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Monday, August 19, 2013

Learning Disabilities and Qualifying for Special Ed Services

From Special-Ism.com

By Michele Hancock, M.S., P.P.S.
August 18, 2013

For many of us, summer vacation is a welcome break from the craziness of the school year. No homework battles, rigid schedules or projects covering the dining room table. However, it can also be a great time to reflect on how your child is progressing in school and to ask yourself some important questions about their performance.

A Learning Disability or Just a Weakness?

All of us obviously have strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes. As parents, most of us can look back on our own school days and remember classes we loved, along with subjects we struggled with. But, how do we know if our child has an actual learning disability?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) describes a specific learning disability as the following:

“A disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written that may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, speak, read, write, spell or do mathematic equations.”

Facts about Learning Disabilities

To help you understand more, here are some basic facts about learning disabilities:
  • Learning disabilities are disorders that affect the brain’s ability to receive and process information. They are not an indicator of your child’s intelligence level. They are also very common. According to the US Department of Education 2010 Report, just under 2.5 million children have some type of learning disability.
  • The most common types of learning disabilities revolve around basic reading skills. 80% of children with learning disabilities have problems with reading.
  • Learning disabilities should not be confused with other disabilities such as mental retardation, autism or behavioral disorders. Also, if a child has frequently changed schools, has attendance problems or is learning how to speak English they may be misdiagnosed with a learning disability.
  • Attention disorders, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and learning disabilities often occur together, but are not the same thing. ADHD is considered a medical condition, not a learning disability.

Early Signs of Learning Disabilities

Often, a child with a learning disability shows signs at an early age. Children with learning disabilities often struggle in school during elementary school or they miss developmental milestones. So, if your child has done well throughout elementary school and upon reaching adolescence, suddenly starts to under perform, it is probably not due to a learning disability.

Some early signs of learning disabilities include the following:
  • Trouble learning the alphabet and rhyming words;
  • Trouble connecting letters to sounds;
  • Making many mistakes when reading aloud;
  • Not understanding what they are reading;
  • Awkward pencil grip and poor handwriting skills;
  • Trouble understanding jokes and sarcasm;
  • Trouble following multiple directions;
  • Trouble organizing thoughts and what they want to say;
  • Not following social rules of conversation;
  • Confusing mathematical symbols and numbers;
  • Not able to tell a story in order;
  • Not knowing where to begin a task;
  • Emotional and/or social issues;
  • Trouble sleeping or getting along with family.

Parts of the Brain Affected by Learning Disabilities

Learning disabilities usually affect four areas of the brain. These are input, integration, storage and output.

1.) Input Disability: A child with an input disability has difficulty recognizing shapes, positions or sizes of items. They can also have problems with sequencing. An auditory perception problem means a child has a hard time screening out competing sounds in order to focus on one thing, like a teacher’s voice.

2.) Integration Disability: Integration is the stage where information is interpreted, categorized, placed in a sequence or related to previous learning. A child with problems in this area may be unable to tell a story in the correct sequence, unable to memorize sequences of information such as days of the week, or facts. They may also have a poor vocabulary.

3.) Storage Disability: A child with memory problems has difficulty learning new material and requires more repetitions than is usually needed. This disability can also make it difficult to learn how to spell.

4.) Output Disability: A language output disability results in difficulties with spoken language like the ability to answer a question on demand. It can also cause problems with written language. Difficulties with motor abilities can cause either gross or fine motor problems.

A child with gross motor delay may be clumsy and prone to stumble, fall or bump into things. They may also have issues with running, climbing or learning to ride a bike. A child with fine motor difficulties may struggle with buttoning shirts, tying shoelaces or with handwriting.

Qualifying for Special Ed Services

Learning disabilities cover a wide spectrum and can range from mild to severe. They can include mental, physical, behavioral and emotional disabilities. The law defines thirteen categories of disabilities that qualify a child for special education services. These include:
  • autism;
  • deaf-blindness;
  • deafness;
  • emotional disturbance;
  • hearing impairment;
  • intellectual disability;
  • multiple disabilities;
  • orthopedic impairment;
  • other health impairment;
  • specific learning disability;
  • speech or language impairment;
  • traumatic brain injury; or
  • visual impairment (including blindness).

When Should You Contact the School?

If your child hates school, struggles with grades and assignments, or has behavior problems, ask yourself some questions.
  • Are they regularly putting in effort without seeing any success?
  • Have they always found school to be challenging?
  • Have you tried tutoring programs and received extra help at school without any improvement?
  • Does your child’s teacher(s) express concern about her lack of progress?
  • Are they testing significantly below grade level?

If you think your child might have a learning disability, I encourage you to learn more about special education and the IEP process.


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Neuropsychologists usually have Ph.D. or Psy.D. degrees, not M.D.s. They don’t wear white coats. Their primary tools are pencils, paper, blocks and keyboards. They are here because they love young people and are practiced at interacting with them in ways that let them learn about how your children and adolescents think without making the process stressful. Our clinicians understand and accommodate some kids' special sensitivities. We try to make our evaluations as low key as possible, and most kids enjoy many parts of the process.

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