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LD or Slow Learner?
Q: My daughter has been tested and we found out she is a slow learner. She is now in fourth grade going into fifth. My fear is that she will keep falling behind in school. Her problem is reading and higher level thinking. If you have any suggestions PLEASE write me back and let me know. The principal at her school has basically told me to give up -- she will never be an "A" student. It is not my nature to give up, but I do not know where to turn to. Thank you.
A: If someone at the school told you your daughter was a "slow learner," ask them to tell you what this means. Although this term was used quite often 15 to 20 years ago to describe children with low average to slightly below average intelligence and potential, it is not an official diagnostic category. Are they telling you that she is not intelligent enough to learn at or near grade level? You have the right to see the results of her testing. If the numbers and their explanations don't make sense to you, ask a psychologist outside the school system to take a look at the results and give you his or her opinion. You can find a psychologist who specializes in children with learning problems by asking your child's pediatrician or by calling the Board of Registration of Psychologists in your state's capital.
Some children do learn on a more concrete level and will always find abstract learning more difficult. However, you want to be sure that your daughter doesn't have an undiagnosed learning disability that is getting in the way of her learning. Did the LD specialist in the school test her? What were those findings? If they say she has no LD, then asked them how they ruled out this diagnosis? While it's true that some children may struggle in school because they lack the skills necessary to handle higher level thinking, it's important to know if and how anybody has tried to teach your daughter how to do these higher level tasks. If she's just been passed from grade to grade with no effort to provide her with a special educational program, then the school has some catching up to do. If your daughter hasn't done well with higher order thinking despite the best efforts of the school, then it may be time to generate some very specific objectives for her. Ask her teachers to pick two or three specific goals (such as: learning how to find the main idea of a fourth or fifth grade passage, or reading a story to find out who the main characters are and what they did, etc.). Ask the school to focus on these specific goals and tell you what kind of strategies they are using to help your daughter improve in these areas. Review her progress monthly. Ask the school to explain how the techniques they are using are matched to your daughter's learning style. Even if she has limited cognitive abilities, she should be learning in a way that matches her learning style.
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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.