Choices for Learning Challenges

Choices for Help and Evaluation of Reading and Other Learning Challenges
By Nancy Winans
© 2011

See Also:

How can Parents Help with Learning Challenges?

Ways to Demonstrate What You Have Learned

Before you do any intervention, I recommend the following evaluations of physical health if you suspect issues creating learning challenges:

a) Get a complete physical for your child – rule out any condition that could stress or fatigue your child, such as anemia, diabetes, thyroid, parasites, or other medical condition, especially if you have family history of such.

b) Have your child’s hearing and vision tested, preferably by experts in these fields. See an audiologist, and/or ENT, to evaluate hearing that could cause language difficulties. See an optometrist or ophthalmologist, who not only evaluates visual acuity but also visual behavior (focusing and eye muscle coordination) and possibly visual-perceptual abilities of your child. They may prescribe eye exercises to help strengthen and coordinate the visual system. Also some people have found help for their child’s light sensitivity through scotopia screening and use of overlays.

Here are things you can do to address your child’s suspected learning differences, roughly in order from less intervention to more intervention:

1. Do absolutely no intervention and allow your child to develop at his or her own rate. Many children are just not developmentally ready for reading or other pencil and paper tasks until 9, 10, or even older. (You may however, have to find a school that supports a learning environment where your child can learn at his/her own pace.) Be sure to show your child that you appreciate and love them for who they are, and encourage them to go after their interests, whether it is dance, learning about dinosaurs, woodworking or other activity. Gently offer them opportunities and support for their learning. {NOTE: I do believe that some children just will learn on their own in their own way but that other children do need help with gaining pre-skills in order to progress. The parent will have to follow their best guess for their child.}

2. Be sure that you read to your child aloud (3-7 days a week) and that they are exposed to a wide variety of experiences, such as going to the zoo and museum, or watching birds at the seashore or learning to make jam. When a child begins to read words, they will draw on all the experiences and connections they have made to that word, which will help their comprehension as well as written expression. For math, don’t push worksheets, try some real life math activities, like counting money, building, sorting, or measuring with cooking.

3. Have your child participate in activities that help develop needed skills such as Tae Kwon Do, gymnastics, swimming, completing puzzles, doing arts and crafts, making collections, building projects, or other hobbies. You can use classic games to enhance reading and math concepts, (like “memory,” chutes and ladders, puzzles, ‘hidden pictures, rhyming songs, etc.) These activities can help integrate your child’s focusing, sensory-motor, visual-spatial, and processing abilities, (as well as self-esteem.)

4. Get more information. Ask the teacher for information on how to help your child, ask friends about what they have done, or read about personality and learning styles, or about learning differences. Read articles about the best reading programs and how to help children gain pre-reading skills before they learn to read.

5. Use learning games or programs with your child. Borrow or purchase programs, computer games, or video learning programs that claim to help reading and math learning. (Some of these are good, but others are more like a test and don’t really facilitate learning.) The best programs for reading are those that teach a child to listen to the order of sounds, add and subtract sounds, and then to match the sounds to the letters we use as our ‘code’ in English. Also, you can have your child listen to books on tape and follow along. For math programs, those that have objects that can be manipulated by hand, and which support the concepts with these materials in a visual way, are best for those having difficulty with printed math. Computer or online games and programs can also be quite helpful, as they also teach concepts with visuals and often no handwriting is needed.

6. Get extra help for your child. Spend extra time with your child, (either by doing learning activities together and/or having “special time.”) Have an older student, friend or grandparent spend time helping your child with reading or homework, hire a high school or college student to give reading or homework help, or hire a tutor.

7. Find an alternative learning environment for your child. At least one third (and possibly up to two thirds) of children have learning styles and needs that do not match the traditional school environment. Many children do best in small groups or with less structure, with access to manipulatives or hands-on activities, or those that incorporate movement, or offer self-directed learning. Consider private schools, charter or alternative schools, or homestudy programs (either independant or with a school district or other program.) There may not be a need to do any ‘interventions’ or remediation if your child is in a learning environment that is a better fit for them.

8. Ask your child’s teacher to call for a “student study team.” If your child is in a public school, you can request help to identify any special learning issues your child exhibits. They will attempt to problem-solve together with you about what your child might need and address those needs without doing further evaluation. Their recommendations may or may not be carried out and may or may not be helpful.

9. Have your child receive a complete evaluation by the school district. This should include evaluations by the school psychologist, resource center specialist, speech and language therapist, occupational therapist and school nurse. These evaluations will give an estimate of your child’s ability, learning strengths and weaknesses, ability to understand and use language and to process auditory information, and to detect difficulties with visual, perceptual and motor tasks. You have the right to request this evaluation any time and the district must provide it within 30-45 days. If your child qualifies for special education, they will be given an IEP (Individual Education Plan) which the school is legally bound to carry out. If your child does not qualify for an IEP, they may qualify for a 504, which provides for accommodations for students with disabilities.

10. Have a learning therapist, psychologist, or a pediatric neuropsychologist (work with your insurance to cover the costs) evaluate your child. These therapists specialize in detecting specific processing and perceptual difficulties that affect the ability to learn to read, write, use language, understand math concepts and calculate, and perform problem-solving or organizing tasks. These tests often go beyond the evaluation and the recommendations that schools can offer.

11. Have your child evaluated for any other conditions that hinder learning or classroom participation (usually by a psychologist, pediatric neuropsychologist, neurologist, or psychiatrist) such as ADD or ADHD, Asperger Syndrome, Auditory Processing Disorders, Non-verbal Learning Disorder, OCD, Sensory Integration Disorder, Tourette Syndrome, or anxiety, depression or bipolar disorders, as well as behavioral or social challenges. The professional will determine if your child has a condition that is affecting learning and behavior.

12. Get counseling help for you or your family. If you find that you are often worrying about your child or that your family is very stressed, or that your child is often upset or frustrated about learning or is unhappy, then it could be the most beneficial thing to see a counselor. It is very difficult for a child to learn if they are unhappy, frustrated, scared or worried, or are preoccupied by their parents’ difficulties, or feel that they can’t live up to their parents expectations. There are even counselors who specialize in helping children and their parents deal with learning differences. You can also join a parent support group or other group that focuses on particular disorders or disabilities.

* Remember, If you do get a particular diagnosis, don’t despair! It is merely a label that can help you find resources and differentiated materials that have worked well with other children with the same label.  It doesn’t define who your child is.  With good information, the right learning environment, accommodations, and emotional support, and with patience and time, your child can learn to read and do math, as well as find his/her place in the world – and can have a good life!