If your child is performing below grade level, is failing or struggling to maintain barely passing grades, or is not achieving to the degree to which you think she is capable, here are some suggestions for beginning to get her the help she needs:
- Trust your instincts. You know your child best, and if you suspect something is wrong, it should be investigated. Don't assume that learning disorders don't matter or that your child will "grow out of it." Early recognition and treatment are important.
- Ask the teacher for his or her opinion about the possibility of learning disabilities in your child. Listen to any concerns the teacher may have. Rely on his or her experience and training.
- If your youngster appears frustrated, unmotivated, or bored, or is acting up in school, these could be signs of a learning problem that needs diagnosis and treatment. Also, if your child is failing, underachieving, or working extremely hard just to keep up, this could also be a symptom of a learning difficulty.
- Ask your child questions relevant to her situation. Here are some suggestions of areas to pursue, often with the help of the teacher's input:
Reading: "How well do you read? Do you like to read? Do you understand or remember what you read?"
Writing: "How is your handwriting? Is it difficult copying from the chalkboard or a book? How is your spelling? Grammar? Punctuation? Do you finish tasks and written assignments after everyone else?"
Arithmetic: "Are you having any problems with adding? Subtracting? Multiplying? Dividing? Can you perform these tasks with double digits? Do you understand why you carry and borrow? Do you sometimes forget the rules of math, or get partway through a problem and then forget what you were trying to do? Can you perform word problems?"
Language: "When the teacher is speaking, do you have difficulty listening, understanding, remembering, or keeping up? Do you have trouble organizing your thoughts before you speak? Are you sometimes unable to find the word you want to use? Do difficulties like these arise in class? With friends? With other adults?"
- Although the answers to these questions may indicate that a learning disability is present, also consider whether other issues may be contributing to the problem. Is your youngster devoting adequate time and energy to her schoolwork? Is she interested and involved in the learning process? Could your family's everyday functioning and expectations be affecting her adversely? Is she preoccupied with peer relationships or with problems at home? Are academic and emotional stresses causing frustration and a loss of confidence and motivation, almost to the point of helplessness ("No matter how hard I try, I still can't learn")?
- Think back to your own childhood. Many parents experienced similar learning difficulties when they were youngsters, and these problems tend to occur in families. Your own empathy, understanding, and acceptance will influence the course of your child's learning problem, as will your attitude toward schools and learning.
- Speak with other adults and professionals. Seek out information and guidance from your child's principal, guidance counselor, school psychologist, coach, or the parents of her friends.
- Your pediatrician's advice will also be helpful, because he or she understands child development, knows your child, and has experience in these common childhood problems. He or she may also be able to send questions to school to try to clarify an apparent problem with learning.
Your pediatrician can also determine whether any physical problems (including a vision or hearing deficiency) could be playing a role in your child's learning difficulties. He or she can refer you and your child to the appropriate professionals, perhaps suggesting that your youngster have a formal learning-disability evaluation, either by the school or by private psychologists and educators not affiliated with the school system. In most states, if a child is failing or otherwise performing below grade level, the public schools are obligated to conduct such evaluations and may be required to provide special services.
Your pediatrician can also serve as an advocate within the school system, ensuring that your child gets the appropriate services to which she is entitled.