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LD and High-School Success
Q: My son Nick is 13 and in 7th grade. It has been a long hard road for us, but it looks like things have made a turn for the better!
He has been in a resource program since starting school. Through fourth grade he was being pulled out of class for 90 minutes a day being given one-on-one instruction for math and language arts. The pull-out type of program didn't work too well for us and after much effort, we got him included in an all day program.
Now after his third year in an all day program, he has made tremendous strides and is reading at grade level and testing above grade level in comprehension. He is mainstreamed in two classes (social studies and science) and is getting B's all across the board.
He still has quite a bit of difficulty with writing. There has never been a clear diagnosis of exactly what is going on for him. "Difficulty integrating the modalities" is about the clearest it gets.
I am now looking forward to the high-school years. The kind of support he receives in our school district changes significantly with high school. No longer will he be in special classes; he will have to hold his own with the addition of possibly technology and tutoring. What can I start doing now to increase the chances of success in high school? Is it necessary to do some more testing? We seem to have found some strategies that are working (he has strong oral learning skills). What would you suggest for an oral learner, both now and into the future?
As usual, I am full of questions. Sorry for having gone on so long, just wanted to give you a little background.
A: Nick has made outstanding progess. His success in a specialized all day program makes a strong case for intensive intervention services for some kids with learning disabilities. It sounds as if this level of service has made it possible for Nick to have success in his mainstreamed classes. Congratulations to you for getting your child the services he needs! Your efforts (and Nick's and those of his teachers) have been rewarded.
I appreciate your hesitation about putting your son through more testing, but unless teachers and others helping Nick with writing (as well as you and Nick) have a better understanding of what's getting in his way, then intervention may continue to be hit or miss. Additional evaluation by someone skilled in the assessment of writing difficulties could shed some light on this problem. "Difficulty integrating the modalities" may mean that your son has trouble writing down what he is thinking. You said that he had good verbal skills. This is great! If he can "talk" a good story, then one solution to this problem might be having him dictate responses to essay questions or creating stories that he puts on a tape recorder. There is software available that enables a student to talk to a computer which translates speech into typed text! The important issue here is to separate process from product; this means that if the act of writing gets in the way of Nick expressing himself, then his teachers need to figure out ways to bypass the deficient process. (After all, CEO's have secretaries who do this for them, don't they?)
So glad to hear you say you "look forward" to high school. I hope you mean it, and I hope Nick shares this feeling! Enlightened teachers who understand learning disabilities can help a student like Nick continue to be successful as he encounters the challenges of high school. The trick is finding them. Don't be shy about asking for certain teachers who have a good track record. Ask parents of other kids with LD (talk with parents on the Parent Advisory Council for Special Education -- most schools have a group like this). A guidance counselor might also give you the names of kids with LD who have graduated and moved on to college (if the graduates have given their permission to be identified in this way). They could serve as valuable mentors for Nick. By the way, if Nick's teachers balk at the idea of making reasonable accomodations for him, you might suggest that they take a look at their obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
To pave the way for a successful high school experience for Nick, find out from teachers and counselors about the demands of certain required courses. Nick might find it helpful (if he can tolerate it!) to have some directed summer tutoring in potentially difficult subjects prior to entering high school. You might also be able to get some of his books in advance, so he can at least familiarize himself with the content. He needs to know that students with learning disabilties who are successful in high school not only work differently -- they work harder. Good luck to you, Nick. I'll be rooting for you. Send us a graduation notice!
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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.