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Is It LD or the Change of School?
Q: I've moved to Maryland from Hawaii in the past year. While in Hawaii, my child was enrolled in a Montessori school for the first part of kindergarten. She missed approximately two and a half months of school before returning to a public school in Maryland. Now in the eyes of the first-grade teacher, it appears that she has some sort of learning disability.
I'm reluctant to let her be labeled LD. Am I correct in thinking that her problems are related to the transition to the public-school system? Can you suggest who to go to for a private evaluation? Also, what would you suggest as a resource for tutoring designed to get her back on track?
A: Certainly a move from one type of school system to another plus a prolonged absence from school can be disruptive to a young child. It's unlikely, however, that someone would attach a label of a learning disability to a child for those reasons. What does the teacher see that is leading her to judge that your daughter has a learning disability? I would begin by arranging a conference with the teacher to see exactly what criteria she's using to reach this conclusion.
The good news is that we have much better tools available to identify young children who may have learning disabilities. If you call the Coordinated Campaign for Learning Disabilities at 1-888-GR8-MIND or visit their website at LD Online you can receive an excellent free handbook called Learning Disabilities: Information, Strategies, and Resources. In the handbook you'll find a list of some of the most common characteristics of a learning disability in young children. If parents, teachers, and other professionals discover a child's learning disability early and provide the right kind of help, these children can go on to have successful academic skills. In fact, a recent National Institutes of Health study showed that 67 percent of young kids who were at risk for reading problems became average or above-average readers if they received help in the early grades.
Here are some of the most common signs of a learning disability:
· Speaking later than most children
· Pronunciation problems
· Slow vocabulary growth, often unable to find the "right" word when speaking
· Difficulty rhyming words
· Trouble learning numbers, alphabet, days of the week, colors, shapes
· Extremely restless and easily distracted
· Trouble interacting with peers
· Difficulty following directions or routines
· Fine motor skills slow to develop
· Slow to learn the connection between letters and sounds
· Confuses basic words (e.g., run, eat, want)
· Makes consistent reading and spelling errors including letter reversals (b/d), inversions (m/w), transpositions (was/saw), and substitutions (house/home)
If you or your daughter's teacher note more than one or two of these common signs of a learning disability over a long period of time, I would certainly seek an evaluation by an experienced professional. The Coordinated Campaign can direct you to local referral sources for an evaluation or you can speak to your school's guidance counselor or psychologist to make a referral. They can also help you locate a qualified tutor who can help your child outside of school if you like. The Learning Disabilities Association of America (1-888-300-6710) or the International Dyslexia Association (1-800-ABCD123) are also excellent sources for referrals.
There are also many things you can do at home to help your child. I would suggest getting the book Straight Talk About Reading: How Parents Can Make a Difference During the Early Years by Susan L. Hall and Louisa C. Moats. These authors provide a wealth of ideas about ways you can support your child's academic growth and development now.
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For more than 20 years, Eileen Marzola has worked with children and adults with learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders, and with their parents and teachers. She has been a regular education classroom teacher, a consultant teacher/resource teacher, an educational evaluator/diagnostician, and has also taught graduate students at the university level. Marzola is an adjunct assistant professor of education at Teachers College, Columbia University, and Hunter College of the City University of New York. She also maintains a private practice in the evaluation and teaching of children with learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders.