Category Archives: self advocacy for learning disabilities

Is it a Learning Disorder or Disordered Learning? 


It’s that time of year when kids are starting to buckle down to some consistent learning and the homework load is increasing. It’s also about time for those first teacher conferences. Are you starting to have some concerns about your child’s progress? Do you wonder if your child might have a learning disorder? 

Struggling in school doesn’t always necessarily mean there’s a learning disorder. Here, are a few ways to tell the difference: 

It’s probably not an LD if your child . . .

Used to do fine in school. Divorce, death in the family or a pet, family problems, dealing with bullies, or getting used to a new school can all cause setbacks or cause a good student to suddenly fall behind.

Benefits from short-term help. Extra attention from the teacher or weekly meetings with a tutor can get many kids over the hump.

Is able to follow through on complex instructions. Even if kids forget a step now and then, they mostly know what to do when parents or teachers tell or show them.

It could be a learning disorder if your child . . .

Has had trouble with classwork from day one. A kid with an LD struggles with the acquisition of basic academic skills, from reading decoding to spelling to figuring out math problems.

Can’t keep up with tutoring. Some  kids need frequent sessions with specially trained educational therapists and effective methods to stay on track.

Can’t get through a set of instructions. Kids who process information differently may find it difficult to remember all the steps they need to follow directions.

When Your Child Needs Help

All public schools must evaluate kids for free. But you often have to to ask for testing. Among issues that may propel you into getting private independent testing include long delays for public school testing and cursory or superficial testing which end up denying your child services. 

These tips can get you started on the right path:

Gather information, such as your child’s work samples. 

Make copies of your child’s report cards and tests, along with teacher comments and your observations.

Make a written request to school for testing or get a referral from your pediatrician for a private assessment 

Kids diagnosed with an LD are entitled to an individualized education plan (IEP) that spells out special services (say, speech therapy) provided by the school free of charge.

If your child doesn’t get an IEP, ask for a 504 plan, which gives kids with learning issues special accommodations, like extra time to finish tests.
If your child goes to a private school, it’s good to get accommodations formalized for future testing accommodations. 

Don’t give up on your quest to figure out how your little puzzle works best! Knowledge will help empower both you and your child to get the most out of his or her education! 

The Day I Had To Tell My Son He Was Different

A common issue that many parents ask about is when  they should tell their children about their differences.  There is no single answer and each family may take a 7615524_s (1)different approach.  Particularly after having their child tested, parents want to know how to talk to their child about the results.  This article represents one parent’s version of how they handled this issue.

Reprinted from Kveller, October 14, 2014, written by Samantha Taylor:

When my very bright son’s grades started to plummet, we decided it was time to find out what was going on. In an attempt to help him, we subjected him to a sleep study, neurological exams, academic exams, and psychological testing. At the same time, Joey was struggling with skills for the standardized tests, so he was taking multiple practice exams and being pulled out of class to work with a reading specialist.

He was patient, and handled them all like a champ. Occasionally he’d ask about the testing. We’d give him a simple but truthful answer, and move the conversation along by talking about Minecraft.

After a few weeks, his questions started to change. Instead of asking what the tests were all about, he started to ask if there was something wrong with him, or if he was different than the other kids in his class. I noticed his self-esteem wasn’t doing so hot, and at homework time there were tears. He started to call himself stupid.

When my husband and I got the results of the testing, we were pretty surprised.His scores were off the charts high for memorization, spelling, and math. However, his scores for reading comprehension, specifically language processing, were extremely low. The team at school decided that he would benefit from 90 minutes per week of language therapy with a Speech and Language Pathologist.

On the way home in the car, it hit me. We need to tell him the results. His ego is deflated, and it shouldn’t be. He’s 9, and doesn’t need to know all of the specifics, but this kid has gifts. He needs to be reminded of that. He also needs to understand that he has a deficit, and he’s going to get help for it.

After consulting a mental health counselor (who had worked with us before) I was prepared to tell Joey all about the test results. My husband and I practiced the language we would use. This was a delicate situation; we wanted to handle it properly.

I wanted Joey to know that this conversation was special, so my parents came over to watch the other kids. My husband and I got in the car to take Joey to his favorite Italian ice place and have the talk. On the way there Joey asked if he was in trouble, what we were going to talk about, and why his brother and sister were staying at home. I didn’t want to have the conversation in the car. The way I had prepared was to talk to him face to face.

We got our desserts and sat down. The talk went something like this.

“Joey, the reason we are here is to explain all of the testing you’ve been going through. We want you to know that we got all the test results, and thought we’d share them with you. You have an amazing memory. Your math scores were at the 6th grade level. Your spelling scores were at the 9th grade level. You have an amazing brain. There’s one thing you need help with. When your brain reads something, sometimes it has a hard time understanding what you’ve read. That’s why you’ve been pulled out of class to work with the reading coach. Now you get to work with another teacher to help you get better at that skill. This is just like someone who needs glasses to help them see better. You are an amazing kid with an incredible brain, and we just wanted you to know that. Do you have any questions?”

“Nope,” he said, in between bites of cherry ice.

“Really? You don’t have anything to ask us?

“Nope, I’m good,” he said.

My husband gave me that “let it go” look. So I did. I let it go. The conversation quickly moved onto Minecraft.

That night as I was tucking Joey into bed, I just couldn’t help myself. I asked him again, “Did you have a chance to think about what we talked about this afternoon? Do you have any more questions?”

“No,” he said. “Thanks for telling me. Do I have to take anymore long tests?”

“No, Joey,” I said. “That’s all done.”

“Cool, goodnight Mom.”

Sometimes I forget that he’s on his way to becoming a young man. He’s turning 10 next month. We can no longer expect that he’s not going to be curious about anything out of the ordinary. From now on, I’ve learned to keep him in the loop from the beginning. The thought that he assumed he was dumber than the rest of his class because of the excessive testing breaks my heart.

There comes a time when you realize your kids aren’t babies anymore. I’m going to start talking to him like the little man that he is slowly becoming before my eyes. With parenting there’s always room for improvement, and there’s always room for Italian ice.

Having “The Talk” With Your Child: It’s Not The One You Think

22338339_sFor many families, talking to your child about the birds and the bees is not the hardest conversation you will have.  For parents of atypical kids, the hard conversation will be the one that answers the question: “What is wrong with me?” “Why am I so stupid?” “Why don’t I have any friends?” or “Why am I so different?”

How do we help our children understand their issues and teach them to advocate for themselves? When and how do we start the process and when can we begin to expect more self reliance? This is a cluster of questions that I wish more parents asked.

Over the years, children have come to my office exhibiting a wide range of coping skills. The range of understanding their own strengths and struggles is wide and is not necessarily connected with their cognitive abilities or emotional intelligence.  I’ve listened to remarkably eloquent 10-year-olds speak about their dyslexia and how difficult it is for them to read. And I have witnessed hyperactive and restless teens who have no real insight into how they tick. It’s not that they are not interested in learning about themselves.  They have never had “the talk” with their parents or a therapist:  they still have no clue as to what their diagnosis really means and are often still dependent on others to help them pave their way without having a real understanding of who they are and why they need the help that they are receiving.

Sooner or later, though, all children will have to go out into the world and fend for themselves.  Kids of all ages are more confident when they have a good understanding of their own needs and have done the hard work to learn to accept their differences.

Demystifying a child’s condition—that is, telling children what their issues are and helping them come to grips with it—is an important and often overlooked part of parenting an atypical child. It can be difficult to approach this subject; layers of defensiveness and avoidance build up over years of struggling so that many children can be unapproachable.   Just as some parents have difficulty accepting that their child is different, it is even harder to help a child come to terms with his or her difference.  Kids do not want to be different.  And yet, almost all children with a difference, be it a learning disability, ADHD or autism spectrum, among other issues, understand or sense that they are uniquely challenged.  Having “the talk” can help your child get to the next level.

Sometimes, though we hold back from talking to them about it, hoping they will ‘straighten out’ or become more ‘typical’ so we won’t have to have the conversation. But if your child is going from therapy to therapy on a weekly basis, he deserves the benefit of a good solid talk to explain what is going on in his brain and what are some techniques to help him.

In reality, for many families, “The Talk” happens in stages, as the child grows and is more able to understand the information and adapt him- or herself to the demands of the larger world.

What Does Your Child Need to Know?

Here are the steps that kids need to go through in order to become fully active in their own care:

  • Stage 1 – Awareness:

Knowing and accepting that everyone learns differently and has different needs.  No one has it all.  Learning that each person has unique needs and everyone needs help in becoming the best person they can be. Talking to your child about different talents and pointing out the ways that they are uniquely talented (as opposed to a sibling or neighbor who excels in another area) is a good way to make the concept resonate.

  • Stage 2 – Getting information:

Finding the name for what they have and learning about it (if a name exists).  This is an important step as learning what Dyslexia or ADHD or Autism Spectrum are can elicit different reactions in children.  Some children may feel relieved that there is a name for what they have. Other children may be frightened or annoyed and scared that there is something ‘wrong’ with their brain.  Finding the best way to deliver the information is important.  Some parents can read their child a book, for others, a trip to an informed therapist can help pave the road.  Many parents are more comfortable in reading the child a book that help describes a child that struggles in similar ways.  Children take comfort in hearing that they are not the only ones with this type of difference.

  • Stage 3 – Monitoring:

Learning the best interventions, accommodations, and what works best for them.  For many children, this is where a solid neuropsychological assessment can make the difference.  A good assessment should have a list of optimal interventions, discussions about a child’s learning style and a roadmap of accommodations that will work best for your child.  In older children, it is advised that the child be part of the debriefing plan, to learn more about themselves from a professional who has just tested them.

  • Stage 4 – Self Advocacy:

Knowing how to talk about it with others becomes important as a child grows up.  This is a critical transitional step that helps a child move from dependence to self reliance.  This should begin to happen in high school, if not sooner.  Children may need to practice how to speak to teachers, coaches or other adults about their particular conditions.  For sure by the time teens are preparing for college, this information should be clear, crisp and effective.  I often coach my older teens in scripts to use when speaking to high school teachers or college professors.  Don’t hesitate to use a script and to role model how to discuss their differences with others.

These stages may not happen in a neat, orderly sequence. In fact, a child may take until his 20’s to get all the way through all four stages. Ideally, we’d like our kids to have all four stages in their toolkit as they navigate through life.

Nancy Bley, Dean of Students at Park Century School in Culver City, CA, http://www.parkcenturyschool.org/  said, in an interview, “the best time to discuss a child’s disabilities and how they learn is as soon as they perceive a problem and it is identified. The most important thing is that kids get enough information and awareness about their own learning style and learning needs to be able to advocate for themselves. Even the youngest child needs to feel comfortable in asking for help, the first step in self advocacy.”

Even if your child isn’t lucky enough to be in a special needs school that builds their self advocacy skills, having “the talk” with them on an ongoing basis in a supportive manner will go a long way to build a self reliant and confident young adult.