There is no question that parenting young children is filled with triumphs and, at times, challenges. And when parents suspect that their son or daughter might have a learning difference, it can create a host of new emotions and questions, all of which are to be expected. Fortunately, answers are available, according to Tony Kemper, Head of The de Paul School.
“When parents call The de Paul School, they are often frightened, desperate and unaware of what to do next,” Kemper says, noting that the school is often the first point of contact when a parent suspects learning difficulties.
“Many times, parents are confused, believing that they should just change up the routine for the child – or their diet or after-school activities,” he adds.
He recommends the following four steps to pursue if you think your child might have a learning difference.
1. Watch for Early Signs
Kemper urges parents not to wait to observe young children for signs of a learning difference. These signs can manifest early, and include not only academic difficulties such as dyslexia, but also independence and organization troubles, which sometimes stem from ADHD and reading difficulties.
“Often, the differences begin as soon as Kindergarten or early elementary,” he says. “Organizational skills, following directions – how are they benchmarking against the other children that age? Parents should be documenting these things and asking questions."
2. Pay Special Attention the First Few Weeks of School
Throughout his many years of shepherding parents in the process of deciding to take action, Kemper has recognized that the first few weeks of school are crucial. These are the moments that parents should be especially vigilant in evaluating a child’s progress.
“I think it’s important for parents to monitor the homework process,” he says, “and if there is avoidance, incompletion or any difficulties that become chronic frustrations, let the child’s teacher know.”
He added that by the “second trimester” of the year, addressing these items becomes harder.
“Now is the time to ask about it. Communication, clarity and expectations are keys.”
3. Continue to Monitor Your Kids as They Grow
Of course, it is not just young children who exhibit the signs of a learning difference – often, preteens and teenagers can develop them. Erin Whicker, The de Paul School Admissions Director, has received many phone calls during the summer months from parents of older students who are considering a school switch.
“With middle school learners, study skills become even more important to watch than homework,” Kemper says. “Older students with learning differences have difficulties with managing their time and resources effectively.”
4. Seek Expert Help
For a parent who suspects a learning difference, calling The de Paul School is certainly a “courageous step,” notes Kemper. Yet other resources are also important to helping their child get on the right track – a phone call to the pediatrician, an evaluation by a professional (especially important if you suspect ADHD) and a bit of savvy research to learn more about learning differences, dyslexia, reading difficulties and special education.
“The first step is to talk to the pediatrician about health or sensory issues such as sight and hearing,” he says. “Then get a referral for testing. And sites such as the National Center for Learning Disabilities – NCLD.org – are full of information that helps parents understand why learning may be particularly difficult for a child.”
Kemper and Whicker agree that the opportunity to assist these families and put a parent’s mind at ease is an extraordinary privilege, whether parents choose de Paul as the right fit or not.
“Often, families don’t know where to turn, and they come to us,” Kemper says. “When they do, we show them our school and share information. And they, in turn, can see the differences in our classrooms and ways in which we teach. But whether or not they choose de Paul, we help them help their child – and that is most fulfilling.”
Interested in learning more? Call The de Paul School at (502) 459-6131 or visit dePaulSchool.org.