Parents know their children in a more profound way than anybody else. They have had years living with, observing, reacting to, understanding, and responding to their children. They have learned under what conditions their children cooperate or resist, initiate or follow, interact or withdraw, and when they are most eager to communicate.
As a parent, you are the best person to advocate for your child in making these patterns of behaviour known to your child’s teacher. It is especially important so that the teacher can work with your child’s particular behaviour and learning pattern rather than against it.
An advocate is a person who effectively speaks up for, acts on behalf of, or supports someone else.
As a parent advocate, you will find others, such as teachers and physicians, who can support you in advocating for your child. Consider these professionals your allies. They can use their influence to assist you in receiving needed services and programs for your child. For example, a family doctor could write a letter to the school board describing the magnitude of your child’s anxiety concerning his language immersion program to speed up a placement in a program where he will be taught in his first language.
Despite the professional help you will seek along your advocacy journey, you are your child’s full-time advocate — the one with the file, so to speak, on ways to help him succeed socially and at school.
Be aware that not all the professionals you consult will appreciate this closeness. Some professionals may take the view that parents are too emotionally involved to be objective. However, it may be your very connectedness that helps you understand that your child is different from his peers and that spurs you to take action to get him help.
As his trusted confidante, you know what really worries him and how complex his problems really are. Likely you are the person who knows how much school failure terrifies him. He has probably asked you, ‘What’s wrong with my brain?’
The classroom teacher is the single most important person affecting your child’s education. The teacher has tremendous influence on your child’s happiness at school and is the person that spends one-on-one time with your child on a daily basis. It is extremely important for parents and teachers to work together to provide a good school experience for each child.
Most teachers welcome the involvement of parents and want to hear your ideas. In fact, many teachers report that they are more motivated to teach a child whose parents are actively involved than one whose parents never seem to care. If the teacher resists involvement, you need to put into practice, constructive communication. Praise the teacher for the good things going on and keep the lines of communication open by writing notes, making classroom visits, attending conferences, etc. Remember, you have the right to be involved, but exercise that right in a constructive way.
Communication needs to be on a regular, on-going basis, not once or twice a year. Some of the following pointers may help:
Parents need to know how and where to get appropriate information; then they need to communicate this information convincingly to the appropriate helping source. For example, a parent who is told that his child is behaving immaturely in his grade three class needs to visit the class on a couple of occasions for first-hand knowledge of the problem and its seriousness.
Maybe a trip to the family doctor is in order or a conversation with another adult who works with the child in the community (e.g., the cub leader). If the parent knows that the immature behaviour stems from the fact that a sibling has been in hospital, it’s best to let the teacher know so the child can get the support he needs during this stressful period. If a child is avoiding specific tasks at school (e.g., reading aloud in front of a group), the parent should understand that there must be a good reason.
A teacher lacking pertinent information about a child’s behaviour patterns, has little choice but to assume the same expectations for all students. A predictable outcome: resistance, anger, resistance, and more anger, soon add up to behaviour problems, lack of cooperation, decreased learning. Ongoing parent-teacher contact can help prevent this situation from occurring. As the child gains in academic and social competence and self-esteem, he will be more able to adjust to classroom demands, and even change his behaviour patterns in the process.
However, left unattended, even simple behavioural situations can grow out of control disproportionally, until specialists must be called in to try to peel away the layers of confusion. By this time, the child has lost precious learning time and has deepened his negative self image because of ‘his failure.’
Once a teacher understands and can put to use the information provided by the parent, the teacher in turn, can begin to provide the needed support. A child who is receptive to learning, happily reveals to his teacher the most effective way of learning.
This valuable information, the child’s learning style, can help the parent and teacher to understand and deal with a child who, for example, ‘never remembers what the teacher tells him’. This child is a visual learner, and might need to have visual cues in order to remember. A note on the chalk board could be all that is needed for Johnny to remember to bring his money tomorrow for the play. Another child might rely heavily on his auditory sense and need to hear information to remember it. Still another child may need to hear and see the information simultaneously as well as repeat it aloud. These unique learning styles are academic behaviour patterns that teachers understand and can translate for parents into strategies that they can use with their children at home as well. This information exchange between parent and teacher builds trust that leads to even better communication.
To be an effective advocate, you should:
Self-advocacy refers to an individual’s ability to effectively communicate, convey, negotiate or assert his or her own interests, desires, needs and rights. It involves making informed decisions and taking responsibility for those decisions.
Children whose parents have been active advocates for them know that they have supportive cheerleaders at home. They experience advocacy as part of everyday life.
Children who hear their parents speaking positively about them feel valued (e.g., John has a real bent for electrical engineering; not – John never reads a book, he just wastes his time repairing old radios). Feeling valued gives the child the confidence to speak up for himself so that he can get the help he needs (e.g., I’m finding it really hard to learn the order of the provinces). Sometimes a child will come up with his own coping strategies because he’s so aware of his own difficulties (e.g., I made up a game to remember the names of the provinces by calling each one the name of a famous baseball player).
Research has shown that as children enter high school they are often unprepared to communicate their learning needs to others. Teenagers want to fit in with their peers. However, the adolescent who has been involved in his parents’ advocacy efforts in elementary school or junior high will quite likely see it as normal behaviour to ask for help with a problem subject or express his fear of exams. A child who knows he has short-term auditory memory problems can explain to the soccer coach that it’s best to write the plays down on paper so that he can see them more clearly.
Parents can enhance their own advocacy skills by working with the child on ways to communicate best with the teacher (e.g., Do you feel comfortable telling Mrs. Smith the book report was too difficult or would she appreciate a note from me?). It can be a relief to know that there are accommodations available at school, such as calculators, computers, spell checkers and extra time on tests. Parents may advocate for the use of these tools, but it is the child who will use them and determine what works best in a variety of situations.
Teachers, students and parents must work together and agree on appropriate accommodations.
When effective parent-teacher communication takes place, the child benefits and learns, the teacher teaches more effectively and the parents can more appropriately parent.
(Adapted from: Advocating For your Child with Learning Disabilities, LDAC, (1998). Ottawa, Ontario, Canada and Exceptional Children’s Assistance Center NewsLine)
** For ease of reading, references to the male child with a learning disability is used throughout the text, even though we know that learning disabilities affect both genders. Any characteristics, descriptions or suggestions referring to ‘he’ or ‘him’ may be equally applied to the female person.**
Most early childhood educators believe that it is through play and social interactions that young children begin to develop their self-concept. Play also provides an opportunity for children to learn new skills and add to their knowledge. The ultimate goal of most day care centres is to ensure that children grow and learn at their own level of development.
The early years are essential in a young child’s development. By the time a child enters kindergarten, five years of education have transpired. The importance of the preschool years in the learning continuum is accentuated by the fact that “some experts believe a child’s intellectual development is as great from birth to age four as it is from four to 18. This means that by age four, half of a child’s intelligence has already been formed” (World Books, 1987).
The kindergarten readiness skills described in this article are best taught in an early childhood setting where children do not have to adhere to a rigid schedule and where they can learn through play. It must be remembered that every child has his/her own learning clock. Hence, how do young children learn?
Caregivers and parents can develop kindergarten readiness skills without turning their centres or homes into formal classrooms and without turning themselves into academic teachers. This article will focus on examples of activities that help ensure children are ready to learn when they begin school.
Skills in this category include the basic differentiation of big and small, related size concepts, and matching predicated on size. Examples of activities to enhance readiness in this area include: neighbourhood or centre walks — have the children walk around the neighbourhood or child care centre looking for objects they can compare in size (e.g. trees); size boxes — provide a large and small empty box with two of several objects, one big and one small, then have the children sort the objects into the appropriate box; and block building — ask children to construct a house using various sizes of blocks (World Books, 1987).
Activities to develop colour and shape awareness include: colour walks — walk around the centre or neighbourhood and find as many things of a certain colour as possible; colour touch — ask the child to find and touch certain objects (e.g. the red bean bag chair); clothespin sticker match — stick dots of various colours around the outside of a plastic cup, colour the clothespins to match the dots and have the children clip the clothespins to the appropriate dots; shape recognition — have the children locate variously shaped objects (e.g. a rectangular table); and felt shapes — cut out pieces of felt in different forms, such as triangles, circles and squares, and have the children name the shapes as they place them on a flannel board (World Book, 1987; Charmer, 1993; Wilmes, 1984).
The groups of skills included in these two categories are counting, matching objects one-to-one and quantity. Examples of activities to promote math readiness include: counting from one to 10 — in the bottom of each pocket of an empty egg carton, place different quantities of items such as buttons or beans and ask the child to count how many are in each pocket; “What Time Is It Mr./Mrs. Lion” — have the children ask Mr./Mrs. Lion what time it is. If the lion says it’s three o’clock, the children take three steps forward, but if the lion says it’s dinner time then he/she chases the children back to a predetermined line; one-to-one matching — have the children set the lunch table by placing a fork, cup, plate and napkin at each seat; math cooking — activities such as making popsicles (using fruit drinks and popsicle sticks), help children develop skills in number awareness, counting and measuring; “Five Little Ducks” song — use colourful pieces of felt to make five little ducks, including a mother and father, and act out the song on a flannel board; and matched cards — make a set of numbered cards and a set of object cards and then match each numbered card with an object card (World Books, 1987; Stravos, 1987; Inderbaum, 1985).
The group of skills contributing to a successful start in reading awareness include: basic vocabulary, verbal expression, awareness of letters, sentence sense, story comprehension and storytelling. Activities that contribute to emergent literacy skills include:
“Simon Says” and the “Hokey Pokey” game;
storytelling — find magazine pictures that show children engaged in interesting activities and encourage the children to discuss what is happening;
writing centres — give children daily opportunities to write by making pencils, pens, markers, paper and other writing materials readily available; the foot path – – to emphasize the reading readiness foundation skill of directions, such as left and right, draw child-sized footprints from bristol board, colour code the prints (e.g. yellow for left and blue for right) and place the prints in a pattern the children can follow;
greeting cards — help the children make greeting cards for special occasions;
magnetic or wooden alphabet letters — have children use magnetic or wooden letters to spell words;
regular visits to the library; junk mail sorting — collect junk mail and have the children sort through it;
reading games — make a game of finding letters hidden in the kitchen on soup cans, cereal boxes, etc.; and
making up riddles — for example, “I rhyme with cool. You can swim in me. What am I?”.
The group of skills needing consideration in this category include word meanings, relative positions, left-to-right and top-middle-bottom progression, and descriptive language, including opposites (World Book, 1987). Examples of activities that contribute to the enhancement of these skills include: “Simon Says” — use this game to have children follow simple directions, such as front/back, under/over; understanding descriptive words — for (e.g. hot/cold, fast/slow) — have the children cut out and sort magazine pictures of animals according to fast and slow; marking time — provide each child with a ruled construction paper attendance chart and have them mark the squares in a left-to-right order for each day of attendance (this process helps children internalize left-to-right progressions); “Worm Through the Apple” game — have the children stand close together in a line with feet apart and let one child be the worm who wiggles through the spaces between the legs (World Book, 1987; Schiller, 1990; Inderbaum, 1985).
Caregivers and parents can help young children understand the concept of time by teaching them the time of day, time of year and birthdays. Activities that contribute to time awareness include: illustrating the concept of day and night — have the children browse through magazines with pictures of both daytime and nighttime activities and help them find clues that indicate the time of day (e.g. people eating breakfast); matching seasonal items – – cut out various patterns for each season (e.g. mittens for winter, flowers for spring, trees for summer and leaves for fall) and have the children match the patterns with the season of the year; creating a birthday calendar — the children’s birthdays can be indicated on a large calendar and celebrated when they occur (World Book, 1987; Charmer, 1993).
Teachers rank understanding of the spoken word as the number one skill area in which parents should help their children prepare for kindergarten. Skills in this category should include sound recognition, story recall and paying attention. Examples of activities that enhance listening and sequencing skills include: listening walks — have the children listen to both quiet and loud sounds, help them identify the different sounds, and see if they can remember any of the sounds when they return from their walk; retelling simple stories in sequence — read a familiar story to the children and ask them: what happened first? what happened next? and what happened last?; following directions — play the game “Simon Says”; and recognizing rhyming sounds — introduce rhyming sounds through rhymes and stories, for example The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss (World Book, 1987; Eberts, 1991).
Motor skills can be classified under large-muscle or gross motor activities that include skills such as jumping, hopping and throwing a ball, and small-muscle or fine motor activities skills such as colouring, cutting, drawing, buttoning and zipping. Activities to enhance a child’s motor skill development could include the following: animal imitation — have the children imitate various animals by jumping like a frog or hopping like a rabbit; kicking and running — turn the children loose in an open area to play; follow the leader — have the children dance like a ballerina, waddle like a duck, or walk a straight line like a tightrope walker; riding a broomstick horse — a broom with a bag over the top can be the transportation for a cowboy or cowgirl; shadow tag — on a sunny day in the playground have the children try to step on the shadows of other children; buttoning and zipping — attach the following items to a sturdy board: a sneaker with laces, a zipper from a pair of pants, a belt with a buckle, and a row of buttons and buttonholes from a shirt; dressing up — in the dramatic play centre, or at home, provide the children with plenty of adult wardrobe clothing so they can practice learning how to dress; and cutting — with safety scissors, allow a child ample opportunities for cutting.
Skills to be developed in this category are: self-help, knowing one’s full name and address, the ability to work independently and cooperation. Activities that contribute to social-emotional development include: helping with centre or family chores — give children special jobs, for example setting the table or putting away the toys, and praise them afterwards; cooperative games — such as parachute play; “Sharing my Sandwich” — ask children and guide them on how they would solve the problem of dividing a sandwich amongst three people; and leader and follower games — encourage children to play games such as “Farmer in the Dell” and “Mother, May I”.
By the time a child enters a kindergarten classroom, he/she should be able to take an active part in conversations with the teacher and classmates. Activities to help young children develop speaking skills include: answering questions — parents and caregivers can stimulate a child’s conversational skills by asking open-ended questions; direction games — have children run an obstacle course; sequencing events — following a visit to an interesting place, such as the fire station, have the child create a story by describing the experience; and starting a scrapbook — have children make a scrapbook of recent events.
Caregivers and parents play an important role in preparing children for kindergarten success. Formal teaching is not the way to develop kindergarten readiness skills. Centres that promote a variety of interesting hands-on activities that help a child develop socially, emotionally, physically and intellectually through a child-centred curriculum, do much to prepare preschoolers for a kindergarten classroom. Remember, “Whether at a preschool or at home, the best education for young children occurs in a warm and caring environment that provides them with a variety of new experiences”.
One of the hard things about being parents is the uncertainty about whether or not a child’s development is normal. Here are some guidelines to help understand young children’s developmental milestones — times to expect certain skills. The most important thing to remember is that there is a wide range for what is normal.
In fact, when you consider any skill — be it tying shoe laces, speaking clearly or riding a two-wheel bike — the age at which most children can master it can vary by as much as four years. Some children can tie a bow at three and some not ’til seven and it’s still normal — just a different pattern of development.
Please keep this in mind as you read this Fact Sheet. These are merely guidelines. What follows are ages at which most children, not all children, learn certain kinds of skills.
By two, children begin to put words together. They might use two-word phrases, such as “More milk,” “See Kitty,” “Bye Daddy.”
Over the next few years, they learn more words. They speak in longer sentences. Their speech becomes easy to understand. By the time they are ready to go to school, most of the baby talk is gone. They can say nursery rhymes, sing songs and quote lines from TV commercials.
Pre-schoolers love to move about.
By two, they are running and climbing. They can go up and down two or three steps without holding on.
By three, they can balance on one foot for a second. Most children are learning to put on and take off some of their clothes, do up zippers and button buttons, if the holes are not too small. They can thread large beads on a shoe lace.
By four, they can hop on one foot, go down stairs without putting two feet on each step. They manage all of the playground equipment, go up and down the slide, swing on the swings and climb the jungle gym.
By five, most children can throw and catch a large ball. They can skip across a room. It’s easy to tell if they are right or left handed. Mainly, they prefer one hand for holding a pencil or using a spoon. They can hold a pencil or crayon well and like to draw pictures. Most like to play with blocks and do puzzles.
The pre-school years are full of learning. Children are curious, notice everything and have amazing memories. They learn all about the world around them.
By two or three, they know where things are kept. They know what things belong to them and to other members of the family. They know by name some neighbours and regular visitors to the home.
By three or four, they can answer basic questions about some of the things they did that day. They can tell what they had for breakfast and explain how to make toast.
By five, they know colours. They can tell if it is morning or afternoon. They can name things according to familiar categories. For example, they can name some fruits, vegetables, animals or kinds of musical instruments. They know when their favourite television program comes on and what programs come before and after.
By two, most children enjoy looking at picture books. They like to point to the pictures of the things they know. From that time on, they love for adults to read stories and poems out loud. Most pre-schoolers like hearing some stories read over and over again. They like to say some of the words in stories or poems they know.
Some three- and four-year-olds can recite the ABCs or sing the ABC song. Some recognize and can name some of the letters.
By five, most children use their eyes well to recognize shapes. They can name shapes, such as circle, square and triangle. They can play some simple card games. They can follow the story in a comic where the pictures tell the story. They can follow a story on television, though they may not understand all the details or know whether or not what they see is real.
Many five-year-olds can recognize trademarks, logos, cereal packages and makes of cars.
When they go to school, most six- and seven-year-olds catch on to reading fairly quickly. They start to recognize words and learn some of the sounds of the letters.
Two- and three-year-olds may be able to tell you how old they are, using number words correctly. They can recite or join in on some counting rhymes, such as “one-two, buckle my shoe”. They notice that two cookies are different from three cookies and will choose the plate with more. They try to count but often use number words in the wrong order: one, two, six.
By three or four, they can say the number words in order from one to 10. They can count correctly a small group of objects — maybe two or three.
Not until five are most children able to count larger groups (up to 10) without mistakes. They understand the meaning of words about quantity, such as more, less, bigger, smaller, altogether. They use words that describe relationships, such as beside, above and inside. They use words that have to do with time: before, after, yesterday, tomorrow, morning, afternoon.
At six and seven, when children begin school and learn to add and subtract, they are able to use their fingers or other counters to help them.
If your child seems to have a slower pattern of development in one or more areas, do not panic! Slower development may just be a family pattern. There really are late bloomers. This may be something to talk over with your family doctor, who will take a closer look at your child and tell you if there is cause for concern and also what you might do about it.
You may be advised to encourage or awaken abilities that are lagging slightly. For example, if your child seems late to talk, you could try talking more to your child and reading stories with greater frequency to encourage his or her use of language. If your child has trouble using a pencil, you can encourage play activities that use eye-hand coordination, such as stringing beads or doing puzzles.
Some children need to move, but you should encourage listening just the same. Read for shorter periods — perhaps just a few minutes at a time. Try reading to her for a couple of minutes while she’s in the bathtub. Tell stories as you go for a walk or while pushing her in the swing.
The teacher might be, but you should check it out. Talk it over with the principal and your family doctor. Be sure to mention that your child is not as happy as he used to be. Ask to have him assessed by a psychologist, a special education teacher or a very experienced elementary school teacher. If he has an identified reading problem, see that he gets some special teaching as soon as possible.
It’s possible. The important thing is to try some other ways of teaching. Try the following:
To count accurately, you have to be careful to match each number with an item to be counted. Parents can model this over and over: count objects, moving each object as it is counted; count the child’s fingers and toes, touching each one as it is counted; count steps when going up or down, counting each one when the right foot lands on it. Some children remember many facts easily. Others need to see, hear and say them many, many times. There are card games, Bingo-like games, board games and dice games that get the players thinking about and figuring out addition and subtraction. There are audio tapes, too, that have number facts in songs or raps. These appeal to some children who are happy to listen to them over and over again.
Children who don’t really seem to “get” what arithmetic is all about may be helped by specially designed mathematical materials, such as blocks or coloured rods, that help them see — without counting — what an addition or a subtraction example stands for. If math really seems to be a special weakness for your child, talk with the teacher and the principal. Ask to have her assessed, so that they can plan the best way to teach her.
Pre-schoolers have highs and lows. Along with their sweetness, love of play and affection for mummy and daddy, they can be restless, aggressive and stubborn. They say “no” long before and much more often than they say “yes.” They have a strong sense of their own possessions. They are slow to share. They cry loudly and express great grief over the tiniest disappointment. They can have tantrums in public places. Gradually, they become less frantic in their reactions. It is difficult to give milestones for emotional development. Much depends on the temperament they are born with. Some are naturally even-tempered and adaptable.
Some are especially sensitive and easily upset by sounds, smells or the feel of their clothes. Others are upset by changes in routine.
School and social situations may be too demanding for him. Hitting may be his way of handling frustration. Some children really need to be more active than is normally allowed in school. Some children can’t cope with too much stimulation at one time. If there are too many children around, too much noise or too many things to look at, they feel uncomfortable. Some children can only play with one other child for a short period of time before they need time to themselves. They need a watchful adult to judge when it’s time for a snack break or time to end the play session.
If your child is having trouble with the rules at school or trouble making or keeping friends, you need to get some advice. If your child is restless and impulsive, you’ll want to explore whether or not he might have an attention deficit disorder. The pediatrician or family doctor can help find out about that and tell you what to do.
If problems with attention are ruled out, you’ll want to make sure that he is not upset about something at home or school. Is the child coping with change (divorce, new home, new sibling) or with abuse? Does he get enough of your time? Is he overtired because of bus schedules, day-care routines or not enough sleep? Is he watching too much television, especially violent programs? (What is an OK amount for one child may be too much for another.) Are they doing activities in kindergarten for which he isn’t quite ready? Does he have a particularly hard time with other activities that require sitting still?
It may be that he has to get some help in learning how to play with other children, how to take turns, how to share and how to cooperate. Perhaps you and his teacher can work together to begin to teach these skills, one step at a time.
Once you are certain that a formal assessment or testing is required (and hopefully the school is in agreement on this), persevere in getting this done as soon as possible. No new supports can be put in place at school until your child has been identified as having a learning disability. Record the dates of the request, when the anticipated assessment will take place and the names of any people you speak with in some provinces/territories.
Likely you will experience a wide range of emotions as you begin the process of having your child assessed or tested in order to develop his academic and/or psychological profile. For example, some parents report feeling relieved that at long last their child is “in the system”, others say they are fearful of the results of the assessment and the impact an assessment will have on their family. What if the assessment shows that their child has one or more learning disabilities? What if he is in the wrong program? What if the tests show he has psychological problems? What do these outcomes say about me as a parent and how will I handle the diagnosis?
There are three purposes of an assessment:
As you enter the assessment process, be encouraged that all three of these purposes are working for your child, not against him. The assessment should provide answers as to why the child is experiencing difficulties and what can be done to help.
In some instances, teachers use classroom observations and academic records to informally assess or screen children who they feel may have learning disabilities because of the discrepancies in academic performance or social difficulties. The screening process is not the same as a formal assessment; it acts as an indicator of how well the child is performing compared to others in his class. Depending on the outcome, the teacher may approach other staff members to discuss the results. You may be invited to a parent-teacher interview to discuss the findings of the screening and there may even be a formal assessment done as a result of this informal process.
Depending on the province/territory or the size of the school, special educational services may be provided to your child without having a formal assessment done. In this case, it is important for you to request that the school recognize in writing that the child requires special education services. The school should also identify programs and services that they will be offering the child. Whether done informally or formally, the assessment is the basis for developing special programming and services to help the child succeed.
The Ministry of Education in each province and territory has its own rules on who can conduct a formal assessment. Generally, only a qualified registered psychologist or Psychological Associates can conduct a formal psychological and educational assessment. The assessment process may be instigated by a parent or on the recommendations of school staff. In most jurisdictions, an assessment cannot take place without the consent of the parent.
If the school is suggesting a formal assessment is necessary, this is in many ways the most desirable way to get the assessment that you need, because it is a school service and you should not have to pay extra for it. However, with a school-initiated assessment the parents have no input in selecting the assessor and the waiting list may be very long. If, for whatever reason, you cannot have the assessment made within the school system, you will then need to go to a Registered Psychologist in a private practice to have the tests administered.
If you take the private assessment option, you need to find out answers to the following questions:
To find a psychologist who is experienced in educational testing and who specializes in learning disabilities in children, contact the College of Psychologists or Association of Registered Psychologists in the province or territory where you live. You can also contact your provincial/territorial Learning Disabilities Association for their recommendation. Finally, check the web under “Psychologists” in your area and look for someone who specifically offers psycho-educational testing, or services to children and adolescents. You may have to travel outside of town where you live. If you have the assessment done privately, you will probably find that with psychologist’s fees and travel costs considerable expense is involved. However, it is very important for your child’s future to have the test done and to have them done properly; this is not a place to cut corners.
As your child’s advocate, it is important to learn as much as you can about the assessment process before it begins. It is also important for your child to be as comfortable as possible with this process. The assessment is usually conducted over several days as it can be tiring for the child and should be conducted in the child’s first language, in a setting that he finds comfortable. (If they are conducted at school, he may not feel quite so nervous.)
The assessment will likely include:
To conduct a psycho-educational assessment of an individual, a registered psychologist must administer a whole battery of tests. The aim of these tests is to discover three things: the child’s learning aptitude, level of achievement, and ability to process information.
Learning aptitude is commonly called “IQ”. The tests will establish the overall ability to learn, and will also indicate how this individual learns best: by reading, by hearing information, or perhaps by handling actual objects.
Achievement tests discover what the individual has actually learned so far in school subjects such as reading, spelling, arithmetic, and general knowledge.
Information processing: the results of the aptitude and achievements tests may lead the psychologist to administer further tests, such as test of visual or auditory perception, or tests of long or short-term memory, which reveal the strengths and weaknesses in the way this child processes the information received through the senses.
In your role as advocate, you will have to work hard at normalizing the assessment process for your child. You may be anxious, but it’s important to convey to the child that you feel this is a key step on the journey of learning about himself and how he learns. Some children are so afraid of failing the assessment that they will go to great lengths to avoid the process. They need assurance that they can’t fail the assessment because they are special tests to find out why he’s struggling so much with school work. Most assessors are aware of how hard the children have to work during the testing process; some even write notes home to tell parents that they should be proud of their child’s efforts that day.
When the tests are complete, the psychologist will draw up a complete and detailed report. This report will describe the child’s learning achievements and abilities, state definitively whether or not there is a learning disability, and if so, what it is and what effects it produces. It will also make recommendations as to how the child might achieve greater success in learning. The psychologist should discuss the report and its recommendations with the child and the parents, to make sure that the whole situation is thoroughly understood.
Most parents will be unfamiliar with the terms being used to describe the test results and may find themselves sitting in stunned silence as the explanations are given. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself tuning out the psychologist and focusing on the first piece of unexpected news you receive. Its one thing to think you’re prepared for the test results, but it’s quite another to listen to a stranger calmly reporting your child’s raw data to you.
Children with learning disabilities usually have huge peaks and valleys in their performance scores and unfortunately the valleys are often in school-related activities, such as reading comprehension or numerical sequencing. A nine-year-old with a learning disability may show IQ levels in the gifted range while reading and math scores show three grade levels below his age group.
Try not to be intimidated by the jargon. Ask for explanations if things aren’t clear to you. The assessment findings should be explained in everyday language, using specific examples that you understand. Ask for the names and phone numbers of all the participants from the assessment feedback session. This will be useful for your file and for follow-up questions.
Go home and discuss the oral report with family members or friends. You are well within your rights to ask for another feedback session so that you can clarify any concerns and become comfortable with the results. In the quiet of your own home, note in your file how you felt about the verbal feedback session and your impressions of the assessor and the results.
The assessment findings will be given to you in a written report. Sometimes the report is a couple of weeks in coming to you. Follow up on any promises that were made about the delivery of the written report. The written report should include a detailed analysis of your child’s strengths and needs. There should be specific recommendations and an action plan with ways the parent and teacher can help the child.
The assessment may not answer all your concerns or questions about your child’s learning disability. Many parents are disappointed that the assessment doesn’t provide clear cut solutions to the child’s every problem area. It may not even provide a diagnosis of each area of difficulty. The evaluator may refer your child to other professionals for additional testing, such as an audiologist for auditory processing difficulties. If Attention Deficit Disorder is diagnosed, you may be referred to a pediatrician or other professionals specializing in the field of ADD/ADHD.
Parents need to be willing to accept the outcomes and recommendations of the assessment as new beginnings for action. Be open to all suggestions and options for educational programming. If you disagree with the recommendations or outcomes, voice your disagreement firmly yet tactfully, so as not to alienate those who have participated. The assessment process is the first in a long journey to building on your child’s strengths and you need as much help as you can get. You may not agree with the findings, but they are information from a supposedly credible source. Consider these findings a baseline for future testing; in a few years time, when you consider options for placement at junior high or high school, you will likely have another assessment done.
Now it’s time to start finding out what the recommendations really mean for your child. For example, what is a special education class or withdrawal help twice a week? By law, appropriate services must be provided to your child. Policies, guidelines, definitions of programs and services for children with learning disabilities are different in each province and territory. Visit your Ministry of Education website or your local school board for their guidelines and policies on special education services. Ask your school principal to help you understand what they mean for your child. Also contact your local Learning Disabilities Association chapter in your area.
If you are looking for help, here are some of the sorts of professionals you may meet, and what they do.
Advocates – An advocate can help you navigate the various educational and medical systems you may need to access in order to get what you need in school. These can be a distinct profession, or an aspect of the services offered by our local chapters.
Audiologist – measures hearing ability and provides services for auditory training; offers advice on hearing aids.
Coaches – Recent years have seen the growth of another kind of helping professional – the Coach. Coaches are not therapists, but rather help with the realization of goals, whether personal, career or academic.
Counsellors – There are many different kinds of counsellors, from guidance counsellors and youth counsellors in schools to mental heath counsellors and career counsellors. Their roles include informing, advising and problem-solving around a specific area of concern. The help they provide is usually more of a practical nature than psychotherapy.
Educational Consultant – gives education evaluations, familiar with school curriculum but may have a background in special education issues.
Educational (Teacher’s) Assistants – EAs work with students under the direction of a special education teacher, either in a special education class or in a regular classroom.
Educational Therapist – develops and runs programs for learning and behavior problems.
Learning Disabilities Specialist – a teacher with specific training and credentials to provide educational services to students with learning disabilities and their teachers.
Neurologist – looks for possible damage to brain functions (medical doctor).
Occupational Therapist – can do assessments and treatment of motor and sensory functions motor skills, including handwriting. Some OTs have expertise with nonverbal LDs.
Pediatrician – provides medical services to infants, children, and adolescents, trained in overall growth and development including motor, sensory, and behavioral development (medical doctor). Medical aspects of treatment for ADHD are often provided by one of these health professionals.
Psychiatrist – diagnoses and treats severe behavioral and emotional problems and may prescribe medications (medical doctor).
Principals – It is the responsibility of the school principal to make sure an IEP is developed and delivered. The principal can initiate the IPRC process, on request of the parent or after consulting the parent. The principal deals with school discipline issues and can make the final decision on grade retention or promotion.
Psychologists/Psychological Associates – Psychology professionals do psychological assessments, consult to teachers on teaching approaches and accommodations, and provide counselling to students.
School/Educational Psychologist – gives and interprets psychological and educational tests; assists with behaviour management, provides counseling; consults with parents, staff, and community agencies about educational issues.
Speech and Language Therapist – helps children with speech problems and language processing difficulties.
Special Education/Resource Teachers – Teachers with special education training may teach special education classes, teach small groups of students on a withdrawal basis, and/or consult to regular classroom teachers. In high school, they help coordinate the accommodations provided by subject teachers.
Teachers – Classroom teachers will likely be the first professionals to notice a student’s learning issues. They can offer accommodations to students in terms of how lessons are taught and tests are administered, and teach students strategies they can use to compensate for weaknesses. Teachers may raise a student’s learning difficulties with other school professionals, request various forms of help, and begin the IEP and IPRC processes.
Therapists – These can include counsellors of all sorts as well as psychological therapists, art therapists and others. A therapist will generally help with the psychological/emotional aspects of LDs and ADHD, which can often have great impact on self-esteem and mood.
As a parent, if you have concerns about your child’s development you should seek help. You should collect information about your child’s performance and meet with the child’s day-care providers, nannies, and baby-sitters to discuss these concerns. Ask them to observe your child’s ability and development in those areas of concern. Gather the information and contact your family physician or pediatrician.
The pediatrician is usually the first person to consult about a young child. Because developing a standard of what is normal and what is not takes experience with many babies and children, parents of young children are wise to have a pediatrician, or family doctor whom they can turn to. Such health-care professionals recognize normal development, and they are experienced in suggesting management at different stages of growth.
If a student is having unusual difficulty in school the parent should discuss the situation with the teacher and school principal. Most schools work with families in reviewing and solving problems that affect school performance before beginning a formal process of referral for special education and related services. Problem-solving activities or strategies used by the regular education teacher to address the child’s difficulty may consist of changes in the physical environment, changes in instructional approaches, short-term remedial activities, peer tutoring, or behavioral management plans.
As an educator, you may find that 10% of the students in your class have various types of learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, dyscalcula, auditory or visual processing difficulties or dysgraphia. You may notice that these students do not participate or they may withdraw or even act out in class, because they do not know how to read, spell or express themselves in oral or written language or have visual spatial difficulties. Many regular teaching techniques often do not work for them.
Parenting a child with learning disabilities is quite a challenge — Learn about every day strategies and tips you can use with your child, in several areas of life, including home, play, homework and in daily routines that can help with their dyslexia and other learning disabilities.
Dealing with social and emotional challenges is part of every day, but it can be particularly challenging for any individual with learning disabilities (LD). Learning disabilities can affect many skills including listening, thinking, speaking, reading, writing, mathematics and reasoning – skills that individuals must use every day to fulfill their roles as students, family members, employees and citizens. Learning disabilities may occur with, and be complicated by problems in social skills. Children with learning disabilities grow up to become adults with learning disabilities.
The consequences of their learning disabilities, however, changes. While the setting shifts from school to work and community, the implications are equally significant. The child with learning disabilities may rely on family and school for support. The adult with learning disability often struggles to find a support system and this puts many at increased risk of mental health problems. If not supported, these may lead to more severe mental illnesses.
As a consequence of struggling day in and day out at school, many individuals with LD perceive themselves as less competent. Professionals need to recognize the logical consequence of increased feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, lower self-esteem and lack of assertive skills that arise as the result of living day in and day out with a learning disability. In particular for adults who were inadequately or not identified and even less likely to have been treated.
is the most frequent emotional symptom reported by individuals with learning disabilities. Individual with LDs become fearful because of their constant frustration and confusion in school. These feelings are exacerbated by the inconsistencies of learning disabilities. Because they cannot anticipate failure, entering new situations provokes extreme levels of anxiety.
Anxiety causes human beings to avoid whatever frightens them. The individual with LD is no exception. However, many teachers, parents and spouse misinterpret this avoidance behavior as laziness. In fact, the individual with LD’s hesitancy to participate in activities such as homework or work related activities is related more to anxiety and confusion than to apathy.
Many of the problems caused by learning disabilities occur out of frustration with school or social situations. Researchers have frequently observed that frustration produces anger. This can be clearly seen in many individual with LDs.
The obvious target of the individual with LD’s anger would be schools and teachers. However, it is also common for the individual with LD to vent his anger on his parents. Mothers are particularly likely to feel the individual with LD’s wrath. Often, the child sits on his anger during school to the point of being extremely passive. However, once he is in the safe environment of home, these very powerful feelings erupt and are often directed toward the mother. Ironically, it is the child’s trust of the mother that allows him to vent his anger. However, this becomes very frustrating and confusing to the parent who is desperately trying to help her child.
This anger is particularly evident in adolescents. By its very nature, learning disabilities causes children to become more dependent on the adults in their environment. They need extra tutoring and help with their homework.
As youngsters reach adolescence, society expects them to become independent. The tension between the expectation of independence and the child’s learned dependence causes great internal conflicts. The adolescent individual with LD uses his anger to break away from those people on which he feels so dependent.
Because of these factors, it may be difficult for parents to help their teenage individual with LD. Instead, peer tutoring or a concerned young adult may be better able to intervene and help the child. The individual with LD’s self-esteem appears to be extremely vulnerable to frustration and anxiety. Research shows that if children succeed in school, they will develop positive feelings about themselves and believe that they can succeed in life.
If children meet failure and frustration, they learn that they are inferior to others, and that their efforts make very little difference. Instead of feeling powerful and productive, they learn that their environment acts upon them. They feel powerless and incompetent.
Researchers have learned that when typical learners succeed, they credit their own efforts for their success. When they fail, they tell themselves to try harder. However, when the individual with LD succeeds, he is likely to attribute his success to luck. When he fails, he simply sees himself as stupid.
Research also suggests that these feelings of inferiority develop by the age of ten. After this age, it becomes extremely difficult to help the child develop a positive self-image. This is a powerful argument for early intervention.
Depression is also a frequent complication in learning disabilities and individuals with LD are at higher risk for intense feelings of sorrow and pain. Perhaps because of their low self-esteem, individual with LDs afraid to turn their anger toward their environment, instead turn it toward themselves.
However, depressed children and adolescents often have different symptoms than do depressed adults. The depressed child is unlikely to be lethargic or to talk about feeling sad. Instead, he or she may become more active or misbehave to cover up the painful feelings. In the case of masked depression, the child may not seem obviously unhappy. However, both children and adults who are depressed tend to have three similar characteristics:
Like any handicapping condition, learning disabilities has a tremendous impact on the child’s family. However, because learning disabilities is an invisible handicap, these effects are often overlooked. Learning disabilities affects the family in a variety of ways. One of the most obvious is sibling rivalry. Non LD children often feel jealous of the sibling with LD, who gets the majority of the parents’ attention, time, and money. Ironically, the child with LD does not want this attention. This increases the chances that he or she will act negatively against the achieving children in the family.
Specific learning disabilities can run in families. This means that one or both of the child’s parents may have had similar school problems. When faced with a child who is having school problems, individual with LD parents can react in one of two ways. They may deny the existence of learning disabilities and believe if the child would just buckle down, he or she could succeed. Or, the parents may relive their failures and frustrations through their child’s school experience. This brings back powerful and terrifying emotions, which can interfere with the adult’s parenting skills.
Helping individual with LD feel better about themselves and deal effectively with their feelings is a complex task. First, teachers must understand the cognitive and affective problems caused by learning disabilities. Then they must design strategies that will help the individual with LD, like every other child, to find joy and success in academics and personal relationships. Second, counselors and LD advocates must:
With increased community acceptance and recognition that learning disability are lifelong, medical, mental health and educational professionals are going to find themselves supporting many more individuals with learning disabilities.
Social skills are the skills we use in every environment that includes two or more people. They include such things as manners and reading and reacting appropriately in ‘social environments’. Being able to read social cues is probably the most important skill we need as almost every environment we are in is a social environment.
Many children with LD and/or ADD/ADHD have a social disability in that they are unable to read the ‘social cues’ of the many environments of which they are part — family, school, recreational activities, etc. If they are lacking in these skills, they are often labeled as being social misfits, loners or having behavior problems. This disability can cause far more challenges for them than the academic difficulties they may have because academic problems can be dealt with by remediation, calculators, computers, taped materials, etc. Also, this lack of social awareness creates problems that quickly destroy their self-worth as they are seen as being different or ‘weird’ by their peers, and therefore, have few or no friends or the wrong kind of friend.
As with the disabilities that affect their academic achievement the ‘social skills’ must be taught, practiced and sometimes even over learned. Not all children pick-up the social nuances by being exposed to parents or others who have developed good social skills.
Some of the most important ‘social skills’ needed to survive in our world include:
The ability to sit and listen to people around you. This skill is imperative for school, recreational activities and employment. With this comes the ability to follow directions, a difficulty for many children. To help your child learn these skills
These include manners — please, thank-you, answering the door, answering the phone, asking for help. Role playing can be beneficial in helping the child know what to expect, how to react and be accepted in new social situations.
This includes teaching children that it is okay to be angry, but it is not okay to speak or act violently because you are angry. They also need to be taught how to deal with others who are angry so as not to make the situation worse. Some steps to help teach this skill are to teach them to walk away from the situation, count to ten and return to the situation when he/she or the other person has calmed down.
Teaching children that we all have feelings and our feelings are always changing. It is important to be able to express our feelings so others know how we are feeling. However, the way in which we express our feelings must also be appropriate. For example, feeling angry but not acting or speaking violently, or feeling happy but not laughing too loudly at inappropriate times. It is also important that children learn to read others’ feelings so they can act appropriately and avoid embarrasing or difficult situations. Children need to be taught to recognize the way to read peoples’ feelings — body language and facial expressions.
Many children with LD and/or ADHD speak or act impulsively which tends to get them into difficult situations with their peers and adults. They need to be taught to stop, think about what they are going to say or do, and then make the right decision as how to go about it. A good way to teach these skills is to role play different situations the child may encounter and how they should deal with the situation.
Teaching children that when they do make a mistake they must accept the consequences for their actions or words. Parents frequently want to protect their children from negative actions by others, but when the child is wrong they need to admit it and face the consequences.
Many children with LD and/or ADD/ADHD will do what others ask them to do, even when they know it is wrong, thinking it will make people like them. We need to teach them not to succumb to peer pressure by saying ‘NO’ in a polite way. This also gives the child a sense of control as they are in charge of their own actions and words.
Parents can help their child improve his/her self-image by focusing on the positive. Help your child discover the things that they are ‘good’ at (their strengths – playing the piano, art, sports, etc.) and make that your main focus. Children with LD and/or ADD/ADHD often are more focused on the disability and have difficulty realizing all the things they do well.
Teach your child how to solve interpersonal problems by modeling the skill for them using everyday examples in your home (i.e. We have a very busy week coming up and we need to decide how we can all cooperate to get all the jobs done and everyone where they need to be. Let’s brainstorm some solutions to this problem).
All of these skills will help the child become a better advocate for themselves. You cannot advocate for yourself if you do not feel you are worthy or if you cannot read the ‘social climate’ whether it be with a teacher, a parent, a coach, or an employer.
Source: Advocating For Your Child With Learning Disabilities, 1999, published by Learning Disabilities Association of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.