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Q: I think that my little sister may have some sort of learning disability. She has a lot of difficulty remembering things, like answers on a test. She is in third grade (she should be in fourth, but was held back in kindergarten). Her kindergarten teacher suspected that she might have ADHD. When my sister went to see the school counselor, she said that there was nothing wrong with her, that school and homework were new to her and she needed time to adjust.
Her problems in school have persisted through the years, but I believe that this year she is having even more difficulty. Some nights I will study for a test with her for hours and she will get all the answers right, but then when she takes the test the next day she gets a D or a F on it. My mom is planning on bringing her to a specialist. Could you give me any information on what my sister may have if she does have a learning disability?
A: Your sister is really lucky to have someone who takes such an interest in her! I hope you encourage your mom to have your sister evaluated to see exactly why she is having the trouble she is having in school. Your sister is entitled to a free full evaluation by the school or school district if your mom requests it. If she doesn't get the information she needs from that evaluation, then she can take her for a private evaluation.
I'd suggest going back to FamilyEducation.com for more information about the often-puzzling problem of learning disabilities. The Schwab Foundation for Learning (http://www.schwablearning.org) is also a helpful site. You can call the Coordinated Campaign for Learning Disabilities at 1-888-GR8-MIND and request a free book about learning disabilities, Learning Disabilities: Information, Strategies, Resources. If you read that book you will find that the term learning disabilities describes a disorder in which a person's brain works or is structured differently. The kinds of problems you describe that your sister has could indeed be a learning disability. These differences in the way the brain works can interfere with a person's ability to think and remember. Learning disabilities can affect a person's ability to speak, listen, read, write, spell, reason, recall, organize information, and do mathematics. Most children with learning disabilities have at least average intelligence. ADHD and learning disabilities often occur at the same time, but the two disorders are not the same.
The only way to identify a learning disability is through a comprehensive evaluation. Once that is done, an individual education plan (IEP) will be drawn up that will set goals for learning. A learning disability can't be cured or fixed, but with the right support and intervention, children with learning disabilities can succeed in school and be successful adults. Many successful people in all professions from actors to writers to businessmen have learning disabilities.
Dr. Mel Levine, a pediatrician, has written a wonderful book for kids about learning disabilities. You might want to read the book, All Kinds of Minds, with your sister and talk about it with her, one chapter at a time.
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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.