After you and your child understand the results of the evaluation, ask the school for a description of the various interventions or supportive services it can offer. This will begin to provide you with a clear, comprehensive view of what may lie ahead for your child.
Your decision about interventions will depend on the evaluation results and the school district's resources, including the specific resources of your youngster's school.
Resource Room. Your child may qualify for part-time or full-time special services in a resource room for certain specific academic subjects, while being "mainstreamed" for other subjects and activities. Make sure goals and expectations are set appropriately, with a timetable for achieving them. If needed, your child may also receive help for language problems (speech or language therapy) or motor problems (physical or occupational therapy).
Inclusion Mainstreaming or Full/Partial. This is a system in which a handicapped youngster is educated alongside her nonhandicapped peers to the greatest extent possible. For students who do not meet the discrepancy criteria for special services under federal law but still need some help, their regular classroom teachers should make changes in the classroom to meet the child's needs, such as modifications in the youngster's curriculum, the manner in which subjects are taught, homework assignments, and overall expectations. Throughout this process it is essential that the child's strengths, including extracurricular activities, are nurtured and maintained.
"Bypass" Interventions. Besides direct intervention, "bypass" strategies also are quite effective for some children. This is a method in which weaknesses are circumvented or bypassed. For instance, a child with writing problems might use a word processor to write reports. If she has good oral expressive skills, she could be allowed to give oral reports rather than written ones, and take tests orally.
Home-Based Support. At home you can modify the environment or the emotional climate, keep expectations realistic, and generally be supportive of your child. Develop homework routines, be available for help, maintain quiet in the house during homework hours, and if necessary, reduce your child's commitment to extracurricular activities to allow more time and energy for studies. Again, nurture and maintain other avenues of success and gratification.
Hiring a tutor may be very helpful and often can reduce or eliminate homework-related tensions between parent and child. However, be realistic and do not overload a youngster's capacity to perform, or deprive her of time to pursue interests and activities unrelated to school.
Other Interventions. If your youngster is feeling depressed, anxious, or discouraged, psychological counseling may be appropriate. Sometimes family counseling is very helpful so family members can better understand each other's feelings and needs, reassign roles and responsibilities, and diminish intense sibling rivalry.
If your youngster has serious attention problems, or hyperactive-impulsive tendencies, she might be helped by medication that reduces distractibility and increases attention span. This medication should be part of a therapeutic package that might include educational and behavioral intervention and psychotherapy. Also, any medical conditions that may be contributing to the learning difficulties or that cause school absenteeism need to be treated. These might include central nervous system illnesses or injuries (such as seizure disorders) or a hearing or vision impairment.
Controversial Treatments. There are many unproven treatments for learning problems, including megavitamins, patterning exercises, eye exercises, special glasses, and diets that eliminate certain types of foods or additives. The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recognize any of these treatments as being effective and therefore does not recommend them. Seek the advice of your pediatrician and other professionals about any treatment you are considering.
Children and Learning Disabilities
Here are some points to keep in mind about learning disabilities.
- Children with learning disabilities are a very heterogeneous group. Their disabilities vary in degree, nature, and complexity.
- Learning disabilities may affect more than just learning. Some of these children also have poor social and athletic skills. Behavior problems, emotional difficulties, low self-esteem, and family stresses can also occur.
- Learning disabilities change with time. They may diminish or resolve themselves with intervention and maturation; they may appear when certain demands are placed upon the child in a vulnerable area; or they may last a lifetime.
- Children with learning disabilities are often misunderstood. They are sometimes accused of being lazy, retarded, or not trying. They may be subjected to humiliation and inadequate teaching methods. They, their parents, and their teachers frequently do not really understand their learning problems, and thus these difficulties need to be clarified and explained by a professional in a nonjudgmental manner. Emphasize that these problems are not the fault of the child, parent, or teacher.
- Learning disabilities affect families, and families affect learning disabilities. Children who are failing or struggling too hard feel confusion, disappointment, anger, anguish, and guilt, as do their parents. Parental attitudes and parenting style affect the children and their attitude toward learning.
- Determine whether emotional, social, or family problems are causing or contributing to your child's academic problems, or conversely, if his academic and learning problems are really the root cause. Professional help for family or emotional difficulties needs to be sought, but it should not divert attention away from the learning disability.
- Children with learning disabilities are entitled to the full support of the school system and require a good advocate and long-term follow-up.
- Be sure your child has other activities and interests that serve as avenues for success and gratification.
- To ensure the best results for your child, recognize learning disabilities early, arrange for the appropriate intervention, and make sure that he is followed over the long term. Also, instill a sense of optimism and hope in your child that together you will work toward a solution to these difficulties.