If you're wondering whether learning and attention issues may be the reason why your child is struggling in school or at home, you're not alone. One in five kids have dyslexia, ADHD, or other learning and attention issues, and with the right support, they can thrive both inside and outside the classroom.
Here are 10 steps you can take to determine the best way to help your child:
1. Know what learning and attention issues are and aren't.
Learning and attention issues are not a sign of laziness, bad parenting or lack of intelligence. In fact, kids with such issues are often just as smart as their peers. Although all kids develop skills at different rates, kids with learning and attention issues have persistent difficulty in certain areas due to different "wiring" in the brain. You may see struggles with reading, writing, math, organization, focus, listening comprehension, social skills, motor skills or some combination of these skills.
2. Learn about typical developmental milestones.
It can be hard to know whether you're seeing signs of learning and attention issues in your child if you're not sure what skills are typical for the age. There are typical physical, cognitive and social-emotional milestones to look for at each age.
For example, a preschooler should be able to rhyme words, while a first grader should be able to start sounding out words and understand the relationship between letters and sounds. Knowing what to look for can help you figure out if your child isn't meeting milestones as expected.
3. Keep track of any concerns you have.
Observe your child and take notes about things that concern you. This will help you notice patterns, which will lead to finding solutions. For instance, if you notice that your child tends to get frustrated with reading, you can look for patterns in what is challenging and when. That can lead to finding the best tools and support to help with those particular issues.
4. Find out what's happening at school.
Speak to your child's teacher to see how things are going. Teachers are happy to share their observations of your child's progress. Ask questions like: Are they having trouble recognizing letters? Does it seem as though reading, writing or math are especially challenging?
Don't forget to ask your child how school is going, too. Try using factual questions to start a conversation: "I know you have more teachers this year than you did last year. How's that going?"
5. Talk to your child's doctor.
Schedule an appointment with your pediatrician to discuss your concerns, perhaps when your child is not there. Bring your notes to the appointment and be open to sharing any teacher concerns as well. If the doctor uses unfamiliar terms such as "assessment" and "evaluation" when talking about learning and attention issues, ask for clarification so you understand everything.
6. Consider consulting with a specialist.
Ask your child's doctor about a possible referral to a specialist who can evaluate your child with more depth. Specialists who work with kids with learning and attention issues include clinical child psychologists, pediatric neurologists, physical therapists, educational therapists, occupational therapists, developmental-behavioral pediatricians, and others. They can help address your concerns, identify the specific issues, and work with you to create a plan for your child and your family.
7. Discuss a free evaluation through school or early intervention.
If your child is under age three, you can pursue an early intervention evaluation, which is often free or done on a sliding fee scale. You can also put in a formal request to your local school district for an educational evaluation for kids age three through high school. The evaluation is at no cost to you and can help identify specific issues and the type of support your child needs at school, or, for young children, at home.
8. Meet with the school or early intervention agency.
Sit down with the school or early intervention team to discuss evaluation results. Even if you've already had an outside evaluation, you can work with the school to determine if your child is eligible for various programs and services. The services depend on your child's needs but may include things like specialized instruction, speech or occupational therapy, or classroom accommodations.
9. Plan next steps based on your child's specific challenges.
By now you may have a better idea of what's causing your child's troubles, but you likely still have more than a few questions about what comes next. Seek out more information if you're concerned, and don't be afraid to ask for help. Creating a plan, even if it only includes a few goals, will help you feel more focused, more empowered, and less stressed.
10. Remember you are not alone.
Connect with other parents to hear their personal stories. This can help you better understand how other families are helping their children—and help you feel less alone. Consider connecting with other parents for support and advice through social media channels or elsewhere. One resource to consider is Facebook.com/Understood, where you can connect with other parents who aer going through similar transitions.
These steps are just the beginning—there are many more things you can do if you're concerned about your child's academic or social-emotional progress.