How to Tell If Your Child Has a Learning Disability
Although it can be challenging to find out that your child has a learning disability, the majority are readily treatable and will not permanently effect your child’s development. Learning disabilities are often difficult to define and identify in children. There is not one learning disability; many different conditions fall under the umbrella term.While there are tests that can be used to diagnose a learning disability, other factors such as emotional, behavioral, and even medical problems are often involved as well. Tell if your child has a learning disability by having them tested, and talking about the signs and indications with your child's teachers and pediatrician.
Observing Cognitive Signs of a Learning Disability
Notice whether your child can stay organized.As children age, they gain organizational skills and improve their ability to track deadlines and keep track of their personal belongings. Your child should develop the ability to organize dates and belongings by the age of 7 or 8. If your child has trouble managing their time and completing assignments or homework by a given deadline, they may have a learning disorder.
- Other aspects of organization include being able to set academic and personal priorities, and remembering where everyday objects (including school supplies) are stored.
Pay attention to your child's ability to remember information.Having trouble remembering things might indicate a learning disability. Of course, children’s memories are imperfect, and the amount a child is expected to remember should correlate with the child’s age. But, if you notice your child often forgetting things that other kids their age readily remember, your child may have a learning disability.
- For example, ask younger children to recite the alphabet. Once a child has it memorized, they should be able to say it consistently all the time.
- Or, quiz older children on adding skills or multiplication tables. Making mistakes on math problems they have answered correctly in the past might indicate a learning disability.
Note if your child struggles to gain new language skills.Several prominent learning disabilities interfere with a child’s ability to correlate sounds to letters or to words. If a child struggles to learn new words, cannot easily associate letters with the sounds they make, or cannot think of rhymes to common words, they may have a learning disability. This is also the case if the child frequently misspells words or struggles to remember their definitions.
- These signs are especially prevalent in children between the ages of 3 and 10. In middle school and high school, kids with learning disabilities are prone to avoid reading aloud altogether, or show signs of poor reading comprehension.
Watch your child for signs of frustration when doing schoolwork.Children with learning disabilities often react with negative emotions when they find themselves unable to keep up with (or understand) the assigned schoolwork. Children with a learning disability may get frustrated, give up, cry, lash out, or have a hard time completing difficult assignments. Such behavior might be due to a learning disability.
- The child may also be showing frustration when working in the classroom. Ask the child’s teacher(s) if the child acts out or gets upset when completing their in-seat assignments.
Looking for Physical or Behavioral Signs of a Learning Disability
Keep an eye on your child’s motor skills and watch motor development.Children with learning disabilities often struggle to develop more complex motor skills and may hesitate to explore the physical world. Ask a young child to complete physical tasks for you, such as cutting paper, drawing a picture, writing a story, or climbing a piece of playground equipment. If your child is older (between 10 and 15), pay attention if they struggle to take notes in class or write down information that you tell them.
- Notice any problems with coordination or reflexes. These symptoms, combined with others, might indicate a learning disability.
- For example, kids with learning disabilities can struggle to hold pens and pencils, tie their shoes, play on a playground, or may fall down often.
Watch your child's social relationships to see if they are healthy.Many kids with learning disabilities struggle to play and relate with other children. More specifically, they have a hard time maintaining friendships, reading nonverbal clues, or avoiding impulsive behavior.Kids with learning disabilities may seem shy or belligerent, when in reality, they’re simply not aware of how they should relate to their peers.
- Teens with a learning disability may appear rude or antisocial to their peers (and some adults), or may struggle to respond appropriately in social settings.
Talk to your child's teacher if you suspect a learning disability.Most children with learning disabilities perform inconsistently in academic subjects like math, reading, and writing. Find out if your child is performing at the expected level, or if they are below the level of other classmates. Children with learning disabilities often struggle to keep pace with their peers as school subjects become more difficult.
- When you speak with your child’s teacher, say something like, “My child has been struggling a little with homework, and they often have trouble remembering their assignments and deadlines. Has their performance at school been consistent?”
Testing Your Child for a Learning Disability
Assess your child’s intelligence potential through an IQ test.While IQ tests are imperfect and are not an objective way of determining intelligence, they can provide a ballpark indicator of a person’s potential intelligence.You can work with your child’s school to facilitate the IQ test. If the school can’t provide the test, they can put you in touch with a child psychologist or therapist who can provide the test.
- In order to have a learning disability, your child must test as being of average or above average intelligence.
Ask the school to administer a standardized achievement test.This might be on reading, writing, math or a combination of all 3 subjects. The standardized test will evaluate your child’s academic performance and help qualify the amount of knowledge they have understood, remembered, and are able to reproduce.
- If your child scores low on both the IQ test and the standardized achievement test, they will most likely not be diagnosed as having a learning disability. The same situation applies if the child scores high on both tests.
Compare the test scores with the help of a counselor.The IQ test identifies your child's potential achievement, while the standardized test measures your child's actual achievement. Therefore, if your child tests 115 on the IQ test but only 95 on the standardized test, there is a gap of 20 points between potential and achievement. This may indicate a learning disability.
- A learning disability can be established when there is a large difference between the IQ score and the standardized test score.
Working with Your Doctor to Address a Learning Disability
Visit your pediatrician to discuss the possibility of a learning disorder.If you have identified symptoms that may indicate a learning disorder, talk to your doctor. They’ll have questions about your family medical history and the child’s academic performance. The doctor may refer you and your child to a neurologist to get a more complete picture of how the child’s brain functions.
- The doctor will also help you to rule out medical reasons for learning problems, such as poor vision or hearing.
- If you have your child’s IQ and standardized test results, show these to your doctor.
Talk to your doctor about other tests to diagnose a learning disorder.There are various psychological and emotional tests that your child can take to help you and your doctor identify any issues and decide on a good course of treatment. The doctor may also ask you and your child to work closely with the school psychologist in diagnosing and treating a learning disorder.
- If your child struggles specifically with issues related to reading and speech, your doctor may refer them to a speech pathologist.
Find out how your state identifies a learning disability.The discrepancy between the two test scores that’s sufficient to diagnose a learning disability will differ between states. For example, in some states a difference of 15 points may be sufficient to diagnose the child with a learning disability, while in others, the difference may need to be over 20 points.
- Talk to your school district about whether your child's learning disability will permit them to get extra help in school.
- Talk to the school administrators or counselor about how to help your child if they’re not diagnosed with a learning disability. There may be other reasons for why your child is not performing at the level at which they should be.
- Take advantage of school counselors. They can help with everything from test administration to helping you get services and extra help for your child. A counselor can be your child's best advocate.
- A learning disability exists when a child with average or above-average intelligence struggles to learn new information in a classroom setting.
- Be supportive of your child. If a learning disability exists, accept it, and make sure your child feels safe accepting it as well. Make it clear to your child that a learning disability doesn't mean that they are unintelligent. It simply means that they learn new ideas and skills differently than the majority of their peers.
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