Does your child have a learning disability? Help is on the way

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Gale Kingsley, a psychological specialist with Ohio's special education regional support team, thinks the most potent descriptor of a possible SLD is "unexpected underachievement."

"These students are some of the hardest workers in the classroom," said Sarah Sandrock, a first grade teacher at Big Walnut Local Schools who also has tutored learning disabled students in Columbus. "I think of a little boy I had in class this year who was a great reader and was wonderful at writing and communicating, but he really struggled with math concepts," she said. "That's your red flag. People often don't realize that anyone, even gifted students, can have a learning disability."

According to data provided by the Ohio Department of Education (ODE), roughly 15 percent of current school-aged children across the state have a disability; students identified as having a specific learning disability make up almost half that group.

  • Problems with communication
  • Problems with reading, writing or math
  • Difficulty paying attention (not to be confused with ADHD)
  • Low grades/test scores despite good preparation
  • Inability to remember skills or tasks
  • Low self-esteem, easily frustrated or other disciplinary problems
www.ncld.org

"It's only when we've exhausted all those suggestions, all those interventions, and we still don't see progress that we look at a possible disability," Sandrock explained.

Dr. Alex Dubin is a pediatrician at the Columbus Center for Behavior & Learning. He recommends a child's school start the evaluation ball rolling with a form that initiates testing. Dubin and other pediatricians furnish reports and medical evaluations or consult with school psychologists.

School psychologist Vicki Glaizer is often responsible for determining whether a child qualifies for services. She does so by fitting together many pieces of a "puzzle" of evaluations, from testing to observations, in which she's "looking for a thread that's present throughout ... that impacts negatively on one or more academic achievement areas."

When your child is identified as having a learning disability, you become a member of the Individualized Education Program (IEP) team. You will work with school staff and specialists to choose an appropriate program to meet your child's needs, and then continue to meet, Kingsley said, for reviews and re-evaluations.

"The parent knows the child best and is therefore the most important member of that team," Sandrock said. She urges parents to see themselves as advocates for their child, learn about the laws and processes, and seek out other parents who have been through it "to keep your own frustration level down."

"That's where a parent mentor can be such a help," MacKenzie said. Parents of students with disabilities who serve as parent mentors are available to most school districts. "They can help you with the ins and outs of special education, point you to groups and resources, and most importantly, understand the feelings you have about it," she said.

Dubin agreed that students typically improve once an individualized plan is being carried out. "Most can catch up; some kids will test out," Dubin said. "The good news is that they will improve over the years with a normalized educational experience." He added that some families may find private tutoring helpful as well. He said parents can find qualified tutors through their child's school or even at local libraries.

Kim Garee is a freelance journalist and artist. She lives in central Ohio with her husband, a public school teacher, and their three young children.

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Resources

What to do when your child is identified as having a learning disability.

A quick trip on any Internet search engine will bring up plenty of informational sites about learning disabilities, but here are a few recommended by our experts to further help you gather information about specific learning disabilities and show you how to partner with your child's school to plan for success.

  • www.nrcld.org This is the National Resource Center for Learning Disability's website. Click on the Parent's Page for information about specific disorders and easy-to-understand explanations about the often confusing terms and acronyms associated with special education programming.
  • www.ocecd.orgThe Ohio Coalition for the Education of Children with Disabilities, a parent's advocate group, has packed this site with helpful information.
  • www.ode.state.oh.us/ The Ohio Department of Education is responsible for overseeing all local public and private schools in Ohio. ODE administers funding for federally-funded educational programs. From this site and from www.ocecd.org, you can download a helpful pamphlet called Whose IDEA Is This? Ohio's Guide to Special Education.
  • www.rti4success.org RTI stands for "responsiveness to intervention" and refers to a school staff's initial response for students who aren't "responsive" to the instruction before the student experiences failure for an extended period of time.
  • www.chadd.org CHADD stands for Children and Adults with Attention Deficity/Hyperactivity Disorder. CHADD is a national non-profit organization providing education, advocacy and support for individuals with AD/HD.
  • http://www.ldonline.org/article/A_Student%27s_Guide_to_the_IEP/5944 A student's guide for the Individualized Education Plan (IEP).
  • www.ncld.or/stateofld Download a free comprehensive checklist called Learning Disorder Checklist of Signs and Symptoms by the National Center for Learning Disorders. Also, get a free copy of the NCLD report called The State of Learning Disabilities 2009, which reports on the status of children and adults with LD in America.

Is your child struggling but not identified as LD?

"There are some kids who will never be identified as having a learning disability, but will still always struggle academically," said Charla MacKenzie, director of pupil personnel services for Southwest Licking Local Schools. "Those students may always need extra help."

Gale Kingsley, a psychological specialist for central Ohio's region of state support for special education, recommends the following book and website for the parents of students who have difficulty but have not been diagnosed with a learning disability: