Should I be Concerned?

Recognizing learning disabilities.

It’s thrilling to hear your children’s first utterances of speech, see their first steps and watch them interact with others. As you enjoy your children’s growth and watch them approach different milestones, you should monitor children’s progression of skills. Is your child developmentally progressing in all social, emotional and academic areas? Can you recognize if your child has a learning disability?

When a child attends school, educators and parents should continuously examine a child’s development and identify any inconsistencies in learning. If a child exhibits difficulty in acquiring skills after being exposed repeatedly to the same information, this becomes a concern.

Children may occasionally experience some sort of learning difficulty, but this doesn’t mean that they have a learning disability. A learning disability is a complex neurological disorder that affects a child’s ability to receive, process, store and respond to information. Learning disabilities can also occur with other disorders. By definition, a learning disability is a broad term. It covers a variety of areas such as understanding language and expressing oneself through language, potentially involving writing, reading, math and social skills. Learning disabilities can also include symptoms of inattentiveness, impulsivity and hyperactivity.

Being a mother of two children and an elementary school teacher certified in reading, I continuously strive to identify learning disabilities. I take in as much information as I can from parents, the school psychologist, the speech pathologist and other service providers to correctly help identify any difficulties students may demonstrate.

Try not to overanalyze your child’s deficiencies. Posing questions and getting as much information as you can will help you address your child’s needs. “It is important for parents to strike a balance between being a helicopter parent and overlooking a child’s needs,” says school psychologist Dr. Katie Devine. “If you have a concern, you should check it out because the earlier a child gets appropriate help the better they will feel about themselves and the more successful they will be.” Stay focused on your child’s needs and follow up to make sure that your child’s requirements are met.

How can you as a parent recognize symptoms of a learning disability?

  • As you watch your child develop throughout the years, notice if there are any large discrepancies between the development of academic skills. With young children, make sure the child is exposed to letters, letter sounds and numbers. If your child is consistently exposed to the same information repeatedly without retaining the information, and you observe the child having difficulties, inform your child’s teacher.
  • When your child speaks, is he or she omitting initial consonants or final consonant sounds? This can be a sign of a learning disability, as can be difficulty articulating words, trouble rhyming, issues segmenting words into syllables and difficulty understanding directions. Some children with learning disabilities may also have difficulty understanding “why” questions, retelling a story or sequencing events.
  • Analyze your child’s social and emotional skills. Watch how your child interacts with other people. Can your child problem solve, cope with situations and build friendships appropriately without your intervention?
  • Notice if your child has problems organizing, planning or memorizing information independently. This could indicate your child may have difficulty with executive functions.
  • Listen to your child. If your child comes to you and tells you about certain difficulties he or she faces in school, such as not being able to concentrate, finding that reading materials are too difficult, being unable to sit still for long periods of time, feeling disorganized, not understanding work, then write down the problems to discuss with a teacher and potentially a specialist.
  • If someone in your family has a learning disability and you notice that your child is exhibiting the same tendencies, there could be a genetic link. Learning disabilities tend to run in families.

What should a parent do if he or she suspects a learning disability?

  • Collect information and monitor your child’s developmental progression. Take detailed notes of observations to present an accurate picture.
  • Discuss the difficulties observed and your concerns with your child’s educators and pediatrician.
  • Request to have your child screened or evaluated through your child’s public school.
  • Go to the school to collect information from the school’s psychologist, speech pathologist and other service providers. Like many experts, speech pathologist Tammy Neumann says, “If you suspect your child has a learning disability, early intervention is key to their academic success.”
  • Use this article as a guideline to help advocate for your child’s success. Parental involvement is immeasurable when it comes to your child’s future.