When your child struggles in school, it can be difficult for you as a parent to understand why. Are they having trouble paying attention? Are they missing important skills? Do they just need more sleep?
It's also possible that your child has a learning disability. Learning disabilities can affect how your child reads (dyslexia), writes (dysgraphia), or does math (dyscalculia). About 15 percent of children in the United States have a diagnosed learning disability.
Signs of a learning disability
Signs of a learning disability can include:
- Trouble reading
- Trouble writing
- Trouble with math
- Attention issues
- Inconsistent school performance
- Poor coordination
- Behavior problems at school
These signs can also be symptoms of other problems, such as Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Only a trained professional, such as a developmental pediatrician or pediatric neuropsychologist, can diagnose a learning disability and help you find the care your child needs.
Evaluating learning disabilities
A teacher may be the first person to point out signs of a possible learning disability in your child.
"Teachers are a good source of information," says Alice Ann Holland, Ph.D., ABPP, a board-certified clinical neuropsychologist, Research Director of the Neuropsychology Service at Children's Health℠ and Assistant Professor at UT Southwestern. "Teachers work with a lot of different children and thus have a bigger sample for comparison than most parents, which can help teachers more easily recognize what is not normal."
At the same time, Dr. Holland says it is important to recognize that most teachers are not formally trained in diagnosing learning disabilities, so don't panic if your child's teacher suggests a diagnosis. Although there may indeed be an issue, it may be caused by something else entirely.
"If a child is having trouble at school, you need to understand what the cause is," Dr. Holland says. "An evaluation can really pinpoint that and rule out other possibilities, so that intervention can be targeted to the correct underlying cause. Intervention will only be effective if you're targeting the right problem, and that requires the right diagnosis."
Accommodations for students with learning disabilities
A comprehensive psychological or neuropsychological evaluation will provide a personalized learning plan for your child if they need one. This plan may include different teaching techniques, assistive technology or individualized study techniques. You can use your child's learning plan to work with the school to make accommodations or modifications to your child's education to help him/her succeed.
By identifying learning disabilities early, you can equip your child with the tools they need for school before they get too far behind. Early identification and intervention can also help make school less frustrating for your child, improving their behavior and helping them feel more comfortable and self-confident at school over the long term. With appropriate intervention, many children with learning disabilities become high achievers in school and develop strategies to minimize the effects of their disability.
To have your child evaluated for a learning disability, call Psychological Services at Children's Health.
Stay current on the health insights that make a difference to your children. Sign up for the Children's Health newsletter and have more tips sent directly to your inbox.