialist you consult. For a complete evaluation, you will want to meet with an educational, developmental, or neuropsychologist. The process consists of academic testing, history taking, and an observation. Once the evaluation is complete, the psychologist will present you with a report that explains your child's strengths, weaknesses, and accommodations. These accommodations are extremely important and should be shared with your child's teacher and school. Accommodations can range from extended time testing to spelling to homework to preferential seating.
While children with learning disabilities may struggle academically, it is important to bolster their self-esteem and praise them for their strengths. Focusing on the skills your child does well helps them to feel valued and respected. As a child gets older and can understand what is going on, it is wise to talk to them about the disability and explain it to them. It isn't a "label," but a descripition of how their brain works differently. That knowledge will empower the child, and later adult, to be successful and strive for greatness. Some of our nation's most influential individuals overcame the challenges of their learning disability to succeed big... Steven Spielberg (dyslexic), Daniel Radcliffe (dyspraxic), Tim Tebow (dyslexic), Keira Knightley (dyslexic), and Richard Branson (dyslexic).
As a mom, we are currently going through this journey with our son. I knew something wasn't right around October. As I drove my friend's daughter home, she busted out a chapter book and started reading it out loud. My son picked up the book, took one look at the number of words, and quickly put it down. I could see the defeat in his eyes and it broke my heart. I immediately set up a meeting with his teacher and our school's learning specialist. His teacher had been noticing some things as well, which made our learning specialist decide to conduct a few tests. The results were exactly what my head was expecting: he was struggling with blending words, letter reversals, and general reading skills. The results were not what my heart wanted for my son. If I could take away this struggle from him, I would in a split second. However, I know that with the interventions we have put in place and the future testing he will complete, this learning disability will not define him. Instead, it will allow him to be strong and resilient and prepare him to be the next Alexander Graham Bell, Orlando Bloom, or Jay Leno.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. Creating a circle of support is the key to overcoming and dealing with learning disabilities! There are numerous resources in the Memphis area to help children who are struggling. Language, speech, and occupational therapists, along with specialized tutors, teachers, and schools can walk alongside you and your child. You are not alone! However, intervention is key and a necessity to ensure the learning disability is not who your child becomes, but what your child has.