Kids with Learning Disabilities - A discussion

chispaApril 11, 2006

On another post there is a discussion about a child with a LD. My child has some issues, has an IEP and we are doing further private testing to try to understand his LD. We are in an excellent school system but are also very lucky to have the resources to uncover all we can about his problems.

Here are some question. Why do we have some many kids with issues? I don't remember anything like this when I was a kid. Granted, in any classroom you had the genius kid(s), the average kids and some kids that weren't good students.

It seems that now everyone expects their child to be a genius, at least in my very competitive area in the boston burbs.

So, it it just that our perceptions have changed or do we have environmental factors that are affecting our kids? Any theories?

Why are doctors/parents/teachers so quick to medicate some of these kids?

What other non-drug methods have you heard of or tried?

Please add your experiences, thoughts or more questions.

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Good questions Chispa -

- There are lots of theories about environmental factors that may be contributing. There are so many toxins being dumped into our environment, injected into our kids, or being manufactured into common household products that have the potential to be neuro-toxic to young brains. Lead and mercury in the environment, thimerisol in vaccines, pesticide residue, hormones in our food supply, rampant overuse of antibiotics ...

- Then there's the pressure to be high-achieving. Somehow, it seems even greater now than ever.

- I think there's also a trend to label a kid with a particular LD rather than "just the dumb kid" or "just a little slow". Part of it is an increased awareness, but part, I think, is also an increased tendency to find a diagnosis, to place the responsibility somewhere, an 'excuse mentality'?

- Why are doctors so quick to medicate? -- IMO, it's because that's the only contribution most of them can make. It's also the only treatment many insurance plans will cover. When a parent comes to him/her with a child with a disability, the doctor *can* prescribe medication; he can't make the disability go away. I'd like to see more doctors prescribe therapy (speech, occupational, physical, music therapy, hippotherapy, behavior therapy, tutoring) -- but very few do.

Then there's also the issue of how much training doctors get to identify and treat developmental problems such as autism, learning disabilities, dyspraxia, dyslexia. In most medical programs, you could count the hours on one hand that are spent learning about child development...

- What non-drug methods have we tried? Speech, occupational, music, hippo-, vision and behavior therapy, tutoring, suplements and nutritional therapies, social groups, social stories, specialized instruction. I'm sure I'm missing a few...

    Bookmark   April 11, 2006 at 3:53PM
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The only thing I can say here is that I would look into private schools that specialize in LD kids. And compare them to public, just to see what your options are. Sometimes you can write-off some of the private school tuition as a medical expense. Find out where their graduates are going after high school in order to see how successful the program really is first, in embracing the kids where they are at, and second, preparing LD students for life beyond an environment that tends to cater to the needs that their learning differences. Very important.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2006 at 4:15PM
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I think we are better at recognising learning differences. Also--we expect kids to be competent at all things--so discrepancies are not tolerated. I have a PROFOUND math LD that was never addressed--because "I just wasn't good at math." It astounds me that my folks accepted that...but I did well enough to get by. I'm fine with addition, subtraction, multiplication--but throw in x's and y's and i CANNOT do it. I got through hs algebra with a low "C" and was grateful to have passed. I did fine in geometry-- that made sense to me. Took "Consumer Math" as my third math credit... most useful math class I ever took. I was the only kid I knew that didn't bounce a check freshman year in college. Nowadays--I'm not certain I could graduate from HS. You have to take Algebra II here to get a college track diploma. (And I graduated from college with a BA in English--Cum Laude.)

Medication is a sensitive issue. My kids were capable of coping without it--so we made that their choice. Elder son always chose to take medication, younger son tried it--and chose NOT to take it until middle school. Elder son was on Ritalin until he was a freshman in HS--then he and younger son (who was in 6th grade) decided to participate in the Strattera trial that our neuro-psychiatrist's office was participating in. Helped both kids--elder son prefers it to ritalin. (He claims Ritalin FORCES him to pay attention--Strattera just ALLOWS him topay attention.) I know my kids find life easier with medication.

We were already doing most of the behavioral modification things suggested for kids with attention problems--regular bed/meal-time--set homework time--not tvs in their bedrooms-for my kids, medication was the last piece of the puzzle. Elder son was in private OT for three years in grade school. Didn't help with his ADHD much--but he it DID help with his spatial sense and bilateral movement. He finally learned to ride a bike. The school wouldn't provide OT for him--even though he had a diagnosis--because it wasn't "profoundly impacting" his schoolwork. His teachers just had him key-board everything. I wonder if we'd gotten him inot OT earlier if his handwriting would be more legible--but what's done is done.


    Bookmark   April 11, 2006 at 5:43PM
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I think LDs weren't on most people's radar 30 years ago. Back then even something as severe as autism was blamed on cold & unresponsive mothers (as Bruno Bettelheim so famously dictated -- his star has certainly dropped from the heavens). Also, as my doctor has pointed out, there were more options for non-academic types way back when. If you weren't good in school, you could go work in the factory or make a living in a shoe store. Now the factory jobs are gone, and school curricula are primarily college prep programs requiring good focus, functioning cognitive skills and maturity. Finally, the field of cognitive psychology has grown tremendously. The more you know, the more you can know. So now we have many years of research & testing to draw from, and more people going into the psych field, and more cognitive patterns & puzzles being examined. We know more now than we did back then.

I always had a gut feeling that something wasn't quite right with my oldest. It's as if the world is overwhelming to him. He's gifted in many ways and bafflelingly dense in other ways. He sailed through school until 8th grade, then it's been a gradual decline ever since. He's 22 1/2 & struggling to get through college. Turns out my gut feeling was right. He has Nonverbal Learning Disorders (which may or may not be on the autism spectrum, depending on which researcher you read). But back when he was in elementary school, a few experts were just beginning to posit that his particularly LD even existed. As far as his teachers knew he didn't have an LD because he wasn't dyslexic, had no focus issues, and has a high IQ. Nowadays that's a primitive criteria for judging whether someone has LDs or not.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2006 at 7:37PM
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So you're another "refrigerator mom" Awm? Maybe that's why we're so TKO! ;-) At least your son did get diagnosed, eventually. At his age, and considering the progress in LD diagnostics that's been made in the last 15 years, that's almost a miracle. Has knowing this helped him?

This question may veer off a bit - so Chispa - rein me in if we're going off track. But I'd like to hear from other parents of LD kids what they think the school special ed. laws ought to be. I think the existing system is pretty flawed, but I'm not sure I could design a better one. Heck, if the schools followed the laws we have, the system might actually work reasonably well! but...

    Bookmark   April 11, 2006 at 8:21PM
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Sweeby, I am always amazed at the wealth of information of the women (and some men) on this site. I think any information on the topic is worth discussing and might be very important to someone else reading this.

I don't have much input on the laws as we are just starting out on this journey! Our school system has been very good so far. They did give us a hard time when we wanted our son held back, but when we insisted they agreed. He is only 7 and was on the young side for his grade. Repeating the grade has worked out well. He has matured and is doing great with his reading. This "extra" year was to practice/improve the basics and he has done that. We are doing additional testing to try to pin-point his areas of "weakness". We'll have results next week.

awm, you make a good point about the additional options available "way back when" for the non-academic types.

It is hard when your first child has the problems ... you don't know any better. I can already see the difference with my youngest. He is doing basic reading/writting at age 4 that my oldest couldn't/wouldn't do at age 6. It was sometimes hard to know if he didn't know something or if he simply didn't want to perform on command! In any case we are going with preliminary testing in preschool, for the youngest, just to be sure there aren't any issues that need to be monitored. Right now, I don't think there will be any.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2006 at 10:02PM
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I didn't read this at first since I don't have any kids. However I decided to take a closer look since I don't know much about this but someone I work with has found out in the last couple years that both of his oldest children have learning disabilities and the youngest they don't know about yet. Since talking with him about this quite a bit and hearing people talking about it all the time I'm thinking about this more and more.

So I read this and chispa is asking many of the things I've been asking myself. Why is this now so prevalent when it was a non-factor when many of us were kids? Is it just being diagnosed with names now or is this an epidemic of something new? I was even thinking about it on the way home from work - what has changed - environmental toxins, ??? I even wondered about ultrasounds - everyone has them now. Are they really safe or are there long term effects?

Anyway, it's very helpful to read this. I hadn't thought about things like the fact the requirements in today's world are higher - lower skilled jobs are disappearing. It's been a very traumatic ordeal for the person I work with to come to terms with the situation with his kids - I can't imagine how hard it must be.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2006 at 10:23PM
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I also think that as we, the general population, become more educated we expect more out of our kids. I think parents have always expected their kids to achieve as much or more than they did. DH and I both have Masters degrees and that has to have an effect on our expectations and the pressure our kids might feel.

The pressures on kids (and parents) are very high in my area. An acquaintance gave me a look of horror and pity when I talked about holding my son back. She couldn't understand ... she had her oldest skip a grade! I feel sorry for her other kids as she always compares them to her "genius" older child. This will be an interesting family to watch as the kids get older!

It is late and I'm rambling on! Time for bed.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2006 at 12:26AM
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Sweeby - LOL! Just call me Sub Zero :) No, the diagnosis was no help for my son. His fear was that he was "screwed up" (his terminology) and the diagnosis confirmed that, in his mind. So he's in denial because in some ways he doesn't fit the profile for NLD -- he's good at math, he can read a map, he understands nuances, therefore he must not have NLD. But nobody fits the profile perfectly, and he has many of the classic symptoms. He has so little insight into himself, and as he says, he has no idea what being normal is like, so how can he truly understand how different he is? The whole business doesn't make sense to him, so he just ignores it. This attitude has its advantages & drawbacks. How old is your son?

re environment: To play devils advocate here, in many ways our environment has fewer toxins. When I was a child, there was still leaded gasoline, leaded paints, DDT, above ground nuclear testing, &, most of all, no air & water quality regulation. There are far more environmental safeguards in my childrens' lifetime than there were in my day.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2006 at 7:14AM
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This is very touchy subject for me. Our older son was labeled LD and our younger son gifted. When my older one started school, he did not speak English and did not know any of the stuff that was expected of a 5 year old here. Back in the old country the kids go to school when they turn 7, so I really did not know what he needed to know by 5. Of course they started to test him right the way and first tests came back basically saying that he is an idiot, very low IQ. They told me that it did not matter that he had very limited English, that the IQ test was designed to be accurate in any case, yeah right. Next year they did new IQ test and magically he was average IQ as he had learned more of English and could understand better what they wanted him to do. We are talking about 6 and 7y year old kid here. As I was new to the country, I really did not know all I know now, so I was not able to be great advocate for him either.
OK, fast forward now, I know that his brain works different than regular. He has hard time remembering what he learned couple of days ago but can recall those facts 5 years later. Can someone have a name for this phenomena so that I could research it more.
He just graduated as US marine from the boot camp and first time ever he had no trouble with the exams. He got 100% on all of them. So it appears to me that his troubles were largely because he was not interested of the outcome before. The school work just did not matter. Now that he really wanted something - become Marine - he was capable of learning what was required. Same in fact happened when he got his drivers license, no trouble learning the rules and passing the exam. So is that LD or is it lack of motivation and competitiveness?
Sorry if my post did not add any new information. It is just good some times to be able to talk about it, as it still makes me upset ;)

    Bookmark   April 12, 2006 at 7:53AM
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Nice to "see" you over on this side of the forums! Sometimes kids with ADHD can "hyperfocus" on things they are intersted in--and many of them do really well in extremely structured environments--such as the armed forces. If your local library has a copy of "Driven to Distraction" I would suggest you read it--or at least skim it--and see if you think that scenario fits your son. Many bright kids with ADHD don't "fall apart" until High School, when they have to change classes and keep track of lots of bits of paper and such.

I know one kid who was fine as long as he was in an old-fashioned school--where the kids sit at desks in rows--and then fell apart when his folks moved here, whee they do elementary school at tables--with lots of "centers" and moving about. He was constatnly distracted by the other kids in the classroom. Actually-- I believe one of the reasons we are seeing more diagnosis of ADHD is the way modern classrooms are run. I know it's good for most kids--but it's AWFUL for ADHD kids.

Additionally--the brain does a LOT of maturing in the late teen years. It may be that your son just oculdn't process properly until his brain "cooked" a little more. I read somewhere that children whose brains mature later actually end up being more intelligent than their peers--becasue they make more neural connections. These "late matrurers" tend to be more socially immature than their peers. That would explain my older son, certainly!

I don't think the "rash" of LD's is environmental toxins. I think we are more "AWARE " of LD's. And folks are finally figuring out that it's not an either/or proposition--it is possible to be LD AND very, VERY bright. When I was a kid--the students were all "tracked." I think the kids with obvious LD's just got "tracked" lower than the kids who didn't have them. And then there were people like me--I could read really well--and was competent at gradeschool math--so when I went to MS they put me in the "high achievers" group. Which meant pre-algebra in 7th grade, and algebra in 8th grade. DISASTER. I got "A's" in pretty much everything except math--where I got my first "D"--and the label "underachiever."

Puny--I'd also reccommend Mel Levine's book "All Kind of Minds"--it has some great info on different LD's.

Chispa--you are right--it IS hard when it's your first kid. If I'd known then what I know now, I'd have had my older boy in OT when he was a pre-schooler--and not waited until he was in 2nd grade. I thank God, on a regular basis, for my son's 2nd grade teacher. She pulled me aside the second month of school, and told me to have him tested privately, because she was certain he had "issues" and the schools wouldn't get around to it for year or more. He was an extrememly compliant child, who was expending enormous amounts of energy trying to be "good." His life changed dramatically once he started medication. Even as a second grader, he was VERY self-aware in some ways. He told me he liked his medication becasue: "It helps me be as good as I want to be." Nearly broke my heart...


    Bookmark   April 12, 2006 at 8:32AM
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I don't think we have any more kids with issues, I just think we're better at identifying them. If you think hard back to your elementary days, there were always a few kids in class who seemed to drag behind, right? The obvious cases. When they were asked to read aloud, it was painful for them, and I would just hold my breath hoping they would get through it ok. Now, those kids would (hopefully) be diagnosed LD and given services.

Now, we're better at identifying the not-so-obvious cases. So instead of being "bad at math," you could have a math-related disability. My best friend's son is one of the smartest people I've ever met from a book-smart perspective. But he's got many symptoms of NVLD. And now, he's suddenly starting to struggle with timed tests. Standardized tests that he scored in the 99th percentile a few years ago, he's now scoring in the 70th percentile, because he gets anxious and isn't able to complete the test on time. They've tried coaching him to no avail. So he will likely be labeled with a disability and given extra time on timed tests, so he doesn't bomb out on his SAT's. And no lie, this kid is genious level - - he should go to MIT for engineering. But if he bombs his SAT's, that will be impossible.

So I guess I'm saying that I think our society tolerates certain weaknesses less than it used to. Used to be, SAT scores weren't such a big factor in college admissions, and one could be "bad at math" but still accepted into an excellent English program. Not any more. So that's where the less egregious cases of LD are now being diagnosed, by way of explaining kids' relative weaknesses and preventing them from being discriminated against.

I'm certain my son's LD (dyslexia) was inherited. We had it on both sides of the family. I was an early reader and I surrounded him with books from the time he was a baby. But his dad was dyslexic and so were my brothers, so he got a double whammy.

As for what can be done, I think the system does need to change. I think we should stop trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. My son would have done so much better with a few years of early, intense intervention, rather than classroom mainstreaming. I believe school districts should have separate classrooms for kids with LD's. In the larger school districts, they could be sorted by disability. They could have gym/art/recess with the other kids, and maybe more mainstreaming as time went on and the remediation started to work. Would there be social costs? I'm sure there would, but I can't see a viable alternative.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2006 at 8:38AM
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Thanks Melanie for the book references. I will look into them when I have little more time ;)
By the way, my son was not ADHD, just SLD. I was not aware that they pinpointed his problems, just that he had trouble with academics and he got help with all of his main subjects and this help was not very helpful :(

    Bookmark   April 12, 2006 at 3:16PM
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punamytsike--I hear you. But a lot of the stuff overlaps--and some of the coping skills are similar. that's why I suggested the ADHD book. Certainly Mel Levine's book will interest you!

I'm sorry he had such a bad school experience.


    Bookmark   April 12, 2006 at 11:06PM
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Have any of you read the attached op-ed about the link between Thimiserol (used in vaccines) and autism? DH and I haven't had children yet, but this is something I worry about. There is a LOT of autism in DH's family. He has a lot of cousins, mostly male. However, the few female cousins he has have several children with autism, from mild to profound. It amount to about 10% of their generation in the family. All those children were born after the increase in vaccines. There is NO autism in the family before this generation.

I find it odd that when you are pregnant you are told to avoid fish that can contain mercury, but then they tell you to get a flu vaccine, which contains mercury.

Here is a link that might be useful: Autism and Mercury

    Bookmark   April 13, 2006 at 10:52AM
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I have a son with dyslexia. He has pretty much overcome it, but you are never "cured" of dyslexia. My son also has an anxiety disorder. I didn't read all of the responses, but thought I'd say a few things. First, as to thinking back to your days in school--when I was in elementary school LD kids weren't mainstreamed--they were in their own separate classrooms so you just didn't see many kids with problems because they weren't in your classroom. Also, they weren't as good at diagnosing LD back then, so there were a lot of "dumb/problem/unmotivated" kids who probably had undiagnosed LDs and were just passed on even if they had really failed to get them through the system. As for medications, medications are the first course of treatment in many cases because you can get almost instantaneous results. We refused medication for my son's anxiety disorder and opted for therapy with a psychiatrist instead--it took a long time and a lot of time(over a year of weekly sessions during 3rd grade). For an anxiety disorder, we didn't need the instantaneous results because it only marginally affected his learning. HOwever, many of the problems that are treated with medication do affect ability to learn and a child doesn't have the luxury of waiting for an alternative therapy to work because he/she will get way behind his class. Low self-esteem is a big part of LDs and kids who get behind and aren't motivated to catch up may take the easy route of joining the unmotivated kids in their class which may lead them down a road where you don't want them to go, especially if they really have the ability to catch up once their LD is treated. Of course, not every kid is college material and some parents have a hard time accepting that their kid that isn't. I feel sorry for the kids in that situation.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2006 at 12:17PM
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Hi all - not something I talk about much, but I too have a learning disability. Visual-processing. When I read extensive text I stare at a page and nothing of meaning goes in. I have to force it. College, in the beginning, was a nightmare and I trudged through it with private tutoring through the university, and bless her heart, my mom. Finally learned to manage my own way and went on to earn a teaching credential, teach for 8 years (until staying home with my kids), and earn a masters in education.

I was a GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) student as well. Learning disabled and gifted, at the same time. Boy did I throw my teachers for a loop.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2006 at 4:46AM
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"I was a GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) student as well. Learning disabled and gifted, at the same time. Boy did I throw my teachers for a loop. "

Sadly, this is still throwing teachers for a loop! Your difficulties sound so much like the ones my older son is struggling with. He was diagnosed with dyslexia, and tutoring started early. He also went through a course of vision therapy that helped with his visual processing difficulties.

If you son't mind my asking -- What helped you Snookums? How did you learn to overcome your difficulties and succeed? What did your teachers do that was either helpful or especially difficult?

    Bookmark   April 16, 2006 at 11:23AM
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I had to learn how to take a large section of text and pick it apart into meaningful smaller items. In other words, finding new ways of studying that went beyond just doing the reading. It really wasn't a huge problem until college, when a professor would give, for example, chapters 1-12 in a totally boring book and then give a test on the smaller intricacies of it. Stuff that if I had just sat and read, I totally would have missed. I took large amounts of text and broke it into outlines, then flashcards, and then memorized them. I'd find the "big ideas" of something and memorize that too, then come up with my own response, and well, memorize that too. It took me four times as long to get through something, but hey, I learned to earn those A's. I graduated from college with a 3.6 and from my masters program with a 4.0.

In college, unfortunately, the teachers didn't do anything to help me. The on-campus Disabled Student Center was wonderful, though.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2006 at 5:39PM
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