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Does My Child Have a Learning Disability?

Special needs mom, Clinical and School Psychologist
07/16/20  12:28 PM PST
learning disability

Now that I’ve been homeschooling during COVID-19, does my child have a learning disability?

Now that you’ve been teaching your child at home, you are most likely very familiar with your child’s learning profile as well as strengths and weaknesses. You know which assignments are going to create a meltdown, a tug of war, procrastination, and which assignments your child will be more than willing to complete and may even do so independently.

Recently, several parents have reached out to me as they are now realizing that their child is struggling academically, and they are uncertain if this is due to a learning disability, ADHD or anxiety. Which leads to the next question – Does my child need a support plan, such as a 504 Accommodation Plan or Individualized Education Plan (IEP)?

I Saw the Signs

My Kindergartner…

  • Is still struggling to identify letters, lower case and capital
  • Is still struggling to recognize, consistently, the sounds that letters make
  • Is struggling to identify numbers
  • Has limited ability to identify rhyming words and sounds
  • Has very limited sight word vocabulary
  • Is avoiding writing tasks
  • Has a short attention span
  • Is struggling to sit still long enough to finish work
  • Is impulsive
  • Is having difficulty following 2 step directions

My 1st Grader…

  • Masters sight words during on session but then forgets them
  • Sight word vocabulary is smaller than expected
  • Isn’t reading at grade level, based on Fontis and Pinell reading levels
  • Is avoiding writing tasks
  • Is struggling to identify smaller and larger numbers
  • Has a short attention span
  • Is struggling to sit still long enough to finish work
  • Is impulsive
  • Has a hard time remembering; poor memory
  • Has a difficult time breaking down and solving word problems
  • Has difficulty following 2-3 step directions
  • Is becoming tearful or is having meltdowns when it’s time to complete schoolwork

My Second Grader…

  • Is still reversing letters and numbers
  • Doesn’t understand what he has read
  • Is still struggling to read fluently
  • Doesn’t break down words and sound them out
  • Has a short attention span
  • Is impulsive
  • Has a hard time remembering; poor memory
  • Is struggling to sit still long enough to finish work
  • Is becoming tearful or is having meltdowns when it’s time to complete schoolwork
  • Has difficulty following 2-3 step instructions

My 3rd and Up Grader…

  • Is struggling to organize his thoughts and write them down
  • Has handwriting that is still large, letters are poorly formed, and writing is labored
  • Puts in minimal effort into writing tasks
  • Doesn’t break down words and sound them out
  • Has a short attention span
  • Is impulsive
  • Has a hard time remembering; poor memory
  • Struggling to sit still long enough to finish work
  • Is becoming tearful or is having meltdowns when it’s time to complete school work
  • Has difficulty following 2-3 step instructions

The Assessment

A psycho-educational assessment will help to answer your question by giving you the data that you need.  Specifically, this consists of an IQ test that gives a full-scale IQ as well as a breakdown of skills in 4 areas:

  • Working Memory
  • Visual Spatial
  • Fluid Reasoning
  • Processing Speed

The Full-Scale IQ is then compared to the index scores from the achievement or academic testing. This evaluation looks at all the following areas:

  • Reading fluency
  • Reading comprehension
  • Written expression
  • Math fluency
  • Math skills
  • Oral expression
  • Spelling

If there is a significant discrepancy between the full-scale IQ and one of the academic areas listed above, your child may have a learning disability. 

FAQ

1. How Does ADHD Impact My Child Academically?

Often times, a child’s struggles with attention impact his ability to access the educational material presented. That is, wavering attention means that a child is missing instruction, which means that your child may not have had the exposure to the content. By providing the support your child needs in school, your child will then be able focus her attention to the lesson.

2. How Does Anxiety Impact My Child Academically?

I have worked with many children whose anxiety around school and learning has been so high that they either struggle to get to school or stay in school. And anxiety does not know an age – I’ve seen this with children ranging from elementary school to college. Anxiety can sometimes look like ADHD because our children are preoccupied with their thoughts about the safety of themselves or others, their ability to complete their work accurately, worry about being called on, or worry about social interactions, etc. Our children with anxiety are then not available for academic instruction. They may spend their time in the nurse’s office due to stomachaches, headaches or fatigue.  Having the necessary emotional and academic supports in school can make the difference for a child who is anxious in their willingness and ability to attend school and complete assignments.

Note: Often times, there is a mix between a learning disability, ADHD and anxiety. It’s up to your evaluation team to make sure that all aspects of your child’s abilities and areas of functioning are assessed in an effort to understand how they impact your child as a whole.

3. How do I Begin?

Consult with a psychologist or educational specialist who can evaluate your child with a psycho-educational assessment. This will give you a learning profile and diagnosis (if one exists) that can offer you data in deciding if your child needs a support plan in school.

 

Dr. Liz Matheis

 

Dr. Liz Matheis is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and certified School Psychologist who specializes in working with children with ADHD, Anxiety, Autism, Learning Disabilities, and behavioral struggles. She is also mom to three children, one with special needs. Her practice, Psychological and Education Consulting, is located in Livingston, New Jersey.

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