Marcella has suspected for a while that her son, Jordie, has trouble reading. In first grade, Jordie stumbles through reciting the alphabet, refuses to read aloud and gets angry when she tries to play rhyming games with him. It was a relief when Jordie’s principal asked Marcella to come in and discuss his progress.
If you or a teacher thinks your child has a learning disability, the child should probably have a formal evaluation. Either you or the school can request one, but a parent must give consent before testing can be done.
Why should I have my child evaluated?
If you suspect a learning disability in your child, an evaluation can be crucial. Research has shown that early intervention can have profound positive effects on learning. Untreated learning disabilities can lead to school failure, which can undermine a child’s self-esteem.
Identifying a learning disability can have many benefits for your child. An evaluation can:
- Confirm whether your child has a learning disability. If so, it will help you and the school understand where the problem lies and devise the best strategies to help your child.
- Show if your child qualifies under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This provides special education and other services at public expense for eligible children.
- Help the school make a tailored learning plan that focuses on strengthening your child’s academic weaknesses.
- Help the school measure your child’s progress. The first testing sets a baseline. Future testing will document the growth of skills that results from targeted teaching.
An evaluation will help identify how your child learns and where he or she has problems.Even if your child does not qualify for special services, the evaluation will help the school know what areas your child needs help with in the regular classroom.
How is an evaluation done?
There is no single test that can diagnose learning disabilities. A variety of tests and assessments may be done, and many professionals may be involved in the process. For example, your child might see a psychologist or psychiatrist, a speech therapist, a physical therapist and an occupational therapist.
Your input will also be vital because you know your child best. You can supply important details about your child’s early childhood, growth and development.
An evaluation should start with a complete physical examination and medical history. This is used to rule out any vision, hearing or other physical problems. An evaluation may also include:
- Interview with the child
- IQ testing and psychological evaluation
- Speech and language testing
- Standardized tests of reading, writing and math
- Ratings done by parents, teachers and others who know the child
When the evaluation is finished, you should meet with the principal and special education teachers at your child’s school. Together, the team will make an individualized education program (IEP). This is a contract that documents your child’s disability, the services the school will provide, the goals for your child and how progress will be checked.
How can I help my child?
You are a child’s best advocate, so it’s important for you to stay informed and positive.
- Meet often with teachers and other school professionals to discuss your child’s progress. Parents have the right to examine all school records that pertain to their child.
- Learn about the laws that govern special education. Your school system or state department of education can be a good source for information about federal regulations that govern the education of students with learning disabilities.
- Talk to your child about the issue. Children with learning disabilities may see themselves as dumb or lazy. Explain that a learning disability does not reflect intelligence or mean they cannot learn. It just means they learn differently than most other children.
- Focus on your child’s strengths. Helping your child build on his strengths can boost self-esteem.