Does My Child Have a Learning Disability?
Updated: Feb 8, 2021
It can be heart-breaking to watch a child struggle to learn. This can be compounded with guilt if you are the teacher of your child. It is often difficult to know when there is something really going on. Let’s start with some suggestions of what not to do: Don’t compare. Children really are different and ranges do exist on many skills. Don’t get hung up on age. Unfortunately, all the grade level expectations have, over the years, been moved to lower grades than where they were just ten years ago. I have seen this result in children being misdiagnosed, overly pressured, and the love of learning squashed. At the beginning of one school year, while sitting in for a first grade class, I watched a precious, curly-haired kiddo have a full-blown anxiety attack over a timed math worksheet. A six-year old! I will never believe constant assessments are the way we should be teaching our children. Parents and teachers are often left frustrated and confused over what is happening with a child who just needed time. Not more time. Developmentally-appropriate time. We are desperately losing sight of what that really means. Ask any seasoned teacher who has been around more than ten years what the expectations were “way back then”. Google a kindergarten report card skills list from 2007. Ask any teacher or pediatric interventionist who is on the front lines what they feel about grade-level expectations. Make sure you are talking to them with no one else in ear-shot. You might be surprised. Don’t wait. This sounds contradictory to my stance for giving time to naturally develop. But, it’s not. This is the strange irony happening in the beliefs of some concerning childhood development. I see this trend which involves often younger children and those outside of schools. When a well-meaning friend, blogger, neighbor, family member, or even a pediatrician, for example, tells a parent, “Boys just talk later than girls….just give it time”, they may have unknowingly advised a family to wait on intervention for a child who has Childhood Apraxia of Speech, a Language Disorder, or another disorder that has been documented to have a better response with early intervention. The wait-and-see approach could and should be decided on by an expert in the area of concern such as a pediatric speech-language pathologist, occupational or physical therapist. Many people think of struggles in reading when they think of learning disabilities. Did you know that there are early signs in an area known as phonological awareness, many skills of which are observable at age three and four? Did you know there are certain speech disorders that often have later-identified reading difficulties associated with them? That some feeding issues arise secondary to lack of early intervention?
This advice that we wait risks that child growing older and falling that much further behind. “We can get rid of the wait and see approach…” as my friends at Perkins Therapy Group in Eunice, Louisiana recently posted, “One Evaluation at a Time”. Have the evaluation and let those trained in these areas help you make that decision.
In regards to these and other areas of development, if you do not have the means, please know there are not-for-profit agencies, universities, and philanthropic organizations that provide so many of these assessments for little or no cost. If your pediatrician can not guide you, please search “Early Intervention” in your state to determine what evaluation and intervention services might be available for ages 0-3 (here, it is called, “Louisiana Early Steps”). For older children, contact your local university and ask if they have a psychology or communication disorders department and ask what they provide.
Do not think your child isn’t as smart as Little Neighbor Nancy. Know your child, even if there is a learning difference, is not necessarily of lower intelligence. A learning disability exists when a child has average or above-average intelligence but struggles to learn new information. As a professional, the first things I am looking at are medical, family, and social histories. Has this child had their hearing checked? What are ALL the areas they struggle in? Is it just in the area I am concerned about or is eating/feeding/language/motor/speech/math/reading/social/pragmatic also problematic? If I am unsure, I would have a pediatrician rule out any possible underlying medical issues (if they have not already done so). Keep in mind what I said about early intervention and advocating for the appropriate referral for evaluation. Cognitive testing may need to be completed, an ENT or dental consult may be appropriate, and a speech-language pathologist may need to evaluate feeding, language, speech, or literacy (Side bar here- just like all professions- while all speech-language pathologists can evaluate and treat doesn’t mean they should. Literacy is a perfect example of this. Ask about experience and training!).
What if there is something going on?
Don’t be afraid or feel guilty. If there is a cognitive disability, learning disability, or you simply need accommodations or a change in instruction….It likely isn’t your fault. I have worked with hundreds of families over the years. Well over 90% of those contributed exactly 0% to what their child was walking through. It is completely normal to feel a range of emotions about whatever you may have learned is going on. DO NOT LET THE ENEMY LIE TO YOU OR MAKE YOU FEEL GUILTY. God designed you to be that kiddo’s momma, dad, grandmother, caregiver, etc. for just this time. Can you make it better on your own? Maybe. I have a fond memory of a parent, after discovering his child was vastly behind on language skills and the importance of play in those skills’ development, blurting out, “I don’t know how to play with children! I’ve never had any! I’ve never babysat!” Do you know how much I love teaching parents to play with their children?! It’s one of my favorite parts of the job (and one most people have no idea I do).
Don’t blame your kiddo. You likely know this already but it bears saying because, some days, it’s just hard. Acknowledge those hard days with them. Tell them they are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ by God who loves them so much that He knows the number of hairs on their head! (And, you remember, HE loves them more than YOU love them!!) There is power in truth and it disbands the lies the enemy may be whispering to them as well. I don’t know about you but thinking of the enemy lying to my children makes me fighting-mad. For older kiddos who may be struggling, remind them that we all learn differently.
Don’t go it alone. Talk to other parents. Take only what you need and leave the rest. There are tons of homeschooling mommas out there whose kiddos have learning differences. While I recommend multi-sensory curriculum (Worksheets do not grow dendrites) for most kiddos, these mommas can tell you their specific experiences with specific curriculum. It doesn’t mean it’s your magic fix-all and you will fail if you don’t do it. Here is the link to a mom turned literacy interventionist discussing curriculum for her children with dyslexia, for example: https://homeschoolingwithdyslexia.com/resources/curriculum
Just because another parent did or didn’t seek out help from professionals doesn’t mean you’d better or better not do the same. I have some homeschooling families whose children I teach, do reading intervention, or speech therapy. There are others who do reading on their own and are doing just fine. Still others may have help for a season and move on. That is all okay. Do what is best for your family in this time.
Will it always be easy? Honestly, not likely. But, there are so many of us here to help you. There are family members who may offer help in their own way even if just for an afternoon. Maybe there is a friend who would just listen to how dang hard it all is. Let people help you. And pray. Pray for God’s guidance to get you the answers and help you need. And, if you don’t believe He can, tell Him that too (He knows anyway!). He wants you to know Him well. He never intended us to walk this road of life alone! Let me know if there is anything I can do to help. Blessings, Lucie ☀️