My Child has Learning Disabilities: Can a Classical School Work for Us?
WHY IS MY CHILD STRUGGLING?
It can be difficult for parents, with limited exposure to learning styles and issues, to sort through the various possibilities for why their child struggles.
Is it a phase or a disability? Who can help? Professional testing is your best first step. If you suspect a learning disability, “get your kids evaluated early. One of the primary indicators of the successful management of a learning disability is an early evaluation of learning strengths and weaknesses.”
There are many testing options and resources, including private psychologists, health centers, university hospitals, and learning centers. The public school system offers free and comprehensive testing services with a school referral. There are also free organizations and services that can help.
DEFINITIONS—KNOW WHAT YOU’RE HEARING
Laura Tucker, owner of Education Diagnostics, shares her decades of experience with The Classical Difference and helps families and schools navigate the learning years.
COMMONLY USED TERMS:
• Cognitive Development: Refers to the process of growth and change in intellectual/mental abilities such as thinking, reasoning and understanding. Classical Christian educators teach according to the stages of cognitive development that correspond with the Trivium.
• Intellectual Functioning: Also called intelligence—refers to general mental capacity, such as learning, reasoning, problem solving, and so on.
• Learning Disability: Characterizes the ways a child learns or issues that impact learning. It is a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations.
• Intellectual Disability: A disability characterized by significant limitations in both intellectual functioning and in adaptive behavior, such as Down Syndrome.* Keep in mind that a learning disability is different than an intellectual disability.
THE IQ TEST
One way to measure intellectual functioning is an IQ test. The IQ score is comprised of several sections each with separate index scores. It is important to compare these scores. When there is a standard deviation of +-/15 between any of the index scores, then a potential cause of a student’s learning struggle can be identified.
SPECIFIC LEARNING DISABILITY
The identification of the type of learning disability is determined from academic testing (reading, math, writing, language, memory, etc.). Some types are dyslexia (involving reading and spelling), dyscalculia (math), and dysgraphia (writing). A student might also have a disability specifically in written expression or comprehension, Executive Function (planning, organizing, and completing tasks), listening comprehension, social skills, or other areas.
ADHD is a medical diagnosis. Physicians, not school psychologists or educational diagnosticians, diagnose ADHD. However, a psycho-educational evaluation by an educational diagnostician or other professional can be helpful. ADHD and sensory disorders are often misdiagnosed. Within the CCE classroom, training and defined expectations might help diminish ADHD behaviors.
Some students actually appear to have a learning disability, when in fact that particular function is late to develop, but otherwise normal. Delaying entry into school or grades can help. Developmental delays can indicate that the child might have a learning disability identified in the future.
Autism refers to a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before age three, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance.
Students with autism might participate in the CCE classroom dependent on the types of behaviors observed. For example, a student with autism who has difficulty making eye contact might not be able to look at the teacher while instructions are given; however, the student is hearing. Some students may navigate the day and manage assignments with the help of an assistant or other students.
CAN A CLASSICAL CHRISTIAN SCHOOL WORK FOR US?
Many students with learning differences can succeed in a CCE school because it equips them with a foundation to learn. These schools stand in the place of parents and teach the Word of God and its principles.
A strong partnership between the school and home is essential. Accommodations vary because each school has unique constraints and each child has unique needs. Parents must be willing to help support the school with both finances and time.
Grammar students with mild to moderate learning disabilities benefit from the classical methodology of systematic and repetitive instruction. Older students in the logic and rhetoric grades are often surprised to find greater opportunities to demonstrate their strong cognitive abilities through debate and discussion. Students who have struggled to read aloud or write, and who have been the last to finish assignments in the past, are now participating in debates and discussions alongside their peers.
Students caring for students with special needs learn to build and demonstrate Christian character. For example, students learn patience as they wait to hear what the student is trying to communicate and assist the student in communicating to others. Not only is the student with special needs helped, but students in the classroom learn and practice looking out for the needs of others.
I have seen many students who received accommodations graduate from CCE schools, move on to college, receive degrees, and enter the workforce.
LAURA TUCKER, owner of Education Diagnostics, is a founder and was the Director of Instruction at Rockbridge Academy, Millersville, MD, from 1995-2011. With an M.Ed. from Loyola University, she has over 30 years of experience in K–12 education as a teacher, administrator, reading specialist, and educational diagnostician. She and her husband, Rob, an ACCS national board member, have two adult sons who attended Rockbridge Academy.