Special Schools for Kids with Special Learning Needs Can Make All the Difference

By Susan Frasca

Some kids, no matter how hard they try, just can’t succeed in the typical school or classroom environment. Whether because of a learning disability, neurobiological disorder or physical challenge, they have specific needs that need to be addressed in order for them to learn.

Imagine the frustration for these children when trying to acclimate into a traditional school environment; it’s akin to asking a child who requires prescription eyeglasses to perform tasks without wearing them.

While physical or neurobiological disorders are generally more obvious in their manifestation, a learning disability may not be as apparent.

To determine if a child is struggling with a learning disability, The National Association for Learning Disabilities suggests these starting points:

  • Look for significant changes in your child’s attitude regarding school, including unhappiness, anxiety and dropping grades.
  • Ask your child what they most like and dislike about school, and why.
  • Ask the teacher whether the child is making expected progress in learning, and collect specific data about their rate of learning, performance on tests and quizzes, class participation, social interactions with peers, homework, and other important measures of progress.
  • Don’t rush right into requesting a comprehensive psycho-educational evaluation, but also don’t assume that your child’s problems will go away over time. Be an active and engaged partner with school personnel in implementing a collaborative problem-solving process.

 

There are ample options for children with identified learning disabilities, from specialized programs in the public school systems to private schools that address specific disabilities or disorders.

The task for parents is to find a school that offers the proper balance of dealing with the social and medical issues of the disability, if indeed there are any, as well as with normal academics.

It’s key to find a school that offers the structure and support that is appropriate to their child’s needs. No one curriculum and approach will work for all.  There’s just no such thing as “one size fits all” education.

 

Identification is critical

While some parents are uncomfortable with having their child labeled with a learning disability, the fact is that giving the child the tools and skills they need to learn and succeed is the more important issue.

If you think your child shows signs of struggle that may be an undisclosed disability, address the situation as soon as possible. The longer parents wait to address and identify a problem, the more difficult it will be to treat it.

In the case of public schools, the evaluation process must be completed within 60 student attendance days. The team, of which the parent is a part, then determines if the child meets the criteria for special needs eligibility and an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) is established. Parents can also seek private evaluations at their own expense, if they so choose.

While testing sometimes confirms a learning disability, it may not immediately identify the specifics of the learning problem. Further evaluations, and follow-up visits to pediatricians or psychologists may be needed to single out the actual problem.

Don’t just settle for a generic diagnosis that your child has a learning disability.

  • Ask what specifically the disability is.
  • Be aware of the tests that have been performed to identify the disability.
  • Ask what this means for your child’s education options.

Dr. Sheldon H. Horowitz, director of LD Resources & Essential Information for NCLD says that testing should not be a long and exhausting process, especially if student progress monitoring data is included in the process. Ultimately, evaluation results should inform of teaching intervention strategies for the disability,” he says, also emphasizing that a student’s struggle with learning will almost certainly change over time.

 

Don’t be too hasty to change schools.

Once a learning disability is discovered, parents should view the diagnosis as an opportunity to find the school and program that will best meet their child’s needs.

Don’t jump into a decision to change schools immediately after a child is identified with a special learning need. The resources for learning disabilities are exhaustive, and so is the research.

  • Rather than bounce a child from one school or program to another, take some time to learn more about the learning disability.
  • Contact parent support groups
  • Visit public and private schools with programs that address specific disabilities.

 

Parents shouldn’t rule out the public school their child may already be attending since public schools are obligated to serve all students regardless of each one’s disability or diagnosis. Students with special learning needs are offered the full continuum of placement and support services, either in general education classes, special ed classes in regular schools or in individual center schools. However, kids with multiple diagnoses and disabilities are often placed into one program.

Public school placement is based more on the needs of the child than the type of learning disability. For example, some elementary schools have classes for students with autism, but if a student has the same needs without an autism disorder, he or she can still be in that class. The focus is on the need, not the label.

Many private schools designed especially for children with learning disabilities have also had to adapt to meet the needs of more extensive disabilities within the spectrum, joining a lot of different disabilities together.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing and can actually work to the students’ advantage. Higher functioning kids who once felt out of place in a traditional classroom can now be role models for students at the lower end of the spectrum, giving them greater self-esteem. .

 

Ask the right questions

It’s important for parents to interview a potential school to make sure it offers the most appropriate environment for their child.

Things parents should consider:

  • Ask about teacher certifications and special training
  • Ask about accreditations
  • Ask about therapy services,  including PT, OT and Speech
  • Talk to parents of students.
  • Ask the person who initially diagnosed your child with the learning disability if the school you are considering offers the type of education that will help your child.
  • Schools should also be able to provide information about their methodology and specific approaches to teaching. Ask about the types of technology a school offers to assist in the learning process.
  • Look for an education where your child will be able to generalize the skills they learn in the classroom to the outside world. Ask if the students go on field trips, for example.
  • If a child has a teachable learning disability, is the school’s ultimate goal to teach students to learn with their disability so they can return to a mainstream environment?

 

Even with training, learning disabilities can be hard on kids.  But, with the proper attention, evaluation, research and instruction, kids can achieve success and satisfaction in the classroom.

Resources:

National Center for Learning Disabilities:

 

National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities

 

Learning Disabilities Association of America

 

Education Resource Information Center

 

US Department of Education Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services

 

 

While raising her two children, Susan Frasca worked as a writer and editorial assistant for an award-winning parenting magazine, and quickly discovered that researching and writing about parenting issues is far easier than actually doing the parenting!  Married once and still to the best man she’s ever known, and with those children now grown adults, she writes on a variety of topics and has scores of bylines in multiple publications, as well as many other articles, blogs and books for which she can’t take credit – the downside of ghostwriting!

 

 

 

 

 

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