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Complete Guide to Learning Disabilities

Finding Support

If your kid seems to be struggling, meet with her teacher or principal to get his perspective and see if he recommends the next step: a thorough evaluation by a learning specialist. This test will measure your child's ability to read, write, do math, and process other forms of information. You'll gain a better understanding of your kid's learning issues, and she may receive an LD diagnosis.

Experts agree that the younger a child is when a learning disability is diagnosed, the better chance she has of escaping the problems attached to it. Unfortunately for the kid with LD, a vicious cycle kicks in, says Mary Cathryn Haller, author of Learning Disabilities 101: A Primer for Parents. The child is angry about his failings; this anger fuels more self-doubt, which causes more failure. Yet when caught and addressed early, a learning disability can be minimized. "Several studies have shown that approximately 90 percent of children identified as at risk in kindergarten and first grade increase their reading to at least average level by the end of second grade, after intensive and well-designed early intervention," says Lyon.

As painful as an LD diagnosis can be for both parent and child, there are many resources that offer help. Federal law requires schools to provide services such as special-education classes. For most kids who have LD, this means staying in a mainstream classroom but going for tutoring in a resource room, where they'll encounter special techniques and learning tools, from games to CD-ROMS. Children whose disabilities are particularly severe may attend schools dedicated to assisting kids with LD reach their potential.

Often, children who have reading disabilities need specific help with phonics, which special-ed classes or tutoring can offer. Teachers in regular classrooms can provide a child who has LD with certain accommodations, such as reading exams to her or letting her use a laptop. And at home, parents can lend a hand, from playing books on tape to getting copies of lessons beforehand to give their child extra coaching.

Lisa Marie Johnson of Kennebunk, ME, whose 7-year-old, Ben, has a reading disability, urges parents not to let their emotions and expectations get in the way of helping. "There's a lot of grieving over the loss of the perfect child," she says of an LD diagnosis. "But even without the learning disability, my son may never be the person I thought he was going to be when I gave birth and they called out, 'It's a boy.' But he's Ben, and he's a happy kid. Every parent wants a perfect, happy child. But perfect is not always happy, and happy is not always perfect."