If You Suspect Your Child Has a Learning Disability
By Dr. Kenneth Shore
The most frequent problem for which children receive special education is a learning disability. More common with boys, learning disabilities are found in approximately 10 percent of children nationwide. A learning disability is characterized by specific difficulties in acquiring information, usually causing deficiencies in academic skills.
Some learning disabled children have difficulty learning to read, which may be restricted to a problem in decoding or comprehension. Others may be skilled readers but have problems with written or oral language. They may have difficulty putting their thoughts on paper. Or they may have problems processing what they hear even though their hearing is intact, what is called auditory processing. And still others may struggle to grasp math concepts. Most learning disabled children have a combination of problems rather than one specific problem.
The definition of a learning disability is governed by a state’s educational regulations. If you suspect your child has a learning disability, you can request an evaluation through a letter to the principal. While the school is not obligated to honor this request, it must at least review your child’s educational status and determine whether he is experiencing significant learning difficulties. If so, the district must conduct the evaluation. If not, the district may refuse your request although it must tell you why in writing. If the district does not evaluate your child, you of course have the option of having your child evaluated privately and then having the results considered by the school district.
At what point should you request an evaluation? This decision should be based on your and the teacher’s observations. Give considerable weight to the views of an experienced teacher and her understanding of appropriate age- and grade-level norms. She may point to reversals in your child’s reading or writing (although these are not uncommon in kindergarten through second grade). She may observe that in reading your child is not breaking the code as his classmates have done. She may note that your child has problems copying from the board. Or she may tell you that he does not retain information such as letter sounds or math facts.
But don’t discount your own observations. You may be getting signals that are not apparent to the teacher that your child is struggling in school. He may resist going to school in the morning or he may take an inordinate amount of time to complete homework or he may have trouble following basic directions. Of course, before you go the route of evaluation, you will want to work with the teacher first to try to resolve the problem.