The beginning of your child’s educational journey is a time of high anticipation, expectations, and excitement. While making your way through a sea of paperwork and new experiences, many parents are also encountering some of their child’s first educational milestones and assessing their progress. For parents who are faced with a child who is not progressing at the same pace as their peers, questions abound: Does my child have a learning disability? What are the signs I should be looking for? Where do we go from here?
Why early action is important
While I caution parents to be careful with their diagnosis, if your child does in fact have a learning disability, it is important to take action sooner rather than later. Remember that some children may take longer than others to grasp a concept, so try to avoid assuming that a perceived struggle is a certain sign of a learning disability. Instead, think of any “warning signs” you notice as indicators in helping you determine your child’s learning style. In doing so, you can gain insight into your child’s interests and identify what education model will likely play to their specific strengths and needs.
For parents who are wondering when the best time is to pinpoint a learning disability, I suggest they are especially mindful of any signs during kindergarten and second grade. At this stage, children are learning phonics, simple math and basic reading skills. If they are falling significantly behind here, be watchful – those struggles will increase as they begin to use those essential skills to complete requirements at school.
Whether your child’s struggle is behavioral, developmental, or a learning disability, bear in mind that encouragement and finding ways to provide little successes go a long way. And if your child is already saying that a subject is too hard or expressing a strong disinterest in a specific subject, keep a close eye on his or her progress in that area.
Directing your next steps
- Consider your child’s developmental history. Sometimes there’s no rhyme nor reason to a learning disability. For instance, children who struggle through a long-term ear infection in early childhood are more likely to suffer from auditory processing difficulties. Studies have also found that children who experience a traumatic event between the ages of 18 months and 3 years are much more likely to experience learning disabilities. If you find yourself questioning whether or not your child has a learning disability, consider their history and developmental milestones to determine if there is a possible connection.
- Bear in mind your child’s self-esteem and confidence. Children who struggle through school with learning disabilities often suffer from low self-esteem because they view themselves as inferior to their peers. In fact, I’ve met many adults who are learning disabled that struggle with their sense of self-worth as a result of being so defeated in their school years, even though they excel in other areas of their lives. Don’t let a learning disability define your child. Find ways to encourage. Give him or her opportunities to shine in their areas of strength. Always be ready to give some extra daily encouragement to boost their confidence.
- Avoid letting frustration take control. Nothing is more frustrating than feeling helpless when it comes to your children, but avoid letting that frustration dominate your thoughts and actions in tackling learning struggles. For instance, if you find yourself faced with a child who struggles to enjoy writing, avoid immersing them in writing practice in the hope that they will overcome the challenge. Instead, explore practices for unconventionally engaging your student in writing activities. A great way for younger children to get involved in practicing their writing is to get a large letter A and let them trace it on a piece of paper, and then color it in. This allows your student to practice on a larger scale and slowly make their writing smaller. For older children, allow them to dictate their writing into your Smart Phone and show them just what they are capable of producing! They are often amazed at all they have to say when they begin to realize that writing is simply an extension of speech.
- Remember your support networks. The most important thing to consider is that you are not alone in this process! There is a vast network of support available to parents through groups and other organizations. I strongly suggest seeking out a network where you will feel comfortable to ask questions, speak openly and find the help and advice you and your child need. A great place to start is the National Center for Learning Disabilities, which has online tests for learning disabilities, resources for parents, as well as ways to get involved in the cause. But don’t settle for therapy that teaches your child to compensate. Learning Disabilities can be overcome! Check out organizations like Essential Learning Institute, which provides corrective and tailored learning therapy programs that can be completed in the privacy and convenience of your own home.
Remember you are human, and as with any struggle, you are going to hit bumps in the road – and you ightm even make some mistakes. But if you remember nothing else, remember that if your child is struggling, the most important thing you can do is create a positive learning environment. Combine that with love, encouragement and support, and you and your child will overcome any obstacle.