by Leigh Morrison
As a speech-language pathologist and homeschool parent for over twenty years, I have had the privilege of working with families in both academic and home settings. One question parents often ask is, “Why does my child struggle so much with schoolwork? He is such a smart kid!” Sometimes the smart child struggles academically because of a learning disability. Learning disability, called Specific Learning Disorder in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), is a broad term encompassing a variety of difficulties that involve storing, processing, and/or retrieving information.
Children with learning disabilities typically have average or higher IQs, which can make the signs subtle and hard to recognize. In fact, the National Center for Learning Disabilities in its 2017 release of The State of Learning Disabilities: Understanding the 1 in 5, estimated that at least one in five children in the US have a learning disability, “but too often are misunderstood as lazy or unintelligent.” A child who struggles with processing language or auditory input, reading, writing, understanding numbers, interpreting nonverbal communication, or completing visual perceptual tasks may have an underlying learning disability.
So what are the warning signs that your child may be a struggling learner? The comprehensive list is long, and specific difficulties can vary widely among children, but here are some of the more common struggles you may observe in your child that warrant further evaluation:
- Easily distracted (may also include the inability to return to a task after a distraction, or difficulty maintaining focus on important information on a page that is cluttered with pictures or sidebars)
- Difficulty discriminating among letters, numbers, letter sounds (phonemes), or other sounds
- Trouble coordinating physical movements (“clumsy”)
- Problems with organizing information or sequencing the steps necessary to complete a task (may also include difficulty organizing and managing personal belongings)
- Poor handwriting, often without regard to spatial constraints or lines
- Difficulty remembering basic math facts or telling time
- Poor reading skills—decoding and/or comprehension
- Trouble remembering information or following directions.
Additional related signals:
- Limited progress in a practiced skill over at least a three- to six-month period
- Avoidance of situations or tasks (may even trigger distress in the child)
- Incomplete work or frequent need for assistance to complete familiar routines
- Lack of success learning with conventional teaching approaches (feels like you have “tried everything”)
- Social awkwardness
- Impulsiveness or “acting out”
- Inconsistent performance on same or similar tasks from day to day or week to week.
Steps To Reaching An Accurate Diagnosis
- Ask others you trust for observations. Make sure these are people who know your child well and will give honest feedback, not just reassurances.
- Keep a journal. This doesn’t have to be a detailed narrative. Lists, sentences of
thoughts, and examples are sufficient. Date entries for a record of changes over time. Seeing short-term, isolated events can put your mind at ease; trends in behavior may require evaluation. Keep journaling to document concerns and progress along the way.
- Visit your child’s physician. Take your journal, and provide specific examples that reflect your concerns. Ask for a developmental screening, including vision and hearing. Use information from your journal and physician’s screening to narrow down the type of evaluation your child may need.
- Weigh options for obtaining an evaluation:
- Private clinic or hospital: Verify coverage with your insurance carrier.
- Local universities: These institutions may offer a variety of services at lower cost or a sliding scale fee as part of their student training programs.
- Homeschool support group: Network for referrals. Perhaps a homeschooling parent in your area who provides the specialty you need reduces fees or barters services with homeschool families.
- School district: Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), educational agencies are required to complete an initial evaluation, even for homeschoolers, if the parent requests one. Keep in mind that interacting with the school district sometimes creates a difficult situation for parents following the evaluation, but it is an option some families choose.
- State agencies: States vary in funding and services. Contact your local health department or public health agency as a first step in identifying available programs.
Teaching a child who struggles can be challenging for both parent and child. Assistance is available to help you understand your child’s needs and get support or additional services.
Support and Services
- DianneCraft.org: homeschool-friendly consultations, evaluations, and services
- HSLDA.org (Home School Legal Defense Association): legal information about homeschooling special needs/struggling learners; parent-friendly resources
- LDAAmerica.org (Learning Disabilities Association of America): advocacy; resources and articles for parents and educators; information for adults with LD
- NATHHAN.com (National Challenged Homeschoolers Association Network): vast library of articles; support groups by state
- Understood.org: parent-friendly articles; enlightening “Through Your Child’s Eyes” simulation tool
About Leigh Ann
Leigh Ann Morrison, M.A., CCC-SLP is a licensed speech-language pathologist in Ohio. She also completes homeschool portfolio assessments, mentors homeschool parents, and works on staff with The Old Schoolhouse® and SchoolhouseTeachers.com. Leigh and her husband, Chris, have three children, homeschooled since birth. Two are graduated and pursuing God’s plans for their adult lives. Leigh recently launched www.developliteracy.com as a place to provide tips for fostering literacy skills in children and expand her developmentally based literacy resources for homeschool families.
Copyright 2019, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms. Read The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com, or download the free reader apps at www.TOSApps.com for mobile devices. Read the STORY of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine and how it came to be.