Last week we talked about advocating for your child at school. Today we’ll discuss what to do when children show signs of a learning disability.
Say you’ve given your child time to adjust to the new family, develop the necessary language skills and build a bond with you. As a well informed adult, you recognize that understanding and following basic routines in the family is learning as well. You understand that expecting children to learn so many new skills at home and school puts excessive pressure on them.
Parents are told not to have expectations in all the adoption prep classes. But that is nearly impossible.
But you’re concerned because a few behaviours or learning patterns stand out consistently and you suspect that your child has some learning needs, maybe intellectual, language-based, or emotional. Whether our children are biological or adopted, it unsettles us parents when we hear that they may have special needs. We don’t know what is in store for them, which is disconcerting. Parents are told not to have expectations in all the adoption prep classes. But that is nearly impossible. Now, when you suspect special needs, you are forced to reckon with those expectations that snuck in through the back door. Should you feel guilty about it? I would say no, don’t. We’re ordinary people, and our children need us to be human. They must see us make mistakes and learn from them. Even as you process the changes to your life, work your way to find support for your child and the rest of your family.
Think about this. What happens when we accept that our children have special needs? We identify the type of need—where they struggle, and the support services needed. Why do we do that? The primary reason is to improve our children’s quality of life and ours too in the bargain. Keep your focus on that thought—that when you find the right help, it improves the quality of your life!
Yes, our society is more judgmental of children with learning and emotional needs than those with a visible physical disability. But if we fear others’ reactions and delay finding the right services, we do a disservice to the child and to our family as a whole.
What are some considerations when you go about the testing process?
Suppose you suspect your child has a learning disability or trouble with attention, do some research to ascertain if the tests are appropriate for your child.
1. Will the testing be done in English?
2. Are there norm-referenced tests in your child’s dominant language? It takes a minimum of four years to develop basic fluency skills in a second language. So if your child has been learning English only for two years, and the testing is in English, the results will not reflect your child’s true abilities.
3. Be aware of factors other than learning needs that will affect your child’s test results. A fourth grader’s parents approached me for some guidance. His evaluations showed that his language skills were delayed at least 18 months. But then I found out that the child had a moderate hearing loss because of repeated ear infections were conducted and the examiner had overlooked it entirely. How a professional did not realize the significance of such a vital piece of information before testing blows my mind, but it happens.
4. Ask questions and clear your doubts. The professional may know how to give the test, but how does the person interpret the results and explain them to you?? If anyone ever tells you, “You don’t need to know all this. I am the professional, not you,” do not accept it. One of the parents I worked with came back dejected after a professional told her, “I have sacrificed my life for children like yours. You cannot ask me these questions!” Parents can and must ask questions. Professionals are not doing you a favor. You are paying for their services.
5. The purpose of testing is to see where exactly your child needs help. The report will give you a diagnosis based on what they tested for—ADHD or Specific Learning Disability. With the diagnosis, you can apply for accommodations from the board of education, such as an exemption from a third language, extra time during exams, etc. But that’s not all. The report must clearly state recommendations for remediation to design instruction for your child’s needs. If you hire the services of a special education teacher or speech therapist, they can use these recommendations to plan their instruction.
Executive Function Skills
I want to talk about one other essential set of skills where professional guidance goes a long way. Do you ever wonder why your child struggles to set goals, plan for assignments and complete them on time? Is your child inflexible, unable to approach a problem in new ways? Have you ever wished that your child learns to stop and think before doing something? These essential skills we use to plan and complete our activities every day are called executive function skills.
Children with learning disabilities and ADHD do show difficulties in executive function skills. Check with the evaluating professional about finding ADHD coaching to teach children to organizational skills.
You can also model good executive function skills at home. No matter how insignificant it seems to you, narrate how you plan for a trip, how you dress for the weather (even if your kids are older), for any activity you do. Children raised in families learn many skills incidentally—by observing their family members and peers plan and perform specific actions and copying them. Children raised in institutions don’t have that opportunity to see how we plan for the day. They are told to do many things but have limited opportunities to initiate activities independently. So when we expect our children to understand how something they do today will benefit them tomorrow, it is a new concept. They’ve not had many opportunities to learn how a short-term goal leads to a long-term goal. These are developing skills for all children, but children from institutions have missed out on the early incidental learning opportunities. This shows up every day in the most common routines.
For instance, my kids never knew how to get ready for school. I had to make sure that they didn’t step out of the house with all the jewellery and all the hair clips they had. In their ‘hostel,’ as they call it, they had to pin every strand of hair down. Otherwise, the adults beat them. I wasn’t exaggerating when I said all the hair clips. The jewellery was because they had seen the teenagers in the hostel sneak them on. They thought that in the world outside their hostel, this is how children went to school. The problem began at school, as all this was against the dress code. One child learned quickly, but the other needed more than a year to learn basic school readiness skills. She was distraught that we were strict about this. We had to reassure her that we were not jealous of her, nor were we going to deny her the jewellery at other times.
What should you do if your child struggles with anxiety, PTSD, or other mental health needs? That is a topic for another day. Next week we will discuss mental health needs in adopted children and address ways to seek help.
Testing for ADHD or LD