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The State of Learning Disabilities Report

21 Feb

Check out this report from NCLD on LDs! Some good news (less students being diagnosed with LD due to more emphasis on early intervention) and bad news (70% of people falsely link LD with mental retardation). This is a must read for anyone who loves someone with LD. Here’s link: http://www.ncld.org/types-learning-disabilities/what-is-ld/state-of-learning-disabilities?utm_source=ReadingRockets.org&utm_medium=Twitter

How to Get a Dyslexia Diagnosis for Your Child

9 Aug

 

 

 

Many school districts will tell you that they do not test for dyslexia.  This is simply not true.  What they are really saying is that they do not like to use the term dyslexia, but every school district in America tests for dyslexia.  Dyslexia is a reading disability which is a type of specific learning disability.  The widely accepted definition of dyslexia (www.ida.org) is a neurologically based learning disability characterized by difficulties in accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding (how we read words) abilities.  The federal law for special education (IDEA) specifically states that children with documented learning disabilities qualify for special education.  The term dyslexia is even used in the law.  Statistic from the International Dyslexia Association’s website show that 85% of learning disabilities are in reading or language.  This means that dyslexia is quite common.   Since we know that children all across the country are receiving special education services for specific learning disabilities, and 85% of these disabilities are in reading and language, then there is a lot of testing for dyslexia occurring.

 

 

 

 

The problem that many parents run into is that most students with learning disabilities have average, or higher, intelligence.  When districts review testing with parents, sometimes they will deny services to a child because of this.  However, this is not in compliance with what the federal law says.  If a child is struggling to read and is not achieving in this area, even with average or higher intelligence, the child is still eligible for services in reading.  The big problem is that many schools will not do an in-depth evaluation of reading skills. They will do an academic achievement test that measures achievement across the board and does not measure specific reading skills (such as phonological awareness and rapid automatic naming- two of the brain processes involved in learning to read).  Dyslexia is caused by a deficit in phonological awareness (the ability to hear the individual sounds in a word) and/or rapid automatic naming (the speed at which the brain can use stored information such as words and letter sounds).  In order to get the dyslexia diagnosis, your school district will need to measure ability in these areas.

 

 

When requesting an evaluation (or an extended evaluation if one has already been completed), you need to specifically ask for these two areas to be tested.  The most common assessment to measure those two areas is call the CTOPP (The Comprehensive Test of phonological Processing).  If your school refuses, remember you have the right to get an outside evaluation done at the expense of the school (in some cases).  Write a letter stating you are unhappy with the tests performed and feel a more comprehensive evaluation is needed.

 

 

 

 

 

Dyslexia Myth Debunked: does NOT make you “See Things Backwards”

27 Aug

 

 

Dyslexia Myth Debunked: does NOT make you “See Things Backwards”.

 

Great post with helpful information about dyslexia from Learning Foundations!!!!

Helping the Learning Disabled Child Overcome Obstacles to Their Success!

1 Aug

How to help your child with a learning disability (LD) overcome social and emotional obstacles and be proud of who they are!

In my last post, I talk about social and emotional vulnerabilities in children with LDs.  I wanted to make sure that I also posted about how your child can avoid those obstacles.  Like I said, there is no reason that a child with LDs cannot feel and be successful regardless of the severity of their disability and the past failures they have had.  In fact, many children with LDs experience success later in their education or careers because they have learned to persevere more than the non-disabled students.  Your job, as a parent of a child with LDs, is to make sure they have the best odds to learn that perseverance and overcome the pitfalls of LDs (anxiety, depression, anger, low self-esteem).  Having hope for your child will help to instill a feeling of hope in themselves.  

Here are some tips for instilling hope and pride in your child with LDs:

  1. Learn about the Disability:  A great place to start is to learn all about the disability, then explain it to your child in a positive way.  This will help them understand themselves better and take some of the pressure from them.  Once my son knew that his struggles were not caused by something he had done wrong, I saw an almost immediate change in his self-esteem.
  2. Find Success Stories:  Find other people who have learning disabilities that have gone on to be successful.  There are many actors (Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford), professional athletes (Michael Phelps), and historical figures (Albert Einstein, George Washington)  that have LDs.  My son loved learning that one of his Star Wars heroes (Harrison Ford) has dyslexia like him.
  3. Don’t Hide the Disability:  Telling other friends and family about the LD will show your child that you are not ashamed about it and will teach them not to be either.  Being honest about their weaknesses will help your child to not be ashamed to ask for help when they need it, an important self-advocacy skill for all children.
  4. Be Patient:  Allow your child to grow and learn at their own pace, but with your gentle encouragement.  Try not to force them to master something that they are not developmentally ready to learn yet, this will only increase their frustration levels (Remember:  You have to walk before you can run).
  5. Be Kind:  Try not to criticize or discourage your child, instead be understanding and supportive.  This can be hard at the end of a long day and your child is having a homework meltdown, but your child is probably already condemning themselves in their own mind.
  6. Don’t Enable:  Never do something for your child that they can do for themselves.  You don’t want your child to learn to be helpless, they need to see that they can do something for themselves.  Give your child the least amount of help that they need to still be successful.
  7. Be Flexible:  When nothing is going right… go left!  Try new things until you find what works…
  8. Never Give Up:  If you give up, your child will give up.  Put something aside, find a new approach, ask for help… but never, ever give up completely!
Quotes that I keep handy and refer to often:
  • Never discourage anyone who continually make progress, no matter how slow.  -Plato
  • An ounce of practice is worth more than a ton of preaching. -Gandhi
  • A jug fills drop by drop.  -Buddha
  • Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain and most fools do.  -Ben Franklin
  • …the hardest victory is over self.  -Aristotle

Learning Disabilities and Social/Emotional Difficulties

31 Jul

Student’s with specific learning disabilities (such as dyslexia) often struggle with social and/or emotional difficulties, but these difficulties do not cause learning disabilities. Learning disabilities (LDs) are believed to be largely genetic based, and are not caused by anxiety, depression, or poor parenting.  Social and/or emotional difficulties could be a result of the discouragement that children with LDs experience.  These children are intelligent. Their teachers and parents can sense this, but they wonder why they are not able to meet expectations.  Many of us think that if these children would just try a little harder they would do better.  What we don’t know is that the learning disabled child is probably trying harder than any other child to do well, but they are consistently not able to meet their teachers’ and parents’ expectations.  This is frustrating and discouraging for both the child and the adults, and many children with LDs end up feeling stupid.  Learning disabled children do not get to experience the fruits of their labor the way other children do.  This is why evaluations and diagnosis is so important.

As a parent, I loved being able to explain to my child that you are not stupid, in fact you are very bright, however your brain works differently than other people’s.  I saw a weight lifted off my son’s shoulders when I was able to explain to him why he was having so much trouble learning to read and write.  Many of his anxieties over school and school-work have lessened since his diagnosis with dyslexia, but as a teacher I know that children with LDs are vulnerable to social and/or emotional problems relating to their disability.    This list may seem daunting, but I believe that knowledge is power and that by acknowledging these vulnerabilities I can help my child try to avoid them.

Here is a list of problems associated with LDs in children:

  • Anger:  Children with LDs may be angry about the frustration that they feel.  They may have outbursts at school and during homework.
  • Anxiety:  Children with LDs may be fearful of school, school work, or other social situations because they fear they will experience failure.
  • Depression:  Children with LDs may experience depression related to sadness they may feel about their inability to achieve at the same pace as others can.  They may have a low self-esteem if they turn their anger about their LD in at themselves.
  • Self Image:  Children with LDs may feel inferior to others, powerless and incompetent because of the failures they have experienced.
  • Social Skill Difficulties:  Children with LDs may be immature compared to their peers and they may seem awkward in a social situation.  They may also have trouble reading social cues (or body language) or  have trouble with oral language (stammering, pauses while speaking, etc.)
While there are many negatives associated with having a learning disability, I believe that children with LDs can experience some extreme positives when they are able to overcome their challenges and experience success despite their LDs.  My next post will be ideas of how you can help your child avoid these problems and come out on top!

Signs Your Child May Have a Learning Disability

26 Jul

When their children begin to struggle in school, many parents worry that their child may have a learning disability (LD).  But most children struggle at some point in their education and most children do not have learning disabilities (it has been reported that only about 5% of students have a specific LD, such as dyslexia).  A specific learning disability is defined as a disorder in one or more of the psychological processes involved in understanding or using spoken or written language.  The disorder cannot be the result of a visual, hearing, or motor handicap, mental retardation, emotional disturbance, or an environmental disadvantage (such as poverty).  Children with a specific LDs are not cognitively impaired.  As a teacher, I often hear parents say, “I don’t understand why so and so is struggling, they’re so smart.”  My usually response is, ” You’re right, they are smart!”

So… how do you know if your child is just struggling or if they have a learning disability?  Special educators look for the student that is not achieving as expected in one or more of the following areas:  oral expression, written expression, basic reading skills, reading fluency skills, reading comprehension, listening comprehension, mathematical calculation, and mathematical problem solving.

Special educators will ask themselves many questions about a students that is suspected of having a specific learning disability as they observe them in a classroom setting.  While some students without a LD may have some of these characteristics, students with an LD will have many of these characteristics.  If you are concerned that your child may have a specific learning disability, here is what to ask yourself :

  • Are their language skills (oral, reading, listening, and writing skills) age appropriate?
  • Do they have difficulty regulating their speech?  [For example: Do they talk too loud or too soft? Do they use a lot of fillers (umm, you know, etc.)?]
  • Do they have trouble naming people or objects?
  • Do they often mispronounce words?
  • Do they have difficulty staying on topic?
  • Do they have difficulty re-telling what has just been said?
  • Do they or did they have difficulty rhyming?
  • Do they or did they have difficulty counting?
  • Do they avoid reading and  writing?
  • Do they or did they confuse similar-looking letters and numbers? or often reverse letters and numbers?
  • Do they or did they have difficulty associating letters and sounds and blending sounds into words?
  • Do they, while reading, guess at a word rather than sound it out?
  • Do they have illegible, or nearly illegible, hand writing?
  • Do they have difficulty understanding instructions or directions?
  • Do they find it almost impossible to organize a task or activity?
  • Do they have difficulty sustaining attention(or is easily distracted) in work and/or play?  and/or lack self-control at times?
  • Do they have difficulty ‘joining in’ with peers? and/or not respond appropriately to others?
  • Do they appear awkward or clumsy?  and/or have trouble with buttons, learning to tie, or holding a pencil?

If you notice many of these characteristics in your struggling child, you may want to ask that an educational evaluation (or core evaluation)  be done as soon as possible.  For more advice on how to request an evaluation, see my earlier post entitled:

Requesting an Educational Evaluation: How to Get the Right Evaluation for Your Child

Qualifying for Special Education

5 Jun

In order to receive special education services your child must meet two requirements.  First, they must have a qualifying disability and second, they must not be making progress that would be expected for their age and grade-level.  What this means is that even if your child has a qualifying disability, they may not qualify for services because they are making progress without them.  According to the federal act IDEA, there are 10 types of disabilities that can qualify a child for special education services.  These disabilities categories* are:

  1. Autism:  PDD, Asperger syndrome
  2. Developmental delay:  Cerebral Palsy, Downs syndrome
  3. Intellectual impairment:  Cognitive impairment, mental retardation, chromosome disorders
  4. Sensory impairment:  Hearing or vision impairment or deafness or blindness
  5. Neurological impairment:  Brain injury, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy
  6. Emotional impairment:  Anxiety or mood disorders,  ODD, conduct disorder,  schizophrenia
  7.  Communication impairment:  Speech and language disorders
  8.  Physical impairment:  Muscular Dystrophy, spina bifida
  9.  Health impairment:  ADHD, asthma,
  10.  Specific learning disability (LD):  Dyslexia(LD in reading), dysgraphia(LD in writing), dyscalculia (LD in math)
*I have listed some examples of some diagnosis that might fall in these categories, but this is not a complete list and some disabilities may belong in more than one category.

Leveling the Playing Field with Accommodations

3 Jun

In order to be successful in school, many children need accommodations.  An accommodation is a change to an assignment or test, making it accessible to the disabled student.  It is not a different assignment or test, just a change to the format, timing, setting, response, or presentation.  If your child qualified for SPED services, then accommodations will be written into part A (General Curriculum) of their IEP.  If your child has a disability (such as ADHD, anxiety disorder, or dyslexia) but did not qualify, you can ask for a 504 plan.  A 504 plan is another type of document written for children that outlines the accommodations they can have in the general education classroom.  Both IEPs and 504 plans are legally binding documents and are confidential (meaning they are not part of your child’s official school records).  As their parent, you have the right to ask for a 504 plan and to take part in writing it.

In order to guarantee that your child gets the accommodations that they have a right to, a written document is highly recommended.  You should ask for one if your child has a documented disability, even if they’re not receiving failing grades.  Some schools will insist that they give all students accommodations or will say their teachers differentiate their instruction for all students.  This may be true, but unless your child has an IEP or 504 plan, the teachers are not obligated to make accommodations for your child’s disability.  Having them written will benefit your child and you because you can refer back to the plan if your child begins to struggle.

Examples of some common classroom accommodations are:  extended time for assignments and tests, allowing students to use a computer for writing assignments, not marking down for spelling errors, having a student take a test in a private setting, providing books on CDs or MP3, having the teacher give the directions in writing and orally, minimize punishment and use positive reinforcement instead, allowing students to use a reference sheet, give student a study guide, give the student a peer role model, and provide students with breaks or allow to leave the classroom for short breaks.

For more examples of accommodations you can ask for your child, go to http://www.fape.org or search for “classroom accommodations.”

Outside Placements: Pros and Cons

30 May

I think private school placements are right for some children, however they are not necessary for others.  In our situation, the school district had a language-based classroom that fit most of our son’s needs.  It was not a perfect match for him (his area of disability is mostly with the written language), but it fit his needs well enough that we did not feel that he needed to be bused a long distance to a private school.

When making this decision for your child, I would consider the following:

  1. Your child’s disability (severity, chances for success, etc.)
  2. Local public and private schools and their reputation for success 
  3. What programs your district offers (can they meet the needs of your child)
  4. Transportation (length of commute, will you have to provide it)
  5. Your child’s preferences/social network (do they want to go, do they have many developed friendships)
  6. Your ability to be a part of a private school community (setting up playdates, attending after-school events, etc.)

Private schools for special education students are very appealing to many parents.  After years of the public schools trying to force my “square peg” into their “round hole,” I considered a private school placement for my son.  After researching our options and weighing the pros and cons, I came to the decision that I wanted to try to get what my son needed in our public school.  Here is what I considered when making this decision:

  • Many private schools have great reputations and hold a lot of promise and offer hope for our children.  It is very easy to forget that these schools depend on our money, or our school district’s money, to operate.  They hire advertising and publicity firms to help them attract parents.  They spend a lot of money on brochures and websites designed to show them in the most positive light.  Public schools can not do this.  They must operate in the reality of state testing scores, per pupil spending amounts, and town tax dollars.
  • This is not to say that there are not wonderful things happening at private schools across our country.  There are!  Without some of the educational and instructional innovations of private schools, our public schools may look as they did 20 years ago.  Public schools have been forced to change, due in large part to SPED parents wanting alternatives for their children.  Many public school districts are offering programs that were once only available at private schools.
  • I wanted my son to be a member of our community in the same way our older child is.  If he were to be bused to a private school, he would not have that experience.  He would of started and ended each school day with a commute on a van.  I felt our child was too young to experience the delight of morning traffic.  He needs a peaceful morning routine to get his day off to the right start.
  • I thought about what would happen if the public school decided he didn’t need the private program anymore.  Would my son be able to successfully rejoin his peers at the public school after being at a private school?

Before asking, and fighting, for a private school placement for your child, be sure to weigh the pros and cons carefully.  Again, get the information you will need to make the correct decision for your child.

Separate Classrooms for Children with Special Educational Needs (Special Education Programs)

29 May

 

NOTE:  This post is intended to answer the questions of parents of children that are not cognitively impaired by a neurological problem or brain injury.  If you or your child’s school feel that they may benefit from a separate classroom or program, you may be wondering what types of programs are available to them.  Most districts have some special education programs that they run themselves.  They may also be part of an educational collaborative, where several public districts share the costs of running the sped programs.  The last resource is a privately run program that the district pays to send a student to.  The biggest caution that I have for  parents, is to ask if the district mixes students that are cognitively impaired with students that are not cognitively impaired in separate classrooms (especially if your child is not cognitively impaired).  This is not considered best educational practice mostly because these two groups have very different needs in the educational setting.  Also know that their is a difference between a cognitively impaired child and a cognitively delayed child and the districts should usually not be designing one program to serve both types of children.

Before Agreeing to a Separate Program (or Classroom):

  • Observe the program at least once (while students are present)
  • Ask the teacher questions about how the class is run, the expectations for the students, and the specialists that work with her
  • Ask if cognitively impaired students are included in the program (if your child is not cognitively impaired)
  • Ask if there will be mainstreaming during the day
  • Ask about what comes next (is the program available at the middle and high school level)
  • Make your goals for your child clear to the team (if you want them fully mainstreamed as soon as possible, let that be known)
  • Research what outside programs are available and how those programs run
  • Find out what is considered the best interventions for your child’s disability
  • Ask the district representative about other available programs (you always want to know everything that is available so you can make a good decision)

Here are three of the most common types of separate programs that both public and private institutions run for children with special educational needs:

Programs for Emotionally and/or behaviorally Impaired Students [Emotional,/Behavioral Disabled (EBD) Classrooms]

These are substantially separate classrooms for elementary, middle and high school students with social, emotional, and/or behavioral problems that prevent participation in the general education setting. The programs are designed so students develop the skills and strategies needed to take part in a full academic school day, accessing general education curriculum in the least restrictive setting. Mainstreaming and inclusion opportunities are usually provided to the maximum extent possible depending on individual student progress.  Social workers, psychologists, adjustment counselors, and behavioral consultants may work with students.  In addition to academics, students will receive stress/anger management instruction, social skill building instruction, and behavior improvement plans.  The staff will work on replacing negative behaviors with more socially acceptable behaviors.  The goal is to move these students back into the general education setting as soon as possible with a new set of skills and strategies to help them be more successful.  The environment is purposefully less stressful, more supportive, and highly structured.  Some EBDs are for students that are cognitively impaired and  the academic part of this program may be much different from the general education curriculum.

Parents should ask their school district if they include cognitively impaired and non-cognitively impaired students in the same program.  It is not considered best practices in SPED to do this and it may be a negative step for your child if they are not cognitively impaired.  If this is the case in your district, you can ask that your child be mainstreamed for academics and still receive the therapeutic aspects of the program.  You can also ask for an outside placement in a private school that is for emotionally/behaviorally impaired students that are not cognitively impaired.

Programs for Students with Language-based Disabilities [Language-Based (LB) Classrooms]

There are difference among these programs as well.  Some LB programs are specifically designed for children with Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD), such as Autism or Aspergers and are for severe disabilities marked by communication, social and cognitive delays. Other LB programs are for children with PDD that do not have cognitive delays.  The programs foster independence in communication and enable the learners socially, functionally and academically as they pursue the goal of inclusion.  Other LB classrooms focus on specific areas of language, such as reading and/or writing, and are more geared toward dyslexic students that are not cognitively impaired.  These programs will have intensive instruction in reading and writing, as well as oral communication.  Social workers, reading specialists, speech and language pathologists, psychologists, and occupational therapists may work with students in these programs.

Parents should ask about the types of students serviced in the program that has been recommended for their child.  Again, it is not best practice to mix cognitively impaired students with students that have learning disabilities but are not cognitively impaired.  If this is the case, be sure to schedule an observation of the classroom before agreeing to it for your child.  Ask for an outside placement if you do not think the academics are challenging enough for your child.

Learning Centers

Usually for middle and high school students, learning centers offer academic support for students that are partially or fully mainstreamed.  Tutoring, editing, review, study skills, and behavioral or emotional support are offered.  Some students spend a significant part of thier day in a learning center, while others spend only one period there.  Sometimes other specialists work in the learning center, such as the guidance counselor or a social worker.  Some learning centers provide life skills or vocational training to students.  Before placing your child in a learning center, find out about the program and what types of students it serves.