Learning Disabilities

At first, Mary Jacob of Jefferson Parish denied her four-year-old daughter’s learning disability. Though, her daughter’s preschool teacher suspected something was amiss. 

“I completely dismissed [the teacher’s] concerns as I felt Megan was a typical four-year-old,” Jacob said. She began to wonder if placing her daughter in a regular kindergarten class in a private school was the right thing to do.

In the class, her daughter continued to have difficulties. The teacher told Jacob that she had 26 children in her class. Twenty-three of the children could read the pre-primer reader without difficulty. Two students were struggling. Jacob’s daughter, however, was in her own special category.

“[The teacher] was very concerned that Megan wasn’t going to survive the year,” she said.

The pediatrician diagnosed Megan with Attention Deficit Disorder and put her on Ritalin. She continued to struggle in first grade and was evaluated for special education services for her lack of learning. Unable to read in second grade, she was tested again. 

The tests showed she had dyslexia, dyscalculus and dysgraphia. 

Megan was then introduced to Project Read, a multisensory reading program for children with dyslexia. 

“For the first time since Megan started school, she was reading,” Jacob said.

She hopes others learn from her experience and said early intervention is critical. 

What is a learning disability?

A learning disability is a neurological disorder, which results from a difference in the way a person’s brain is “wired.” Children with learning disabilities are as smart as or smarter than their peers. But they may have difficulty reading, writing, spelling, reasoning, recalling and/or organizing information if left to figure things out by themselves or if taught in conventional ways.

A learning disability can’t be cured or fixed; it is a lifelong issue. With the right support and intervention, however, children with learning disabilities can succeed in school and go on to successful, often distinguished careers later in life. 

Janet Ketcham, director of McMains Children’s Development Center, said parents should not confuse development with thinking their child has a learning disability. 

“The proto-typical dyslexic child sees the mirror image of words and writes letter backwards,” Ketcham said. “This is pretty normal behavior for a five-or six-year-old child. Parents get alarmed when their four-year-old writes backwards. It’s part of the child’s development. It’s good for parents to know what’s developmentally appropriate.” 

The most common sign of a child with a learning disability is trouble reading, Ketcham said. Finding the reason why your child is not reading is the difficulty. 

A child’s inconsistent behavior often leads adults to believe this child is behaving a certain way on purpose. 

“Inconsistency is a hallmark for children with learning disabilities,” she said. “[Parents should understand] sometimes, the connection is working. Sometimes, it’s not.”

What to do if you think your child has a learning disability.

With a multi-disciplinary approach, parents can support their children. Parents should map out the child’s literacy history and talk to teachers. To further explain, Ketcham used an example of a second-grader not reading well. 

“You have to ask yourself, ‘Was this child read to when he was little?’ ‘Is he from a home that has chaos in the family?’” she said. “There are so many reasons why your child might have a learning disability. You have to approach it from all angles.” 

If the parent wants to further investigate, he or she should talk to the child’s teacher right away. 

“The most important thing is to have a conversation with the teacher,” she said. “See what they think then map out a plan to see if you want to have your child tested privately or through the school system to see what’s going on.” 

After diagnosis and evaluation of the child’s learning disability, a parent should address the child’s self-esteem. 

“Children with a learning disability are smart,” Ketcham said. “They know they’re not doing well. They’re so smart they know the person next to them is reading, but they might think they’re not. Make sure you child participates and does well in other activities such as sports, music and art. It’s important to have something they can feel good about.” 

A person’s intelligence level does not usually indicate the presence of a learning disability. 

“A child with a learning disability has average to above average intelligence. That’s not the issue,” Ketcham said. “Most of the time, it’s a language-based problem.” 

Because there are so many factors to these disorders, parents should visit a variety of doctors, including a psychologist to help determine the child’s I.Q. and a speech and language therapist. 

There are so many learning styles, but each child has a different brain. Without a proper plan of care and action, a child with a learning disability will continue to struggle. 

“Until you know how this child operates, you’re not going to be able to address what you’re teaching,” she said.

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