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Disabled to Enabled: The ABCs of Learning Difficulties

When you suspect your child has a learning difficulty, it can feel overwhelming. Luckily, local experts have some actionable advice to help families spot the early signs, ensuring children are properly diagnosed and receive sufficient support to set them up for success.

If a child receives help for their specific needs early in life, the chances for learning and progress will be greater, says Jennifer Stockslager, licensed educational psychologist and owner of Developing Minds Psychology ( "Parents know their children the best, so as soon as you suspect difficulties, speak with their pediatrician and teachers. Some children may need short-term intervention and others may need more intensive long-term support.”

Also, don’t underestimate the timing and effort it takes to see the progress in early interventions. Natalie Powell, certified dyslexia specialist, educational therapist, and owner of Natalie LP Therapy (, says: “Early intervention providers focus on strengthening the weak processing areas that cause academic or functional difficulty. Therapy activities often appear simple, but don’t be fooled; new brain pathways are being built and that’s hard work.” Give your child grace, compassion, and time to grow at their pace during this process.

Often, learning difficulties are not identified or incorrectly labeled, so knowing what to look for helps teachers and parents get kids the help they need. “Some early signs that children are struggling may include difficulty reading, doing math, paying attention, following directions, regulating emotions, and/or acting out,” shares Stockslager. Keeping an eye on these areas could lead to extra support and advocacy for your child, in and out of the classroom.

One of the more common struggles, dyslexia, can be recognized in many ways. Marci Peterson, board certified educational therapist and author of The Dyslexia Guide for Adults (, shares that “dyslexia is the most common cause of reading and spelling struggles and is a neurological condition in how the brain processes language. A younger student might struggle to sound words out; while an older elementary student may start guessing at words, have trouble comprehending what they read, and be poor spellers. An adult with dyslexia typically is a slow reader, a poor speller, and has a tough time pronouncing complex words or composing written correspondence.”

When it comes to diagnosing dyslexia, Powell adds that “red flags in elementary school include trouble memorizing sight words, trouble with phonics, slow or inaccurate sounding out, poor spelling, and reversing numbers, letters, or whole words. In middle and high school, these accumulated gaps cause problems with reading speed and comprehension, and the ability to memorize verbal information by rote.”

Some early signs that children are struggling may include difficulty reading.


Meeting with your child’s teacher and school district to discuss an Individual Education Plan (IEP) can get them on track to have the necessary support and accommodations in a school setting, ultimately allowing your child to thrive. In addition, consultations and evaluations with your child’s pediatrician and licensed specialists and psychologists can provide formal tools and plans to implement at home. “If your child is struggling with literacy-related skills and you suspect dyslexia, email your principal to request a psychoeducational evaluation, or seek a private dyslexia evaluation. Doing so will entitle them to accommodations, such as extra test time and a reduced homework load,” suggests Powell.    

There are some functional tools to implement at home that can make a difference in supporting your child’s needs, too. “Encourage your child to listen to audiobooks that are above their reading level, watch educational shows, research topics of interest, and participate in family discussions. These activities will help strengthen your child’s vocabulary and background knowledge, which they can use to compensate for their dyslexia,” suggests Powell.

For further support and tools, Peterson suggests “parents work with pre-reading programs that emphasize phonological awareness and phoneme sequencing. Several programs are designed to help students suspected of having dyslexia learn to read and spell at home or through private tutors.”

Keeping your child supported, loved, and encouraged through the process of diagnosing and supporting a learning disability is key. According to Stockslager, “Some of the best ways to support your child are to listen and talk with them about their challenges, provide support and encouragement, set reasonable expectations, and focus on their strengths.”

by Melissa Strand
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