Learning Disabilities & Differences In-Depth

What is a “learning disability” or “learning difference”?

If you’re reading this page you’re probably already aware of the terminology used to identify children who receive and process information differently than most children. Parents of children with LDs are typically well-versed in the technical language associated with their child’s condition, but the essential definition refers to a learning disability as a measurable, cognitive condition that makes it difficult for children to learn at the level expected for their age.

A learning difference can be the same as a learning disability, and most people assume the terms are interchangeable. However, “learning disability” is the term used in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), the giant manual that psychologists use to diagnose a child. Common LDs include Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), dyslexia, NVLDs (non-verbal learning disabilities), and processing disorders.

While the term “learning disability” can have a negative connotation for some people, kids with documented LDs are typically just as “smart” as their classmates and often exhibit remarkable strengths. For example, dyslexic students typically have higher 3-D spatial reasoning skills. Children with ADD often make connections between seemingly disparate concepts faster than those without ADD.

Next Level Learning understands that no two brains are the same and everyone has cognitive strengths. Regardless of the presence of an LD, every child has cognitive gifts to celebrate and share!

How do I know if my child has an LD?

If your child has a persistent history of related comments from teachers and other school personnel such as always running out of time on tests, or if you have found yourself frequently thinking, “My child is so smart in everything, but never manages to _________(fill-in-the-blank) the way other children do,” then it’s possible you may have identified an issue that qualifies as an LD.

Often, schools will notice a concerning academic pattern and suggest to parents that their child obtain an “evaluation.” An evaluation, technically referred to as a neuropsychological evaluation, is a battery of intellectual and emotional tests that inform a subsequent report detailing your child’s learning profile and determines whether a learning disability exists. We recommend working with a qualified psychologist who will administer various tests (such as the WISC test) and also gather information from parents and teachers to assist in the evaluation. The battery of tests takes several hours spread over a few days, and the subsequent report can take upwards of eight weeks to produce, so it’s advisable to get started as soon as you suspect your child may have an LD.

If your child has not had an evaluation but you think she or he might need one, Next Level can talk you through the steps and details of that process. We work with several exceptional psychologists and can refer you to ones we consider to be an ideal match for your child. Next Level derives no financial incentive for referrals. Our recommendations are based solely on who we think would be the best fit for your child. We typically offer three to four names and then the parent decides who to contact.

What are some of the advantages of getting an evaluation that documents an LD?

Evaluations that lead to a diagnosis of a learning disability can be both upsetting and beneficial news. Often, kids and their parents are relieved to find out there is a legitimate reason behind all those late-night struggles. While some families are resistant to “labels,” having a designation that explains or confirms parents and teachers’ observations can lead to solutions that benefit the student. For example, if your child has trouble listening and taking notes simultaneously he or she may have an auditory processing deficit, which can lead to obtaining targeted support from a school or an instructor.

In addition to data about your child’s learning profile, a comprehensive evaluation synthesizes intellectual, emotional, and psychological functioning to look at the whole child. This “whole child” picture helps the evaluator create a list of recommendations and accommodations. Recommendations may include anything from therapy to study skills to preferential seating in class, and accommodations may include options such as small-group testing tor extended time on standardized exams.

When a child receives a DSM-V diagnosis of a learning disability, she or he is entitled to the accommodations detailed in the report under the protection of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). While many students may feel nervous or embarrassed to receive an evaluation, the information yielded by the report is typically calming, informative, and useful, and can result in a significant change in a student’s attitude and approach to school.

Students with LDs who come to Next Level Learning receive targeted, personalized support. When a parent shares an evaluation with our staff, the learning specialist reads it thoroughly, analyzes the results and recommendations, and advises the instructor on which methods to utilize in our work with the student.

If my child has an LD, will she/he get extra time on standardized tests?

Many, but not all LD students qualify for extended time. If your child is hoping for extra time on standardized tests, she or he must demonstrate a history of needing and using extra time on school assessments. “Need” is determined by an evaluation with data that demonstrates the child performs significantly below his or her intellectual abilities with regular time and at his or her abilities with extended time.

How can an instructor help a child with an LD?

Next Level instructors are trained and supervised by our staff learning specialists. This means your child will receive attention specific to his or her learning profile and will discover and then learn how to use cognitive strengths to overcome weaknesses. All our instructors are positive and trained to avoid the kinds of negative feedback (irritation that a child can’t stay focused, for example) that LD kids sometimes encounter from teachers or administrators.

Next Level instructors are trained to help remediate the student’s learning style while also validating it. Our positive, patient, and personalized approach helps kids focus on and demonstrate their intellectual gifts and avoid succumbing to doubts caused by feeling different or behind other students. Over time the student’s academic performance and test results improve, which leads to greater confidence and enhanced self-esteem.

Please contact Next Level Learning to obtain more information about how we can support your LD child.

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