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If your child is having difficulty in school and you are concerned that your child may have learning disabilities, it’s important to identify the exact problem as early as possible.

Children who are not keeping up with their peers can quickly develop lowered self-esteem, which compounds the original problem. With early intervention, the nature of the disability or impairment can be understood and strategies can be put in place to help your child.

Remember, children with learning disabilities are often very bright and can even be exceptionally gifted. Early developmental difficulties will not necessarily affect the child’s ultimate academic success, provided that the child is given the right tools to deal with early challenges.

WHAT ARE LEARNING DISABILITIES OR IMPAIRMENTS?

The term ‘learning disability’ can cover any of several different problems that affect a child’s ability to learn. Depending on the nature and degree of the disability, the effect on the learning process can be minimal, major or somewhere in between.

A learning disability can affect the way a child sees letters of the alphabet or their sequence in a word, resulting in difficulty with reading and spelling. Other learning disabilities can result in difficulties with actually putting their thoughts on paper through the printing or writing process. Some children have trouble understanding ideas in sequence or following instructions.

Some children also have to cope with Attention-Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). A child with ADHD is frequently impulsive and hyperactive and may have a very short attention span, reducing his or her ability to concentrate in the classroom. ADD can cause the child to have trouble concentrating, but does not always include hyperactive behaviour.

RECOGNIZING LEARNING DISABILITIES

Children develop at different rates and may be temporarily behind their peers in some areas. However, a child with a learning disability may be:

  • Consistently behind his peers’ development by one or two years.
  • Unable to successfully grasp reading, writing or number problems.
  • Show fine motor skill weakness, resulting in difficulties with printing, writing, cutting, sewing, colouring, etc.
  • Easily distracted with a short attention span.

GETTING PROFESSIONAL ASSESSMENT

If, as is frequently the case, your child’s school first alerts you to the possibility of a learning disability, they should be able to arrange for a professional assessment by an education board psychologist. Depending on your school area, this can take one or more years on a waiting list.

However, if you have suspicions that are not shared by your child’s school, or you don’t want to wait until the school assessment is available, you may need to arrange for an assessment by an independent psychologist of your choosing. Ask your child’s pediatrician for a recommendation.

Independent assessment can be an initially expensive process, but can pay off in early identification of both the disability and the strategies required to manage it. It also allows you to make a decision as to if/when your child will receive an “LD” designation in the school.

PUTTING A PLAN IN PLACE

Whether the assessment is arranged by the school or is conducted by an independent psychologist, a confirmation of learning disabilities will give you and your child some special rights.

A meeting should be arranged between the psychologist, teachers, school board officials and you. The results of this meeting should determine the assistance that your child requires and should result in a plan of strategies to meet the need.

Depending on the type and degree of the learning disability and the services available in your community, the following options may be made available:
Assistance within the child’s current classroom, either by teacher-modified instructions and curriculum or by additional special tuition or part-time remedial group instruction.
Placement in a special learning needs or LD classroom within the school, where the child will work alongside peers with similar disabilities on a specially modified curriculum and have a specially trained teacher.

Placement in a different school that wholly or partially caters to children with learning disabilities.

Some parents choose to supplement the school’s endeavours with private coaching for their child by a specially trained tutor. To ensure that the child receives consistent learning strategies, it is essential that the tutor communicates with your child’s teachers and ideally also with the psychologist who conducted the original assessment.

HOW PARENTS CAN HELP

You may be feeling frustrated by your child’s learning difficulties and by your inability to ‘wave a magic wand’ and cure the problem.

However, there is a lot that you can do to help your child:

  • Become your child’s advocate through the school years. Continual cutbacks in education spending may unfortunately mean that your child does not automatically receive all the help that he or she should be entitled to.
  • Become familiar with the laws relating to special needs children and be prepared to fight your way through the system, if necessary, to get the help your child needs.
  • Keep a close watch on the progress of the school plan that was developed for your child. If your child has several teachers, ensure that they are all fully informed and aware of your child’s special teaching needs.
  • Ensure that ongoing communication is maintained on your child’s progress. He or she should also have repeated professional assessments through the school years to evaluate progress and identify changing needs.
  • Many children with learning disabilities suffer from lowered self-esteem. Explain to your child that he or she is not ‘dumb’ in any way. His or her brain simply learns things differently and needs to be given different tools.
  • Constantly remind your child that he or she is a wonderful person. Give praise whenever it is warranted and try to praise efforts as well as successes.
  • Ensure that your child’s teachers are aware of the extra need for positive feedback.
  • State instructions clearly and simply. Break tasks into smaller stages so that as each is completed there is an opportunity for the child to feel a sense of achievement and success.
  • Establish structure and routine in the home.
  • Expose your child to different types of learning opportunities. Some children with learning disabilities compensate for their reading or writing difficulties by developing advanced verbal
  • Build on your child’s communication and comprehension skills through audio-taped guided tours through art galleries and museums and by visits to live theatre. Discuss your experiences afterwards.
  • If your child shows an interest or ability in other areas, such as music, art or athletics encourage him/her to pursue these in order to build confidence.

This information is provided for general informational purposes only. It should never replace consultation with a professional. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified person with any personal, medical, emotional or financial questions

 

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