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Retention for First Grader with LD?
Q: Our son has just completed first grade. He had intensive speech therapy from ages two to five and was diagnosed with auditory processing deficit. He had difficulty in first grade with reading, writing, memorizing, and focusing. He never got past the first primer reader. His teacher would like us to retain him because she felt he was immature and had attention problems (ADD -- he is not hyperactive). He was tested in April, Wechsler Scale: Verbal -- 94, Performance -- 116, achievement in Reading and Writing were both 82. He has an IEP. He is seeing a tutor this summer three times a week for one hour each time (that is the longest he can focus at one sitting). Should we retain him so that he can get a better base of skills, or let him continue on to second grade with medication for ADD? Thank you.
A: Retention is always a last resort, especially for students with learning disabilities, since research shows that it is generally not a good solution to academic problems, and can often create problems with self-esteem. Having said that, however, if your son is significantly delayed in terms of skill development, and you (and perhaps his pediatrician) agree that he is immature, then repeating grade one might be a consideration. Before you decide that, there are a few questions that need to be answered. Most importantly, have the interventions called for in your son's IEP been sufficient and appropriate? Has he gotten the intensity of help he's needed this past year? If, for example, the IEP has him placed in a regular class with intermittent support from a specialist (an LD specialist or speech and language pathologist) while spending most of his time in a regular classroom with a regular education teacher who's trying to adapt the regular curriculum for him, this just isn't enough for a young child with this profile. And if the same thing will be offered again next year, then retention clearly is not the answer. If you and the teachers feel that your son did get the level of support he needed this past year, and if he continued to make gains, even if slowly, then having him stay in first grade for another year may be helpful. Keeping him back implies that he needs more time to "catch up." This won't just happen unless he gets the right kind of help. It might be wiser to think about making sure that he has very specialized services in grade two, so that he can get the intensive interventions he needs while being able to stay with his friends.
While the medication may certainly help with the ADHD (and you can begin to find this out this summer) and make it easier for your son to focus on what he needs to learn, the medication won't take away what appears to be an underlying language processing deficit. While I haven't seen his WISC profile or the rest of the testing, the wide gap between his verbal and performance scores puts him at significant risk for continuing difficulty. He may need to be placed in a specialized program for students with language-based learning disabilities, at least until his skills develop to a higher level. Otherwise, it's as if the water keeps getting deeper and deeper and he's not being taught how to swim.
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Jerome (Jerry) Schultz is the founding clinical director of the Learning Lab @ Lesley University, a program that provides assessment, tutoring, and case management services for children with learning challenges. Schultz holds a Ph.D. from Boston College, and has completed postdoctoral fellowships in both clinical psychology and pediatric neuropsychology.