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Tips for Parents Who Suspect Their Child Has a Learning Disability

Blog Type:  Learning Disabilities Date Posted:  Friday, September 14, 2018

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By Ann Andrew

Parents know their children better than anyone else and can usually sense if something isn’t quite right with them physically, emotionally, or academically. If you suspect that your child has a learning disability, then it’s very likely there is one. I know this from experience. As an elementary school student, my oldest son struggled in school, particularly with reading. An intelligent boy, I assumed his difficulties stemmed from some sort of learning disability. He was diagnosed with dyslexia in 2011 (my two other sons were subsequently also diagnosed with dyslexia), and since then I have devoted myself to helping students with language-based learning disabilities (LBLD). LBLDs fall under the broader category of specific learning disabilities (SLD), and dyslexia is the most common SLD, according to the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

"A child who reads for 20 minutes a day is exposed to 1.8 million words a year."

Be Honest With Your Child

Your child knows they’re different. Don't try to hide what you know or suspect from them. A parent who keeps the information from them leaves the child feeling like the parent is ashamed of the child's learning difference. Your child will also benefit from speaking to a professional (neuropsychologist, school psychologist, therapist with a comprehensive understanding of LDs) once—or many times. Children need to have at least a basic understanding of the science behind how we learn to acquire language—read, and write. They need to hear from as many adults as possible that they are not “broken” or “dumb.”

Early Signs of Dyslexia and Other LBLDs

If you struggled to read (or do math or write), it's quite possible that you also have a learning disability that went undiagnosed. Parents with dyslexia have a 40-60 percent chance of having children with dyslexia—a clear early warning sign that your child may have an LBLD. Your hatred of a subject is probably borne from not being taught in a manner that was accessible to your learning style or disability.

Oral (expressive) language deficit: It’s a warning sign if you have a chit-chatting toddler who is making indecipherable sounds and words or seems challenged by learning new words.

Auditory (receptive) language deficit: Ask questions if a doctor has diagnosed your child with ADHD without addressing the possibility of an LBLD or an auditory processing disorder. Children with ADHD have the ability to process language, while children with an LBLD have a weakened ability in this area. Their slower processing of language impedes their capacity to comprehend spoken language. For these children, it is not an “inattention issue.” To complicate matters it's very common to see comorbidity (the presence of more than one distinct condition) of ADHD and dyslexia together.

Executive functioning deficits: Difficulties with attention, organization, and self-regulation are often comorbid with LBLD.

Social skills deficits: Often excused as “developmental delays,” social skills deficits can also be comorbid with learning disabilities. Ask your child’s preschool teacher if they play appropriately in school. Have they progressed from parallel to cooperative play successfully? Are they well liked by their peers or often misunderstood? Observe your child at school and see how other children interact with them in that setting. Children with dyslexia and other LBLDs can present symptoms of depression, anxiety, oppositional behavior, or disengaged behavior, in school and/or at home, which can be effects of being misunderstood or repeatedly asked to do something they do not have the skill yet to accomplish.

Facts vs Myths

Myth: Boys develop slower.
Fact: It’s not scientifically proven that one gender develops faster than the other.

Myth: We should wait and see what happens with our struggling children. “Teacher so-and-so is really good at helping kids who are struggling to read."
Fact: With early, intensive, and evidence-based intervention and instruction, children with dyslexia and other LBLDs can learn to read like their non-dyslexic peers.

Myth: Accommodations or modifications are sufficient for children with LBLDs.
Fact: Dyslexia and other LBLDs can be remediated. The longer you wait to obtain the diagnosis, the harder and more expensive it is to remediate. Accommodations or modifications without a diagnosis will not unlock your child’s potential.

Myth: People with dyslexia will never enjoy reading.
Fact: Many, many individuals with dyslexia love to read and are voracious readers. A child who reads for 20 minutes a day is exposed to 1.8 million words a year. These words help to foster a love of learning, the belief that you can dream big and achieve those goals, and confidence to make a smooth transition to college, employment, and independent living.

Parent To Do List

No two children share the same learning profile, so there’s no one-size-fits-all path to diagnosis and services. Based on my experience, here are my suggestions on how to navigate the special education landscape.

Initial diagnostic evaluations Obtain a full audiological and full vision evaluation (not a screening by the pediatrician or the school) prior to or in conjunction with any evaluation for LBLDs. Note that some advocates suggest that the child has the vision evaluation before any other testing. In addition, neuropsychologists can test for auditory processing issues and recommend a full audiological evaluation if they feel one is necessary.

If you are going to have your school district evaluate the child, be sure to put in writing that you are requesting the audiological evaluation for hearing and auditory processing be conducted by an audiologist, a vision and visual processing evaluation by an ophthalmologist, and a full neuropsychological evaluation by a neuropsychologist. This will give you a stronger opportunity to exercise your right to these types of professionals as independent evaluators if you feel the district fails to provide a comprehensive, accurate, and complete report for all areas of suspected need.

Note that school districts are required to administer a psychoeducational evaluation on request. Some may also perform a neuropsychological evaluation under certain circumstances. In a perfect world, your district would comply with all of your requests. However, few have the resources to provide the extensive testing your child may need.

You can request that the neuropsychologist observe your child over multiple days and in multiple settings (not just school), as well as attend the IEP meetings to present the report, discuss recommendations, and participate in the formulation of the IEP in the consent request. It’s unlikely that practitioners at large hospitals comply with this request, but some in private practice may.

Also, on the consent form for the neuropsychological evaluation or incorporated by reference as an attachment, document in detail all of your areas of concern—no matter how trivial they may seem. For example, a young child who doesn’t regularly turn when their name is called may have a social, hearing, or processing deficit.

From my personal experience, I recommend that your child have a neuropsychological evaluation administered by an independent neuropsychologist. Check with your insurance company to see if they cover these claims. Many will cover some, but not all, of the expense. In my opinion, this ensures that you are getting the full picture of whether or not your child is making progress, if your child has a disability, if so which one(s), how they should be remediated, at what pace you should expect results, etc.

To make sure that the evaluations are perceived as authentic and representative of the child’s entire presentation, urge private evaluators to observe the child outside of the clinical setting, collect input from the district, incorporate and correlate historical data points, provide exacting recommendations to the extent possible, and attend your IEP meeting to present the report, provide assistance during the eligibility determination, and participate in the IEP development.

Annual progress-monitoring evaluations Many schools will not conduct annual progress evaluations unless they are requested. Some evaluators will ask to see the child one year later to follow up. Schedule it on the day of the initial evaluation. Repeat key evaluations annually to cross check progress.

Tips for the IEP Meeting

Parents are the experts at the individualized education plan (IEP) meeting when it comes to their child, but to be credible we need to be aware of the laws, the academic standards, and the methodologies that will be effective for our child. Here are some tips for your IEP meeting.

  • If possible, bring an advocate to your IEP meetings.
  • It’s okay—even valuable—to record meetings.
  • Don’t sign anything except the attendance page.
  • Do not sign that you have received the meeting notes. You are not required to do so in order to obtain a copy. No matter what you write on the notes, your signature will be represented by the district as your agreement with the accuracy and completeness of what was written.
  • Follow up in writing. Keep records of all correspondence.
  • Invite your principal to attend meetings.

Key Components of the IEP For every accommodation on an IEP, there should be a corresponding IEP goal, which is designed to build the skill that is missing and thus replace the need for an accommodation. Accommodations are never a substitute for teaching.

How IEP goals are measured is one of the most critical aspects of an IEP. Without solid forms of measurements that are quantifiable and standardized in nature, any teacher can say a child is "making progress" while the student is instead floundering or even regressing.  

School district's can and do provide one-to-one special education instruction to students outside of school hours—even on weekends—in order to meet the needs of the student whose parents vigorously advocate.

If your child has met all of their goals and is within average range percentile-wise of grade level, then the IEP is working. Just because a child can see when we put glasses on them doesn't mean we can take away the glasses. It means we continue on the same path of intervention we were on to ensure the continued growth.  

The road for parents of children with a learning disability is very rarely smooth. It requires time, persistence, and patience. Your dedication is well worth the effort when you watch your child(ren) transform from struggling students to thriving, enthusiastic learners. Trust your gut and take action.

Related Resources:

About the Author

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Ann Andrew is a parent, educator, and advocate with a passion for helping students with language-based learning disabilities. Cynthia Moore, of Advocate Tip of the Day™, contributed to this blog post.]]>

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Tags:  ADHD auditory processing dyslexia awareness Executive Functioning expressive language IEP individualized education plan language-based learning disability learning differences learning disability neuropsychological evaluation oral language social skills specific learning disability

Writing the College Essay

Blog Type:  College Prep Date Posted:  Tuesday, June 20, 2017 Byline:  By Suzanne Crossman

Read more posts about Navigating the College Admissions Process for Students with Learning Disabilities

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"Summer is a great time for students to begin the essay-writing process, when they aren't juggling academics, extracurriculars, and college applications."

Writing the college essay is a demanding and often overwhelming task for students. Summer is a great time for students to begin the essay-writing process, when they aren't juggling academics, extracurriculars, and college applications. Parents can help guide students through this process by providing some direct instruction.

What is the purpose of the essay?

  • Give students a chance to share their story
  • Allow colleges to get to know a student beyond the numbers of SATs and GPA

If the student has a learning disability should they write about it?

Students are not required to disclose their learning disability in their college application. However, for many students their learning disability is a significant part of their story. If students want to write about their educational journey, support them in this process. Encourage students to focus on what they have learned about themselves and the tools they have gained to help them succeed in the future. Facing and persevering with a learning disability demonstrates a level of resilience that colleges want to see.

What are the parameters of the essay?

The Common Application essay is the most widely used by students. This essay must be at least 350 words but no more than 650. Be sure to look at the Common Application essay prompts. In 2017, an "essay of your choice" has been added so there is flexibility on what a student can write.

How can I help my student get started?

A great activity will to be read some sample essays and critique them.

    • Discuss what works and what does not work.
    • How did the writer introduce the essay?
    • What anecdotes were used?
    • How did the anecdote connect to the theme of the essay?
    • How did the writer show versus tell?
    • What did you learn about the writer?

The following websites offer a variety of sample essays. Each site includes critiques from admissions professionals. Select a few of these to review prior to writing.

Some general suggestions for writing the essay

    • Think about the story you want to share with colleges. You can’t share your entire life story, so narrow your focus.
    • Find an opening that works well.  
    • Include one detailed personal anecdote and connect that to your larger theme.  
    • Be authentic, be honest, be yourself...you don’t have to be perfect!
    • Unlike a formal academic essay, this is one of those times that you can have more flexibility with the structure.
    • Unlike a research paper, you can use “I.”  This is a personal essay.
    • Plan to write at least four drafts of the essay.
    • While length will be important, don’t focus too much on that during the draft phase. Get your ideas down. It is easier to shorten a long essay than to expand a short one!
    • Proofread, proofread, proofread!
    • Once you have proofread your essay, put it aside for a few weeks and then come back to it with fresh eyes. You will see changes you want to make that don’t appear when you look at it every day.
    • This should NOT be a narrative of your résumé. You will have other places to share that information. 

The Process

Step 1: Review the prompts

  • Think about them. Make sure you understand what they are asking. Talk about them.  

Step 2:  Do some free-writing

  • Try writing on several of the prompts and journal your ideas. See what comes to mind. Think about what topics you'd like to write about.

Step 3:  Select the prompt and outline your ideas.   

  • Decide what your theme will be.
  • Think about one specific anecdote/story you can use to highlight your theme.

Step 4: Write a first draft

Step 5: First proof

  • Focus on structure
    • Does your essay respond to the prompt?
    • Is there a clear theme that you communicate?
    • Do you have a strong introduction and conclusion?
    • Do you have appropriate transitions?
    • Do your paragraphs support your theme?
    • Do you have examples?
    • Did you show and not tell?
    • Is the tone appropriate to the setting?

Step 6: Second draft/proof

  • Focus on paragraphs
    • Is there any repetition or extraneous details that need to be eliminated?
    • Are your sentences strong and specific?
    • Do you include detail?

Step 7 Third draft/proof

  • Focus on sentences
    • Is the word choice appropriate?
    • Is the language strong?
    • Do you use a variety of sentences?
    • Are the sentences complete?

Step 8: Final Draft and Proof

  • Focus on grammar, spelling and punctuation
    • Double check word count (no more than 650!)
    • Double check spelling. DO NOT rely solely on spell check
    • Read the essay backwards to check sentence structure


​About the Author:

Suzanne Crossman

​ Suzanne Crossman is head of the Guidance Department at Landmark School.

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Identifying Students with Dyslexia

Blog Type:  Learning Disabilities Date Posted:  Friday, July 12, 2019

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By Donell Pons

When my son was in second grade, it became apparent he was not going to read without serious intervention.  His speech was not delayed, but he was completely unaware of rhyme, the sound-to-letter relationship eluded him, and almost every characteristic of letter formation was challenging, from lower to upper case, left to right, and top to bottom.  Although I was aware of my husband’s struggle with reading, despite being very bright, and the subsequent struggle my daughter had learning to read, I was still unaware of the heritable component of dyslexia. Had I been informed, I would have had my son screened for dyslexia and insisted he receive reading instruction following the guidelines of Structured Literacy

Unfortunately, I didn’t know, so we stumbled into intervention after years of struggling and too late to spare my son from the tremendous anxiety that comes with struggling to read despite being plenty bright. In fact, it’s the plenty bright part that makes dyslexia so painful. My son, husband, and daughter were all painfully aware that learning to read was much harder than it should have been and that knowledge made everything in school far more difficult. Thankfully, through the efforts of many researchers, psychologists, educators, and parents, there has been an increasing move to screen for dyslexia and provide appropriate instruction.  

Once I knew what I was looking for, I could see the signs of dyslexia running throughout my family.  When I cautiously questioned my husband about his reading, he revealed that, when he was in school, it took him more than six hours a night to complete his homework. He often misspelled the months of the year and struggled with certain days of the week. He had to practice his home address. He would often blaze past construction signs and public signs, appearing to disregard the information when, in truth, he couldn’t read it quickly enough to process what it meant.

When observant parents know what to look for in regard to dyslexia, then they can begin to see a pattern of behavior that distinguishes dyslexia from other reading challenges.

One in five students has a learning disability, the most common of which is dyslexia. Now that all but four states (legislation is pending in many states) have finally adopted dyslexia as its own category of special needs, more districts are taking action to identify and accommodate students with dyslexia. There are so many ways parents can recognize the telltale signs of dyslexia, and it can make all the difference for those affected. If remediation is conducted early and appropriately, students who show signs of dyslexia are likely to learn to read just like their non-dyslexic peers. When observant parents know what to look for in regard to dyslexia, then they can begin to see a pattern of behavior that distinguishes dyslexia from other reading challenges.

Characteristics of Dyslexia

Many researchers now agree that struggling word-level readers share some characteristics such as poor phonemic awareness (PA) and below-average rapid automatized naming (RAN). Phonemic awareness refers to the ability to manipulate sounds in spoken words, and RAN is the amount of time needed to name known stimuli including digits, letters, and colors.

Sally Shaywitz at the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, author of the highly regarded book Overcoming Dyslexia, has a comprehensive list of recommendations for parents and educators, including being observant of early language development focusing on rhyming, word finding, and pronunciation. She also counsels parents to be attentive to print-to-language skills like naming individual letters. Shaywitz also recommends examining family history, which can be a strong indicator.

Both of my children with dyslexia were verbal in childhood, with no obvious signs of language challenges, until I started introducing the alphabet with letter-to-sound correspondence. As soon as I would introduce a letter with its sound, my children with dyslexia would forget it. My otherwise very quick children were absolutely struggling with the basic connection between written letters and their corresponding sounds.

Common Experiences in the Classroom

In the classroom, students with dyslexia will continue well past elementary school to misspell common words, such as the days of the week or months of the year. They often have anxiety about being in the classroom because of the numerous tasks involving reading and writing. Writing assignments may go unfinished, even when the student seems engaged in the topic. Penmanship may be sloppy, not because of an underlying handwriting issue, but to disguise poor spelling. Often, the student will randomly capitalize words or letters within words because not only are the rules of spelling and grammar elusive but also because discriminating between the letter formations is still unclear.

My son with dyslexia will often accept a lower grade rather than ask for much-needed help to finish a writing assignment. He is capable of completing any writing assignment with speech-to-text or a scribe. If those aren’t available, he won’t even attempt to finish the assignment. Writing takes so much effort with a language-based learning disability like dyslexia that it’s essential, even after reading remediation, to provide accommodations for students with dyslexia. The truly sad part is my son has so much to say on many topics, but he’d rather remain silent than struggle to spell the more complex words associated with his higher understanding.  

What to Do if You Suspect Your Child Has Dyslexia

If you suspect your child has dyslexia, you can immediately request the student be evaluated under the Child Find mandate found within the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The wording of Child Find is clear: “Schools are required to locate, identify, and evaluate all children with disabilities from birth through age 22.” Identifying students who need services is an important first step. Child Find covers home-schooled students as well as those in private schools. This means that a student under 22 years of age who has not been identified still qualifies for identification even if the student is “advancing grade to grade.” For more comprehensive information regarding Child Find, search Wrightslaw.com or Understood.org.  

If a child is struggling enough with reading that a parent is asking the school for help, then that parent and child deserve consideration.  The alternative is to ignore a plea for help that doesn’t simply go away but escalates into larger issues, such as truancy and disengagement, leading to higher dropout rates.

I often hear school personnel express concern that every parent thinks their child has dyslexia followed by every parent will ask to have their child tested.  These statements puzzle me. If a child is struggling enough with reading that a parent is asking the school for help, then that parent and child deserve consideration.  The alternative is to ignore a plea for help that doesn’t simply go away but escalates into larger issues, such as truancy and disengagement, leading to higher dropout rates.  So what’s wrong with listening to a concerned parent and walking through a quick screening to see if dyslexia could be present? My husband should have been identified as dyslexic numerous times, as he was clearly underperforming given his potential. Basically, it’s never acceptable to see a student unable to read or write at grade level without any known intervention or support and say nothing.

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About the Author

Donell Pons

Donell Pons is a reading and dyslexia specialist in Salt Lake City, Utah. Pons started her career in education when her youngest son was diagnosed with dyslexia. She has a master’s degree in education and teaching from Westminster College, along with a certification in special education. Connect with her at dbpons@gmail.com.





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Academic Support Services at the College Level for Students with Learning Disabilities

Blog Type:  College Prep Date Posted:  Friday, June 29, 2018

Read more posts about Navigating the College Admissions Process for Students with Learning Disabilities

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Most colleges have a support service office to help students with learning disabilities access the resources they need to succeed. The services are outlined below.

Level of Support


Basic Accommodations and Services

  • Provides accommodations as required under ADA and Section 504.
  • Students must disclose and provide documentation.
  • Accommodations may include:
    • Extended time on tests
    • Note takers
    • Priority registration
    • Assistive technology
    • Reduced course load
  • Access to writing center provided for all students.

Coordinated Services

  • Provides all accommodations as required by law.
  • Students must disclose and provide documentation.
  • Specialized instruction in study skills and organizational skills may be available.
  • Might offer some content tutorial support with a upperclassman or graduate student.
  • Often have a learning center with professional with specific experience teaching students with LD.

Intensive Support Services and Support Programs

  • Students must apply to specific support program as well as to the college (coordinated admissions).
  • Specific support sessions are built into the student’s schedule.
  • May have an summer program to facilitate the transition to college.
  • Students pay tuition for classes and for participate in the program.
  • Program has specific staff specializing in LBLD.

Check out Landmark School’s Transition and Guidance page to learn more about the transition to college and other post-secondary options.

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Navigating the College Admissions Process for Students with Learning Disabilities

Blog Type:  College Prep Date Posted:  Friday, June 22, 2018

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Applying to college can be a stressful, time-consuming journey for students and their families that requires travel, hours of research and essay writing, gathering transcripts, recommendations, and other documentation, and filling out forms and applications—lots of them. Students with learning disabilities (LD) face the added challenge of finding a school that accommodates their needs with appropriate services and supports and fulfills other criteria, such as location, academic programs, and size.

This series offers information on what services are available on campuses for students with LD and how to access them, tips on writing the college essay and interviewing, printable worksheets to organize the schools students are considering, and information about testing.

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