Immunizations? Check. Hearing and vision tests? Check. After-school activities? Check. Diagnosis of a first-grader’s learning disability? Not on most parents’ back-to-school lists.
The reality is the first six weeks of the school year are the most critical to identifying potential learning challenges. Asking questions when you visit your pediatrician for that back-to-school check-up is a great place to start.
The fact is, pediatricians are a critical first step in helping parents understand and identify learning disabilities like dyslexia, making the annual school check-up prime time for parents to do a quick “learning check-up” too. According to The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), early detection makes all the difference – leading to better outcomes and school success for all children.
Below is a “learning check-up” checklist from Dr. Jennifer Trachtenberg, MD (aka “Dr. Jen”) that parents can use with their pediatrician. Dr. Jen is a board-certified pediatrician at The Mount Sinai Medical Center, a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and a mom of two children who has practiced pediatric medicine for more than 14 years.
- Don’t Wait – While early warning signs of learning disabilities can be identified in children as young as 3 or 4-years of age according to the National Center for Learning Disabilities (LD.org), most children with learning disabilities are recognized around third grade. Providing early help is a child’s chance for future success. NCLD’s Interactive LD Checklist is a helpful tool for parents who are unsure of the signs of a possible learning disability.
- Write it Down – In advance of your child’s back-to-school or annual physical appointment, keep a written record of any observations of your child struggling so that you can share specific examples with your pediatrician. As there’s no single indicator or profile to fit everyone, parents can refer to this list of signs of LD for guidance.
- Come Prepared – If available, bring report cards, samples of schoolwork & notes from parent-teacher meetings. It’s also helpful to know your family’s medical history & whether or not any relatives are known to have had a learning disability or other disorder that impacts learning. Knowledge is power – the more background information you can provide, the better.
- Be Assertive – It’s absolutely within reason to ask your child’s pediatrician to write a letter or join in a phone call with teachers, the school psychologist or other personnel. Don’t be afraid to speak up & set forth clear and actionable next steps. Additionally, LD.org’s Resource Locator Tool connects parents with thousands of local, state & national resources for specialist referrals, support groups and LD-related info.
- Stay Optimistic – Having a learning disability is not a prescription for frustration and failure; quite the opposite – it poses challenges that can be addressed with careful, well-targeted instruction and support. Individuals with learning disabilities can be (and are) successful in school, at work and in life. The key is to intervene early, to keep expectations high, and to be a well-informed advocate for your child.