Author of the new parents’ guide to the IQ test and gifted education: everything you need to know to make the right decisions for your child.
When some parents think of high achievers or gifted students, what comes to mind is a child who shines in all aspects of life – a child who can be expected to achieve A’s through l’s. school, have tons of friends and be a sports star. . The idea is that if you are smart you are smart and you should be able to apply your wit and talents to almost anything and do well. The problem is, this idea just isn’t true. Yes, some kids and adults seem to know and have it all, but that’s really more the exception than the rule.
And when it comes to academic ability, most kids, even those who are very bright or very successful, have a defined set of strengths and weaknesses. We all do. Think about your own school experiences. Were there any lessons or topics that were easier for you – where you felt most comfortable and in your element? How do you learn best? Are you someone who needs to read something to understand it, or do you remember information better when hearing a lecture, or seeing a picture or visual presentation? What about your child – does he or she go through certain topics quickly and struggle with others?
Some variation in abilities, including those that make it possible to do well in school, is normal – a fact that is consistent with many current views on human intelligence. In other words, intelligence should be seen as a group of distinct abilities, rather than as an aggregate or general factor that filters into everything we do. A child may be very good at art and reading, but not at math or athletics. Another child may be really creative in their way of seeing the world or their approach to problem solving, but they have a hard time putting their ideas on paper. In other words, intelligence is not a “thing” we can point to, and just because you are good at one area doesn’t mean you will do as well in others.
For most of us, these differences are not important. We go through school and life working a little harder on things that don’t come so easily, or we learn to compensate for our weaknesses by using our strengths. If we have a hard time understanding the information we read, we can use pictures or diagrams to help us learn, or we visualize the material in our mind. If our memories are weak, we might learn to take detailed notes, study more often, or develop other strategies to help us remember information. We learn, often unconsciously, to adapt.
For some children, however, the differences in their abilities are so great that it is difficult, if not impossible, for them to do well in school simply by working harder or compensating. These children have a real learning disability – a persistent and obvious block when it comes to learning certain types of material. For some, the problem may be reading, for others math. Still others may have difficulty with written or spoken language. They are otherwise capable children who, although they have had great teachers, help around the house, and lots of learning opportunities, still don’t seem to ‘get it’.
What are the causes of learning disabilities?
No one can say for sure, but many experts believe that learning disabilities are the result of a neurological difference in the way the brain processes information. These differences may have to do with the number, arrangement, and efficiency of neurons or neural connections in specific locations of the brain associated with the skills needed for reading, math, or any other task the child has difficulty with. .
In some cases, there may be an identifiable cause for such brain problems, such as a seizure disorder, birth trauma, or head trauma. However, in most cases there is no obvious explanation. It may be that the neurological irregularity was caused by an undetected event during pregnancy, childbirth or infancy, when the rapidly developing brain is particularly susceptible to injury due to lack of oxygen or the presence of toxins. Alternatively, some learning disabilities may simply be the result of a genetically inherited difference in how the brain processes information – a “trait” with which the child is born. I have heard many parents of these children say, “I was like that when I was in school”.
What to look for
Some signs that your child may have a learning disability are:
o He seems to be doing his best, but still struggles in one or more areas despite having a qualified teacher and support from you at home.
o It shows a big difference in performance between subjects – for example, still good in reading and writing, but poor in math.
o There are obvious signs of problems with cognitive abilities such as attention, memory, comprehension or use of language, or following instructions, and these problems appear to be hampering academic success.
o He spills letters and numbers much more often than others his age, or has trouble recognizing words he has seen repeatedly.
o He forgets what he has learned overnight.
o His teachers worry about his lack of progress compared to other children of the same age or level, or feel that he is working below his capacity.
What you can do
If your child is having difficulty in school and is showing one or more of these signs, it is time to call a one-on-one meeting with the teacher to discuss your concerns. Often parents and teachers can find solutions together without having to look any further. Changing homework, extra tutoring, or changing skill groups in the classroom are common solutions.
If you have already tried the accommodations suggested by your child’s teacher without success, take the next step and request a Student Study Team (SST) meeting (sometimes referred to as a Student Study Team meeting. student intervention (SIT), a school level intervention team (GLIT)), a brainstorming meeting or a similar term). Schools typically hold these meetings when classroom-level interventions are not working and there is a need to get other opinions on how best to support a child.
The student study team is often made up of the child’s general education teacher, other experienced teachers from the school, the principal, and sometimes a special education teacher or school psychologist. The team will listen to your concerns, discuss your child’s strengths and weaknesses, and make recommendations that can be implemented by the general education teacher. These recommendations may include additional services during or after school, a change in the way your child is grouped for instruction, or enrolling in a structured remedial program designed to help your child catch up on skills that are lacking. .
The types of remedial programs available to general education students vary from district to district and often from school to school. Some schools have a general education learning specialist or special programs and materials available for students who need additional support. And some allow general education students to receive informal or “academic” support from special education teachers on campus. In these programs, general education students who need additional help are grouped together with special education students officially identified for education in areas where support is needed. Teaching can take place in the general education classroom, or children can be withdrawn once or more times a week to be taught in a special “resource” room.
If your child is still not doing well despite the best efforts of the teacher and the school team, and you or your child’s teacher still believe that a learning disability may be present, consider request tests for formal special education services.
By law, schools have a number of days after receiving a parent’s written request for testing to respond to the assessment plan, outlining the types of tests that will be used. The type of tests chosen will likely be determined by a review of your child’s records, observations, teacher comments, and the information you provide.
If your child is being tested, be sure to tell the school psychologist what you think is the underlying problem. For example, if your child is showing signs of a memory problem or a short attention span, talk about it now. The psychologist can only perform tests in areas where a deficit is suspected, and your insight will help identify where this problem lies. Once the assessment plan is signed and received by the school district, the assessment team (which usually includes a school psychologist, a special education teacher, and sometimes other specialists depending on the child’s needs) of a limited time – usually about two months – complete the test and arrange a meeting with the parent to review the results and determine if the child is eligible for special education services.
Sidebar material: “Is my child dyslexic?” This is a question frequently asked by teachers and school psychologists. Dyslexia is an oft-used term that many parents associate with a reading disorder caused by a visual perception problem in which a child turns upside down.However, for many educators, the term dyslexia has come to mean simply a disorder of learning in the field of reading. Likewise, dysgraphia means a learning disability in the field of writing and dyscalculia means a learning disability in These learning disabilities can be caused by a problem with visual perception, but they can also be caused by deficits in other areas such as attention or memory.
Sidebar Material: Special education law is often complex, and there are differences in how individual states and districts manage their programs. Special education terminology and acronyms may also vary from district to district. If your child is tested, you should receive a copy of any applicable special education laws and parental rights pertaining to your condition in a language you can understand. Look carefully at this information and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Your most basic right is that you participate in any decision made regarding your child’s education. You are seen as an important member of the school team, not just an observer. The assessment team needs your input to conduct a thorough assessment and be a better advocate for your child. For a more comprehensive review of special education legislation and services in your state, go to your state Department of Education website and follow the links to the area dealing with special education – or search the web using the search terms “special education law” and the name of your state.