Ongoing learning difficulties at school?

This weekend, I met a brilliant 3rd grader who is failing at school. Imagine being incredibly smart but feeling really stupid. His parents requested help from school, but Covid-19 restrictions kept causing things to be postponed over the past year. The testing we completed, shows he has ADHD and extremely slow processing speed in addition to being very gifted. We call this "Twice Exceptional." Now that testing has identified that, given the right assistance and accommodations, he will be thriving in no time.

Comprehensive Psychological and Psycho-Educational Evaluations

Did you know learning disabilities, low cognitive functioning, ADHD, Anxiety, Depression, and other concerns may impact your student's ability to succeed and reach their potential academically? Children with these struggles may be considered lazy, unmotivated, or even defiant when in reality their diagnosis is placing a limit on their functioning.

A comprehensive psychological evaluation by a clinical psychologist provides valuable information about their cognitive, affective and behavioral functioning. A good evaluation can help educators make decisions at school, provide doctors with insight to better able prescribe medication, and assist parents in understanding their child so they can make better parenting decisions that nurture their child's psychological, behavioral and social growth. 

Have you noticed your child struggles in a particular subject area like reading, math, or writing? Do they frequently miss deadlines, forget things, or lose homework and personal items? Do they struggle with tests, especially timed ones? Are they easily distracted, struggle to focus, or overthink to an extreme that limits them from completing the task at hand? If they do and this has been an ongoing concern... 

Your student may have a diagnosis that limits their academic performance, and they may benefit from accommodations.

Much like a student with vision trouble needs glasses to see the smart board at the front of the classroom in order to do the work, a student with a diagnosis may need accommodations to support their performance in the classroom to perform at their potential.

Fortunately, when diagnosed correctly and given the appropriate accommodations, students with disabilities or emotional health concerns are able to manage and even thrive in the academic environment.

Chapter 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1974 and the Americans with Disabilities Act state that there needs to be evidence of a disability that functionally limits or impairs a major life activity, such as learning, concentrating, reading, etc. That means a diagnosis of ADHD, a specific learning disability, or a psychological disorder alone does not qualify a student for accommodations such as extended time on tests or testing in a quiet place. However, a brilliant child failing 3rd grade due to his ADHD symptoms and slow processing speed clearly fits the criteria for limiting a major life activity. But, it doesn't have to be that extreme.

In order to determine if a student meets that criteria, the student will often undergo a an assessment at school. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act  sets guidelines for when students may need special education services. It includes a Multi-Factored Evaluation addressing many areas of functioning. There is also another route called the 504 Plan which also provides for formal services not utilizing special education. We will look at the differences and which is right for your child in a future blog post.

Either way, both create a formal documented process which is a criteria for future accommodations. A school psychologist can assess educational areas, but they cannot diagnosis or evaluate for mental health conditions. A comprehensive psycho-educational evaluation by a clinical psychologist, such as myself, will help determine if there is a diagnosis, and if so how this has impaired your child's social, cognitive, and behavioral functioning, both now and in the past, and suggest accommodations to help in the future. It gives you much greater understanding about your whole child than a typical school learning assessment. 

Accommodations are adjustments to the way assignments or tasks are presented or managed that allow the student with learning disabilities to complete the same assignments as other students. Accommodations do not give students an unfair advantage or change what a test measures. 

Accommodations make it possible for students with a learning disability or mental health disability to show what they know without being impeded or limited by their disability. It allows them to perform more consistent with their potential. Accommodations may include things like extended time, breaks, recording lectures, large print, allowing for a scribe, testing in a quiet place, taking a test at a certain time of day, help with organization, or many other options specific to the needs identified.

The young man I met this weekend has extremely slow processing. He is slower than over 75% of his peers. That makes it really hard for him to keep up with timed tests or taking notes in class. The testing also showed, in terms of intelligence, he is in the top 2% of his age group. What that means is if we can get him the right accommodations so that he has the time his brain needs to process information, and we help him to focus, we should see his grades go up significantly! 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) allows students with a qualifying learning disability diagnosis to receive special accommodations once documentation is presented clearly indicating that the disability limits a major life activity. This young man I tested now has the documentation to take back to his school to get a learning plan put in place.

If you suspect your child has a learning difficulty such as ADHD, Dyslexia, severe anxiety, or other conditions that impair learning, don’t make the mistake of letting your student "survive" with informal accommodations offered by caring teachers. Sometimes, teachers understand there is a need and give "informal" accommodations and let students turn in work late or stay after class to finish a test.

If this is rarely needed that's great. However, if this is something needed on a regular basis you want it documented. As your child gets older and academics become more demanding there may be a need for more formally documented accommodations, especially when applying to take college entrance exams. One of the requirements to get future accommodations is a paper trail of testing and necessary accommodations in years past. 

SAT and ACT will review your teen's history. If there is no documentation of what your student had to do differently from their peers in order to succeed, such as a formal 504 plan, IEP, or private school education plan, they will deny the request. Why should the testing company believe that your child suddenly needs them just prior to their exam?

While testing and documentation doesn't guarantee accommodations, your student will not get them at all if you don't have the historical track record demonstrating need.

Sometimes school districts are overwhelmed or students slip through the cracks. Your child can be tested by a clinical psychologist outside of the school district. When seeking outside psycho-educational testing, find a clinical psychologist who has a thorough understanding of the laws and process by which students can receive accommodations for their disability. 

I see too many students who did not get the testing that was needed in order to demonstrate their eligibility for support and this becomes an even bigger problem when they attend a private school, take college exams, or seek services at the college level. They have to start over with getting the testing, diagnosis, and formal documentation.

If you have a high schooler, review the websites of ACT and SAT to learn about what is needed. Make sure the person doing the testing holds the right degree and qualification, the testing needs to be current usually within 3 years of application, there must be clinical documentation demonstrating the disability and the diagnosis, and there must be evidence to establish the rationale that supports the need for accommodations. Also, make sure you are aware of your child's previous testing dates. Waiting until the last minute may ruin your student's chances of getting the accommodations they need.

Psychoeducational evaluations are designed to identify your student’s strengths and weaknesses, evaluate his or her achievement level, identify possible learning disabilities, and make recommendations, as needed, for academic supports and accommodations that will allow your student to succeed in school to the best of his or her ability. Make sure they are done well and that you understand the results. There is no one to better to advocate for your child than you!

If you are in Ohio, or willing to travel to Ohio, and interested in a Comprehensive Psychological Evaluation to better understand your child click here. Be aware - there is basic testing and then there is really good testing. You want to know that you are getting really good information in a timely manner. You want to to know what the results mean and what you can do as a parent to support your child moving forward.

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