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Special Ed Not Helping Child with LD
Q: My eight-year-old daughter has LD and she's been receiving help for some time. I see very little progress. How can I tell if the teachers are doing all they can to help her? How long should she continue to be in the same class before it's too late to make changes? She spent two years in first grade because her teacher said that they wanted her to master the basic skills. She's not reading very well and her math is still the same (she doesn't know it).
A: I am assuming that testing was done to allow some professional to make the diagnosis of learning disabilities. This evaluation probably included, among other things, an IQ test. It is this part of the testing that helps determine whether or not your daughter has the intellectual capacity to learn basic skills (that is, if her intelligence is within or above the average range). Let's assume that's the case, since the diagnosis of learning disabilities usually suggests average to above intelligence. There are many types of learning disabilities (for example, problems with understanding or using spoken language or difficulties organizing and remembering information that is seen or heard). For that reason, your daughter's evaluation should have also identified the unique learning strengths and needs that characterize her learning disability. This analysis should have been used to generate specific teaching strategies that match your daughter's learning style. If you're not sure if these things were done, ask the school to show you evidence of each of these components.
If your little girl spent two years in first grade, teachers should have had plenty of time to find out if the techniques they are using are working. If your daughter were receiving medical treatment for some condition, and she wasn't getting better, you would expect the doctors to re-evaluate the treatment and consider changing it. Research suggests that the same reasoning should apply in special education. If your daughter has been exposed to some program of instruction and is not acquiring new skills, then the team must reconvene to determine what's wrong with the intervention. In too many programs, teachers use traditional methods of teaching which are not suited for students with learning disabilities. Or, if kids get extra help, it's simply not enough intervention to make a difference. Research also tells us that it's the intensity of the special help that counts. As is the case with medicine, too little may not help. A "little" special education simply doesn't do it for a lot of children. Make sure that your daughter is getting intensive, consistent help that is based on the analysis of her learning profile. The bottom line is that she should be making progress. Being in neutral is simply not acceptable. Don't settle for it.
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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.