I Think My Kid Has A Learning Disability – Now What?

What do you do if you suspect your kid has a learning disability - now what? This quick-start guide offers parents practical, actionable steps to follow.

Does My Child Have A Learning Disability/Difference? A Step-By-Step Guide For Parents

Ah, the joys of going back to school! New Supplies! New friends! And, if you’re a work-at-home mama, more sleep because you’re no longer trying to cram in all those work hours after your kids’ bedtime (as I am while drafting this)! But what if your child dreads going back to school? Have you been wondering if your kid has a learning disability? (Or learning difference, if you prefer.)

If so, then back-to-school is probably NOT your family’s favorite time of year.

The new school year often brings new challenges. For our kiddos, the higher expectations and workload of a new grade level can be overwhelming and paralyzing. And it can be hard to start off a new school year successfully when the same academic “gaps” keep reappearing. Over and over, without fail, like clockwork.

This is where we were at as a family, for several years. This is the first fall that one of our dear daughters is heading back to school with a sense of confidence and newfound hope. Because she finally knows, and is learning to understand, how her brain is wired differently from those of many of her peers.

 

What do you do if you suspect your kid has a learning disability - now what? This quick-start guide offers parents practical, actionable steps to follow.

 

As of this past March, we finally have a diagnosis to explain those wiring differences. And let me tell you, knowing what is going on – so we can more effectively help DD address her challenges – has made all the difference, for her AND for us.

But it was not a quick and easy path to this point. That’s why I’m writing this post, for those of you who’ve been asking yourselves if your kid has a learning disability. So you have some idea of where to start, and what steps to take to get to the bottom of what’s going on.

Wondering if you child may have a learning disability? If so, you need this quick-start, step-by-step guide, from a mama who's been there.Click To Tweet

I Think My Kid Has A Learning Disability – Now What?

1. Stay tuned in

Does your pediatrician have you fill out developmental checklists at each well-child visit in the early years?

Ours did.

Both our girls kept coming out ahead of the curve on many intellectual-processing areas. Thus it’s not surprising that their scores on things like motor skills lagged behind, relatively speaking.

But one DD in particular wasn’t just “behind” in these areas compared to her strengths. She was actually behind the average development for her age.

Pay attention to these things. Ask your pediatrician about them, especially if the gaps persist and/or widen. If your pediatrician suggests “early intervention” screening, follow through.

But even if your pediatrician seems unconcerned, keep track of what you’re noticing. (Taking notes and recording dates, whether in a special notebook or in a place like your Bullet Journal, is helpful.)

2. Talk to teachers

Which assumes your child has teachers (other than you. I have nothing against homeschooling on general principle, and my hat goes off to the mamas who can handle it. I would not be able to do so gracefully.)

In our area, those kids who aren’t already in full-time childcare by age 2 start preschool then, usually to solidify academic skills before kindergarten. When DD started preschool, academics were the last thing we cared about. Instead, we hoped she’d become more comfortable being around other kids her age.

Teachers who aren’t you, even at this early age, will see your child with fresh eyes. As a result, they may notice things that you haven’t. Or comment on what’s “normal” in their experience, and how your kiddo displays behaviors that are outliers.

For example, at DD’s preschool parent-teacher conferences, we bounced DD’s developmental lags off her teachers, to compare notes (and see if she was making any progress in these areas).

At the same time, DD’s teachers mentioned to us certain behaviors that, in their experience working with DD’s age-peers, were unusual. Behaviors for which we brainstormed appropriate interventions as a team. (Looking back, I realize that – without passing judgment, and without suggesting a diagnosis to us – many of the interventions DD’s teachers suggested are recommended tools for managing the diagnosis DD now has.)

Your kiddo’s teachers will see a whole different side of your child than you do. Starting in preschool, keep the lines of communication open. And with each new grade, use the start-of-school-year parent conference to discuss your concerns frankly with your child’s new teachers, if you feel comfortable doing so.

3. Research your district

Chances are, you probably did some research on local school districts before buying your current home, or renting that apartment in the new neighborhood. This research is different.

This time, you need to start with your current district’s website. Look under student services. Then look under academics. Look in every place you can think of. Do a search on your district’s site for things like “learning disabilities,” “learning differences,” etc.

What you’re looking for is information on how your district handles “exceptional” students, and what your local and state laws say on the subject. Under the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, “public accommodations [i.e., places like U.S. public schools]…may not discriminate on the basis of disability.” This means that your local public school district has to provide appropriate accommodations for children with diagnosed learning disabilities.

But – a few caveats:

There are two other, even older, federal laws that will probably have more more bearing on whether your child qualifies for services:

Also look into state law:

Your state’s education laws may further qualify the rights of students (and responsibilities of schools) regarding services for students with LDs. And these laws will govern whether your district thinks your kid is eligible for special education assistance:

  • Some districts may insist that only their own professionals can evaluate students to diagnose learning disabilities. (These professionals, who are after all working in the district’s best interest, sometimes have a remarkably low rate of diagnosing learning differences severe or conclusive enough to qualify for services under the ADA.)
  • Other districts may not have the personnel to conduct such testing in a timely manner, and/or may insist that you find and pay for your own private testing – even though it’s the school’s legal obligation to identify LD kids under the part of IDEA called Child Find. (This is what my parents had to do to get a diagnosis for my younger brother Evan, who is very bright but also very dyslexic. In the 1980s before the ADA, he was the first officially diagnosed “learning disabled” student in our rural public school district. Even though between 10% and 20% of Americans have a learning disability or difference, depending on which source you consult.)

This is why it’s important to learn as much as you can about your/your student’s rights, before you request a formal evaluation from the school.

4. Rally your network

While you’re on the “special ed” or “exceptional children” portion of your district’s website, see if your district has a support group or network for parents of children who don’t fit neurotypical learning patterns.

Our district has a group for “parents of exceptional children” that meets several times a year. If this term is new to you, “exceptional children” is NOT a reference to “special snowflakes.” Rather, it means children with any learning difference – whether they have a learning disability, are gifted in one or more areas, or both.

For what it’s worth, roughly one in seven gifted kids also has a learning disability. Kids who are both gifted and LD are sometimes called “twice exceptional” or “2E.” This is why I’m glad our district has a single support group for all “exceptional” parents.

And as we know firsthand from this network, our district does a lot better with accommodating some LDs than others. Especially where 2E students are concerned.

(And in our case, because DD’s grades are still at the top of the class, our district hasn’t exactly jumped to offer her either an IEP or a Section 504 plan, to help with the shortcomings and skill gaps that her new diagnosis helps to explain.)

5. Work the process

Doing your homework first will arm you with the knowledge you need to get your child evaluated in your district. If s/he is sympathetic, talking with your child’s teacher about your concerns may also give you helpful tips. The same is true for the parents’ network/support group.

Even if you suspect that your district is not super-cooperative on evaluating kids, it’s critical to follow the steps spelled out on the district’s website.

  • You will probably need to submit a formal request for evaluation in writing.
  • The district will probably give themselves a very generous timeframe (up to half the school year!) in which to carry out the evaluation and get back to you with the results. This is not because they’re trying to be difficult; this is because it takes time to get all the pieces organized.
  • There will almost certainly be parent evaluation forms you’ll need to complete as part of the evaluation process. Fill them out promptly, make copies for your records and file them away accordingly, and return them to the specified address ASAP.
TIP: Even if you don’t suspect your child is “exceptional,” you NEED this organization set. I’ll admit, I wasn’t convinced that a binder-tab system for children’s records could make such a huge difference – until I tried it. It is genius, especially for keeping track of all your kiddo’s test results, evaluations, and related notes. I would be absolutely lost without mine.
  • Don’t be surprised if the first you hear back from the district is a request – perhaps by mail, perhaps by phone from the school office – to show up at a meeting. Chances are good they will not discuss ANYTHING with you, or give you copies of any findings, prior to that meeting (although it never hurts to ask).
  • Do everything you can to be available for that initial meeting time. Even if it’s inconvenient. Even if it means rearranging your own schedule, and/or that of your co-parent (BOTH of you should be there, by the way).

Most likely, the district has already had to move mountains to get the school’s principal, counselor, psychologist, relevant special-ed team members, and your child’s teacher into one room at the same time. (Especially since some of them, like the psychologist, may have to commute from another building within the district.)

Not to mention the fact that they’ve had to arrange classroom coverage for all the individuals who are ordinarily teaching during the time slot of your meeting.

You need to bend over backwards to show them you’re a “team player” by making yourself available for the meeting.

6. Check with your pediatrician

But what if it’s summer? Or the end of the school year? Or your child is in the process of changing schools?

If the timing just isn’t right for requesting a formal school evaluation, discuss your concerns with your child’s pediatrician at the next well-child visit. (This is also your next line of defense if you disagree with the school district’s initial findings.)

Another advantage of consulting your pediatrician is that they’ve probably known your child for longer than your school district. Your child may even see the same provider at most visits.

Discuss your concerns with the pediatrician, and seek their advice on next steps – especially if your district has recently told you that “results are inconclusive,” and/or that your child’s diagnosis does not qualify for special education services.

Your pediatrician may be able to recommend outside testing options. S/he may also be able to tell you how that process works, and what to expect on timeframe and cost.

7. Don’t give up

As your child’s parent, you know that child better than anyone else. So if you think something is “off” or “not quite right,” you need to trust that gut instinct.

The first round of testing may indeed be “inconclusive.” You may need to work closely with your child’s teachers to see if there is another explanation for their classroom challenges, and what you can do together to help your child over the hump.

Try, try, and try again. Work with your child and their teacher(s) to find better solutions and different things to try, to help them get over that hump.

Again, keep notes. With dates. Especially of any conversations you have with your child’s teachers or school officials about your child’s learning and struggles. Document and/or reconfirm conversations over email, so there’s a written trail.

Why document everything in writing?

Because you’d better believe your child’s teachers will be keeping detailed notes. Notes of all the ways they’ve bent over backwards to try to help your child. (They’ve been trained to do this, and are probably already sharing some of these notes with you over email.)

And if you haven’t already, consider starting a binder/binder section to help you organize all those notes, conversations, emails, and test results. Add in important or relevant examples of school work, such as mastery tests or writing samples.

Also, if you’re facing resistance with getting your child the help s/he needs to learn effectively, you might want to double-check your child’s diagnosis and school type against this list of 2016 clarification letters to schools from the Department of Education. Apparently, other parents in our district aren’t the only ones who’ve had challenges getting their children (especially 2E kids and those with certain diagnoses) the special education help they need.

8. Build your village

Throughout this process, it’s important to keep in touch with other parents – whether near or far – who have faced similar challenges in raising their own children. Maybe you already know one or more families in your area with an LD child. (Or child with a LD, if you’d rather.)

If not, seek out other parents with whom you can network. If there’s a local parenting group on Facebook, through Meetup, or somewhere else, become a member (if you’re not already) and then seek out support there. If not, consider starting one.

It can be hard to discuss your concerns at first, whether with strangers or with those who know your family well. But you need the support and wisdom of other parents as you move forward.

Even if their child’s diagnosis is totally different from what you suspect for yours.

They’ve probably been through similar uphill battles along the way, navigating the system and trying to figure out what they’re doing. They will understand what you’re feeling and experiencing a lot better than parents of neurotypical kids. And this level of unconditional, nonjudgmental support is what you need right now.

Besides moral support, these parents probably have firsthand tips to help you navigate the system. If they’re in your district, they may have suggestions on teachers to seek out, and others to avoid. Or they may have tips on how to get an appointment for outside testing sooner than you otherwise might, or professionals/group practices to recommend.

For far too long, I was afraid to discuss my concerns with any of my mama-friends. But little by little, I learned of some of their children’s diagnoses. And when I started to share my own worries about DD, they became my bedrock of support. Which was crucial when trying to figure out testing and services. Not to mention how to manage the family challenges that make a lot more sense with that diagnosis in hand.

(Memo to parents everywhere: Please be kind, and please don’t judge. Dynamics, behaviors, and challenges you don’t understand do NOT signal a “bad parent” or a “bad kid.”)

Memo to parents everywhere: Please be kind, and please don't judge. Dynamics, behaviors, and challenges you don't understand do NOT signal a 'bad parent,' 'bad kid,' or 'bad family.'Click To Tweet

9. Read up

Once you have an actual diagnosis (or two or three), it’s time to move forward and help your child transcend their difficulties.

The best way you can do this is if you read books on parenting a child with your kiddo’s learning difference(s). Ask the pediatrician, other parents, etc. which book(s) they recommend on this diagnosis, and why. If at all possible, grab your own copies of the latest books. ✅Shop online for gently-used copies, so you don’t break the bank, and can keep them as long as you want. (E-copies are also a great idea for building your collection, if you have an e-reader.)

The more you understand about your child’s diagnosis, the better you can help them navigate this strange new world.

And educate your child as well.

Along the way, you will probably encounter suggested books for LD children to help them thrive with their diagnosis. Get your child their own copies of these workbooks. Read or skim them before passing them along, so you know what advice they’re giving your kiddo.

RELATED POST: Holiday Gift Ideas for Neurodiverse Children

One of the biggest challenges newly-diagnosed LD students often have is getting beyond their own mental roadblocks. More than once, DD has said to me in a fit of utter frustration, “I’ll never be able to do [fill-in-the-blank]!”

She uttered these words, loudly and often, when she was first diagnosed. Whenever we asked her to do something that she now knew was harder because she had this new “thing” to deal with.

At first, we were tempted to give in and agree. But we soon learned from our reading that this was the wrong approach. She CAN and WILL learn these skills; it just may take her a little longer to get there.

10. Think outside the box, and don’t give up

Keep working with your child’s teachers and school officials post-diagnosis to come up with a workable plan to address your child’s learning differences, whether it’s an IEP or a Section 504 plan. Keep taking notes, filing away schoolwork samples, and otherwise tracking your child’s progress. (Or their failure to thrive in their current school setting.)

Learn what strengths and positive traits go along with your child’s diagnosis. Then see if you can find activities that will play to your child’s strengths. DD has already found some new loves by doing this.

Research unconventional ways to help your child address their skill gaps and weak spots. For example, while growing up, my dyslexic younger brother played soccer, learned to play the drums, and jumped rope/hopped on a trampoline/practiced skipping for hours a day. These were all therapies designed to improve his hand-eye coordination, in an effort to help him cope with some of the challenges of his dyslexia.

Try as much as you can to work within your child’s current school district. Even as you keep thorough and detailed notes, always assume (until and unless you have direct evidence otherwise) that they are acting in good faith, and sincerely want to help your child excel – even if their resources are limited.

Postscript

But if things just aren’t working out, don’t be afraid to explore other options. As I wrote late last spring, that was the crossroads we faced with DD regarding her schooling this fall.

The application, financial-aid forms, interviews, and acceptance were a long and draining process. But I can now report that DD is switching from our local public school to a Montessori school for the fall. We have high hopes that the completely different Montessori learning model will help DD with some of her skills gaps, in ways that her public-school teachers simply have not been able to pull off (through no fault of their own).

Your turn:

Have one or more of your children been diagnosed with a learning disability? Do you have personal experience of growing up with a learning difference? What have I missed? Please let us know in the comments!

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What do you do if you suspect your kid has a learning disability - now what? This quick-start guide offers parents practical, actionable steps to follow.

 

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50 thoughts on “I Think My Kid Has A Learning Disability – Now What?”

  1. Pingback: Holiday Gift Ideas for Neurodiverse Children - Super Mom Hacks

  2. my friend and I were talking about this topic a couple of days ago. It is hard without doubt but there is nothing that love can’t conquer. Thanks for the tips.

  3. This is an interesting read and very helpful for parents who are at lost on what to do with their children. Thank you for sharing these tips and for the tips that we should pay attention to. Totally agree that early intervention is the best solution to these learning disabilities.

  4. My kids are still pretty young but this is actually something Iโ€™ve been trying to better educate myself on for when the time comes. I think itโ€™s extremely important to be prepared in case your kiddo needs extra help and I found this post very informative!

    1. Oh, I’m so glad you found it useful! I think it’s really important to be at least somewhat aware of this stuff before you need it – though given how dyslexia runs in my family, I was totally prepared for at least one dyslexic kiddo (and looking for that), so the totally different diagnosis snuck up on us/caught us unawares…

  5. Having a child with special needs is so challenging. I will make sure to pass this great information on to anyone I know who is struggling with this issue.

  6. Such an important post to keep in mind when in doubt. It is so vital to reach out to teachers and find out what services are locally offerend . Just to reach out to professionals and confirm your suspiciouns before freaking out and getting irrational. So many parents I see are scared to even ask, because their fears will get confirmed. But its is so important to check for diagnosis before jumping to conclusions.

  7. thank you for this post.. this will help with any learning difficulties as far as i am concerned – to help identify issues and learn how to work towards making learning easier

    1. You are so welcome. It’s certainly not something I recall ever reading about in any of those parenting books that some people devour when they’re pregnant…

  8. I don’t have a learning disability (that I know of), but I’m an auditory learner and it was really hard for me to learn from reading. My mom really helped me by reading to me subjects like history and I would just repeat it back to her, to make sure I got it.

    1. This is another great example of how one-size-fits-all learning doesn’t “work” for everyone. My mama is the same way; she has to hear it. Whereas I am the opposite – if I am listening vs. seeing, I get distracted too easily and it’s hard to focus unless I shut my eyes (and/or take notes, so I am looking at the paper/seeing what I am hearing).

  9. I am so thankful that this has been brought up! I was put into the category of having a learning difference when I was around 7-8 years old. My mother fought the system tirelessly just to discover that in fact, I didn’t have a learning difference, I had a tracking problem (eyes not working together). This caused difficulty when reading and comprehension. I think that you’ve nailed this post! Despite the different paths that my journey took, I did have a difference when it came to my classmates. After my diagnosis, I had to re-learn, almost entirely, how to read and write! Look at me now! I love the points that you brought up about teachers being able to see things about our children with fresh eyes (paraphrasing). As I am planning to Homeschool I think this is an excellent note to make and be aware of. Thank you for the GREAT read!

    1. Aww, you are so welcome! (And thank you for the kind words!) And I can only imagine how frustrating it must have been (for you AND your mama) to get a diagnosis that was the WRONG ONE! – that is about as bad as no diagnosis! The first time we tried to get DD tested, we had the school do it and they were like “oh, the results are inconclusive” and we’re like, “OK, so how come still X???” Thank goodness our pediatrician’s office was able to get to the bottom of it when they suggested another round of testing!

  10. This is a really helpful post. We homeschool but my son was diagnosed with a learning disability in 2nd grade. We are able to accommodate him for the most part but as he is getting older and I am thinking about college, these tips are very helpful. Thank you!

    1. You are so welcome! I’m not sure what it looks like nowadays, but when my bro was researching colleges in the ’90s, there was a big fat college guide for kids with different LDs – kind of like all the other “best schools” guides, but here focused on what kinds of services they offered and their strengths/weaknesses as far as disability accommodations went. He did his whole search by cross-referencing that guide against the guide of info on strong schools in the very specific field he wanted to pursue, and found a perfect fit that way, where he got exactly the support he needed to excel.

  11. As an educator who teaches diversity and education, this is a valuable resource for parents. Parents need help learning how to advocate for their kids and learn when to reach out.

  12. My oldest is going into kindergarten in just under 2 weeks and I’m a nervous wreck! I don’t necessarily think he has a learning disability, but he does seem to learn differently. We considered holding him back a year but for several reasons decided to send him to K this year — fingers crossed it’s the right call! I like these ideas about talking to the teacher and researching our district. Those will give me somewhere to direct my nervous energy, ha.

    1. It’s definitely something to keep an eye on. In our daughter’s case, her academics are fine – it’s just everything else that is a little “off,” in ways that make so much more sense (and mean we can work with her more effectively on these challenges), now that we all know what’s going on. But your parent’s intuition is definitely something to stay tuned into…my parents felt the same way about my baby bro, years before his LD was diagnosed.

  13. This is a thorough guide for any parent that suspects their child has a learning disability. I especially liked and totally agree that parents should take notes of all communications including emails and telephone calls with anyone regarding their child’s LD.

    1. The notetaking is SO important for any potentially challenging situations like this, where a paper trail may come in handy…

  14. This really is such an important topic. None of my children have a learning disability, but I grew up with a disabled sibling. It was a long journey for everyone in the family with not a lot of resources. Posts like this go such a long way in making others feel seen and understood.

    1. That is exactly how we felt with my younger bro Evan growing up. Things are so different now (mostly for the better), but some things – like teaching child-in-question that they CAN and WILL overcome this challenge, vs. be defeated by it – remain the same…

  15. I think society is often too quick to place labels on our kids. My youngest son was called ADD but the truth is he was bored and not challenged enough. I put him in another school and he excelled and exceeded all expectations. I refused to allow them to label my son.

    1. This is where we struggled for a very long time with the daughter in question. Clearly she was bored (they both are, often, just one handles it better than the other) – but it seemed clear as time went on that, for her, there was more than just being “bored.” We are SO grateful to have gotten to the bottom of it.

  16. These are great tips! I believe that every kid is special in their own way and learn different things. My child has always had issues with numbers but I dont feel that it is a disability. He is just slow with numbers but good with other things like puzzles. I just feel persistence is a key to success and if we keep working on something, we can change the world. Also, i agree teachers play a great role in success and growth of a child.

    1. While I’m not a parent myself yet, I know some friends who will be first time moms and would gladly refer them this post!

    2. Even though we’re not afraid to say “learning disability” in my family, I prefer to think of it as we ALL learn a little differently than others. Some of us learn certain things easily, but really struggle with other areas. For other people, those hard-to-us things come easily. None of it’s bad, it’s all just “different.”

  17. I donโ€™t have kids right now but I found this blog post super interesting! Those are super great tips and Iโ€™ll share with all my friends who are parents

  18. It’s so true that children act differently around their teachers. And they can look at your child without the same deep emotional attachment that may be you trying to convince yourself nothing is wrong. My mom has taught special needs children of all ages over the last 20 years so has seen the lot when it comes to learning disabilities. Luckily, that also means she hopefully knows what to look for with my children and my nephews, too. But I think your note about being persistent is definitely key.

    1. Yes! My own mama knew before Evan went to school that there was something “not quite right,” even though it took several more years for a teacher to suggest formal testing. And from that point on, it was an uphill battle throughout the rest of his schooling. But she never gave up.

  19. These are such great tips. In many states school districts won’t be able to put together an IEP until age 3. I have a little guy with special needs, that emerged at a very early age. Our pediatrician was able to help us with early intervention services and specialists.

    1. Early intervention is critical. My mama kept urging my baby bro to look into EI for my niece, who was very late both to walk and to talk much – she ended up not qualifying by a hair, but they really dragged their feet for FOREVER on it.

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