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Mom Worried About Slow Learner
Q: My six-year-old is in first grade and is just at the beginning stages of reading. She goes to special classes for reading and speech. She is also the youngest in her class (date of birth is 9/7/92 for an October 1 cutoff date). Her teachers just say some kids are late developmentally in reading. Should I ask for her to be tested for learning disabilities? Should I even consider having her not go on to second grade? I don't want her to always struggle throughout her education career! I would greatly appreciate some outside input. I always worry that the school system is also more concerned about the budget when they are deciding my daughter's future. Thank you!
A: If your daughter is steadily (even if slowly) acquiring up the skills needed for reading, and she's doing OK in math and in other areas, then it's not likely that she has a learning disability. Her teachers are right when they say that some children are late in developing reading skills, but because your daughter is so young, she's not really late. The other kids are older, and they are more developed. The real question is, would she be behind if she had waited a year to start school? If your daughter is having difficulties in other areas, this may be a sign of emerging LD. If she is not benefiting from the instruction she's getting, it is quite possible that she has some learning problems. If that were the case, I would ask for a more formal evaluation for LD. If your daughter is getting help in speech for articulation (pronunciation) problems, it's likely that the problem is developmental -- that she'll grow out of it with time and help. However, if she goes to speech because she has problems understanding the language of others, or if her own language is out of sequence or distorted in some way, then it's possible that she has an underlying language processing problem, which may be a learning disability. The speech therapist ought to be able to answer this question.
If the signs point to a developmental issue, then a lot of growth can occur between now and next fall. I would try to find a summer reading enrichment program, to make sure that your daughter is stimulated in reading as she continues to develop during this time. Twenty to thirty minutes a day in a special program or at home (with you or a tutor) will help enormously, and she may just catch up. If, however, she is the poorest reader in the class and the second grade teachers would find it difficult to accommodate her skill level without sending her out for support, she might fall further and further behind and her self-concept could suffer. If that's the case, then the idea of having her repeat grade one is a possibility, but it would not be my first choice. You may want to ask the second grade teachers to make a prediction, based on your daughter's current level of performance in reading. Good luck.
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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.