You've heard these words and feared them: dyslexia, dyspraxia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). They are all examples of common learning disabilities that interfere with basic skills such as reading, writing, and math. Those who are diagnosed can find it hard to make judgments or be in a social setting, or they have problems with planning and organization, and the concept of time.
Early intervention is crucial to help a child with a learning disability. Unfortunately, it often goes undiagnosed because many parents refuse to acknowledge that their children suffer from a learning disability. Many are even embarrassed to seek a professional opinion.
“People dismiss learning disabilities as a culture thing,” explains Cynthia Tinsay-Gonzalez, owner and administrator of Reach International School, an inclusive academic institution that caters to regular students and students with learning disabilities and special needs. “[Some] parents tend to make excuses for the child -- 'bata pa ‘yan’ or ‘lalaki kasi ‘yan kaya late.'"
But how can a parent know if a professional evaluation is needed? Tinsay-Gonzalez has five questions to ask yourself:
1. How are his emotional and behavioral responses at home and school? Kids with learning disabilities may behave differently or inappropriately when faced with a problem or task, compared to you or a kid his age. He can be easily frustrated, finds it difficult to get along with his peers, or show poor social judgment. If the consistency in his behavior is the same and present at home and school -- it doesn't feel like he's just going through a stage -- then it may be time to consult a developmental pediatrician.
2. Does he prefer playing with kids who are younger than him? There is nothing wrong with younger playmates, but take notice of his development and level of maturity. As Tinsay-Gonzalez puts it, does it feel like he is “emotionally two or three years behind?” Missing subtle social cues, overfocusing on minor details, having difficulty transitioning -- these can be red flags.
3. Does he continue to struggle in school despite support? If your school-age child shows consistent inability to do the expected school work of his age level, even with tutoring, then you may need to have him assessed. Tinsay-Gonzalez adds, “[Kung] sobra na ‘yung push ninyo for them to learn, but then the child is still not getting [his lessons], he may be at risk [learning disability].”
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4. Does he have difficulty in organizing and integrating thoughts? Many children with learning disabilities have an above average IQ. From Grades 1 to 4, Tinsay-Gonzalez says, their memory skills are good, and they pass their tests. It's when they hit Grade 5 to 6 when problems arise. At these grade levels, children are asked to analyze and synthesize information -- write essays, for example. “You’re expected to process information -- hindi na lang pwedeng puro memorize,” she says.
5. Does he have a poor memory? Say you’ve reviewed your kid for a big test the day before, and his performance was exceptional. But when he takes the actual test the next day, he fails. Persistent short-term memory is another red flag when it comes to children with learning disabilities. “The child can understand, but he does not have the ability to process and retain chunks of information --necessary tools in middle school,” Tinsay-Gonzalez says.
It is important to note that only developmental pediatricians can diagnose a child with a learning disability. Reach International School does have an assessment tool (available to those who are not enrolled in the school as well) to evaluate how to help a child who is struggling academically; it can create an educational program tailor-fit to his needs.
Having a child with a learning disability is not the end of his future. In fact, many famous and successful people have learning disabilities. Daniel Radcliffe has dyspraxia, which means he struggles with balance and posture. Steven Spielberg, Keira Knightley, and Tom Cruise had dyslexia, a reading disorder. With early intervention and your support, your child can grow up to be a smart and successful grown-up.