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Sixth-Grader Can't Read or Write
Q: I have a 12-year-old son (sixth grade) who is unable to read and can only write in a cryptic phonic-type style.
After years of testing and counseling, we have been advised he has an auditory processing problem. Or as they tell me, "He hears, but the brain can't catch the sounds correctly." HELP! The school district can't (won't) assist. They say he just has a low I.Q. and that we should learn to accept that.
Outside testing shows he has a high I.Q. and is able to converse with adults very easily. Can he be taught to overcome this the way deaf students are taught? If so, who can I contact? Thank you.
A: First of all, you need to resolve the issue of your son's I.Q. If the school has him cast as a "not-so-smart" kid, they are likely to behave toward him (even if it's subconsciously) in that way. Classic research studies have demonstrated over and over again that kids do better when their teachers are told the student is gifted; the opposite is true as well. I suggest that you have the outside evaluator and the in-school evaluator sit down and iron out their differences.
Cognitive limitations (i.e., as measured by a valid I.Q. and other tests) could certainly (but not always) result in academic difficulties. However, if your child is bright and he's still having difficulty with reading and writing, an underlying auditory processing problem may be at fault. It used to be thought that dyslexia was a reading problem caused by letter reversals and other visual problems. It is now recognized that dyslexia is a type of learning disability that is caused by problems in understanding and using language. Poor phonemic awareness (the inability to tell the difference between similarly sounding letters or matching a letter with its sound) is at the root of most reading problems.
A specific kind of auditory processing problem known as Central Auditory Processing Deficit could also be the cause of your son's difficulties. You should request an evaluation by an audiologist, the professional trained in the assessment of this condition.
Finally, the school district is not allowed "not to respond." If they think they've done their job and you feel your son needs more help, then you should ask for a meeting attended by a representative from the State Department of Special Education. This is your right under the Federal Special Education Laws. Ask the Director of Special Education to set up the meeting at the school. If they don't act on your request, then call the Department of Education yourself.
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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.