There are more children in special education classes now than ever before:
- Currently, 6 million children are enrolled in special ed. This figure has grown more than 300 percent since 1976.
- Up to 40 percent of children who have been identified as qualifying for special ed are there because they haven’t learned to read.
- In 1998, only 21 percent of public school teachers felt well prepared to address the needs of children with learning disabilities.
Things were much different not so long ago. Children weren’t diagnosed with learning disabilities nearly as often as they are now. A kid who failed math every year in the 70s simply repeated grades or went to summer school a lot. Teachers didn’t often know how to address the situation, and parents were usually at a loss as well. Now, that child is more likely to receive a learning disability diagnosis and to enter the special education system.
Having a child with a learning disability or other disorder, such as ADD (attention deficit disorder), adds a new dimension to your role as a parent. It’s as if in addition to providing the love, encouragement and support that all parents do, you also have to become an expert and an advocate. This is especially true when it comes to navigating your way through the school years.
Following certain basic guidelines will help you do your best for your child and for your entire family:
Accept that the disability exists
This can be the biggest hurdle for some parents. Here’s a typical example:
Becky is the mother of David, who’s now in high school. Becky knew in her heart that David was intelligent, but when he was five years old, he couldn’t learn to identify letters the way his older sister had at his age. Becky figured that all she had to do was make things interesting for David, so she cut out letters from colored fabric and sewed them onto bright cloth. She was sure that would help. It didn’t.
Meanwhile, her husband insisted that David just wasn’t ready and that everything was completely normal. Eventually, Becky realized that no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t get David to learn his letters. She talked to a friend of hers who had a child with dyslexia, a reading disorder, and learned that David had the classic symptoms. She took him for an evaluation and learned that he did, in fact, have dyslexia.
Naturally, Becky was sorry to find out that David had a learning disability, but she also felt a sense of relief to know there was a reason why he had been having trouble. It was also nice to know there are special ways to teach children with dyslexia. Her husband had a difficult time with the diagnosis at first too, but in time, he also accepted it. David actually entered a school for children with dyslexia, where he stayed through the sixth grade. He’s now in a mainstream high school and doing fine.
Learn everything you can about the condition
The more you know about your child’s learning disorder, the better you’ll understand how to respond to the challenges. Ask teachers and other school staff to recommend helpful books and articles. Ask them to give you written material about the school system’s responsibilities for children with learning disabilities. Attend the special ed meetings that parents are invited to. Ask questions until you don’t have any more questions to ask.
Getting all the information you can gives you the tools to provide appropriate guidance. You’ll be better equipped to respond well when your child is feeling discouraged, when homework seems challenging, when you’re wondering whether the school is doing all it can for your child.
Ask for help and treatment
If you think your child needs additional help, don’t hesitate to consult with social workers, psychologists, child psychiatrists, etc. These professionals may also be able to help you handle any family issues that can come up when a child has a learning disability.
Connect with other parents
Other parents who are in a similar situation as you can be invaluable sources of help and information. They’ve had to negotiate the things you are facing now—making sure your child gets all the services children with learning disabilities are entitled to, dealing with the effects of the disability on other children in the family, handling the emotional aspects of the situation, etc. There’s nothing like getting help from people who’ve “been there.”
Ask teachers, your child’s pediatrician, or other professional for names of support groups in your area.
In other words, get yourself plugged in to as many resources as you can.
For more advice and tips for parents of children with learning disabilities, visit the National Center for Learning Disabilities
National Center for Learning Disabilities; U.S. Department of Education