Although memory issues are not a specific learning disability, struggling to remember things can be common for individuals with learning disabilities or ADHD.
In adults, memory issues can contribute to forgetting work deadlines, losing things, or not remembering names or birthdays.
There are several strategies and assistive technology tools that you can use to help you remember things.
Know your Strengths
Use your strengths when you need to remember something. If you struggle with reading or writing, use a recording device to collect the information you need, and listen to it later. If you’re a visual person, use a map, chart, checklist, or graphic organizer to remember tasks.
“Learn how you organize information in your head and how you organize it on paper. I bullet point everything. I use a lot of different colors when I’m highlighting, and it all means different things, but when I look at a page I see immediately what I’m supposed to know. There are certain things that I’ve been able to use over the years that have been incredibly helpful. Learn whatever techniques are good for you. You may need to go through a handful of different ones to figure that out but I do think they can be incredibly helpful.”
Writing, rather than typing, can actually help you to better retain the information you’re recording. Studies have shown that students handwriting notes remember knowledge better than students who typed their notes. This could be because writing involves the orthographic loop.
The orthographic loop can be thought of as the mind’s eye, where the mind’s working memory stores letters and graphemes, and connects to the sequential hand movements needed to form the letters.
“The orthographic loop involves the sequential finger and hand movements for writing. Keyboarding does not…I can type every word I hear, but I don’t have to be paying attention to do it. I might have to go back and then rethink the whole thing. If I’m writing, I know I don’t have time to write every word. I actually have to think about what I’m hearing and decide what’s most important.”
The more you repeat the information, whether it’s writing it out, saying it outloud, or listening to it, the more you’ll remember it. You can also use mnemonic devices. For example, to remember the great lakes, many people think of “HOMES” to remind them of the beginning letters of each lake (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior.) Using rhyming, music, or rhythm can also help you to better retain information.
Break the information into smaller parts, then remember the parts instead of the whole. For example, when remembering a phone number, try to remember each section before the hyphen. Once you’ve memorized the smaller series of numbers, you can put that information together to remember the full phone number. Learn more about how to chunk information here.
Associate with Images
Associate words or numbers with pictures. This imagery can help when trying to remember names, which you can learn more about here.
“I realized that I couldn’t attack any word because I couldn’t figure out any of the sounds. So what I did was I used a visual association so every vowel sound, digraph, diphthong, consonant sounds…So for example, I came across an A, and short A has an A as in apple, so I had a picture of an apple. If it was long, it had a picture of an ape. So I’d bring the sound, I’d see the apple, go bring it to the word, and that’s how I could get the sound.”
If you’re constantly losing your keys, phone, wallet, or important work documents, simplify your organizational strategy by keeping all important items in one place. Or, create an assigned space for each item and make sure to put everything back in its place. If possible, create duplicates of important items.
Dear Board of Directors, State Affiliate Leaders, Professional Advisory Board, and Committee Members,
Since 1964, LDA of America has provided support to people with learning disabilities, their parents, teachers and other professionals with cutting edge information on learning disabilities, practical solutions, and a comprehensive network of resources nationwide. These services make LDA the leading resource for information on learning disabilities. LDA’s mission is to create opportunities for success for all individuals affected by learning disabilities through support, education, and advocacy.
LDA of America is seeking to expand its Board of Directors by bringing on a diverse group of new members from across the nation. Nominations will enhance the strengths, expertise, business acumen, and demographics of our current board of directors. New board members will join an already committed, dedicated and professional governing board. The Board of Directors is responsible for supporting the mission of LDA of America, setting policy, providing leadership and is accountable for fiscal and strategic oversight.
LDA’s Nominating Committee is seeking applicants who are able to serve a 3-year term from 2023 through 2026. Specific areas of expertise and experiences desired in nominees include:
A passion for the work and mission of LDA of America
Strategic marketing, communications and public relations experience
Strategic business development and risk and crisis management
Financial acumen, including strategic financial management skills
Experience working with individual and/or institutional funders
Racially/ethnically, culturally, geographically, generationally and/or professionally diverse
To apply, please complete the Board of Directors Application by August 30, 2022. Applicants will be interviewed in September 2022 and notified about their application status prior to board elections in February 2023. Nominees must attend the 2023 LDA Annual International Conference.
A Q&A with Gregg French, special education teacher at Bullard Havens Technical High School and president of LDA Connecticut
Accommodations and Strategies
What are some accommodations and teaching strategies that can be used in a general education classroom to help students with learning disabilities?
I spent a lot of my teaching career focusing on differentiation of instruction, and how beneficial that is to not only students with IEPs and 504s, but students who are below grade level or at risk, and for students that are primarily non-English language speakers. So differentiating instruction is beneficial for many different types of students that we encounter in our classrooms.
What is differentiation of instruction?
Differentiation of instruction is a teaching model that looks at explicitly teaching content in different ways. One of the strategies that I find very much used in my school is the gradual release of responsibility. I see a lot of teachers modeling new concepts and skills, and then teachers provide guided practice where students, once a teacher feels that they’ve modeled enough, have the students walk the teacher through how to complete a task, or do an assignment. And then based on the guided practice and working together, talking it out, the teacher can get a sense of, ‘okay, I feel that this group of students can do it independently, go for it. Maybe this group of students need to be a little bit more supported with more guided practice or with modeling.’
I’ve seen teachers do rotating stations where there’s a specific task at each station for an allotted time. And it might have a vocabulary visual station, a hands-on station, and a conference with the teacher, so you’re kind of using a wide variety of different approaches to delivery of instruction, teaching and learning.
A lot of teachers I know use project-based learning, and giving students a choice on how they want to create a project is great.
Use students’ strengths to demonstrate and apply a specific skill. I’ve seen teachers who use a lot of assistive technology, speech to text, and audio books. I’ve worked with students in looking at different software to create projects, virtually and digitally. I think COVID virtual learning allowed teachers to experiment with more digital programs and software that can be beneficial to students with LD or without a disability.
A lot of those accommodations that we look for in implementing the IEP can be beneficial for students who are not receiving special education services. Being a visual learner is something that I think each person enjoys, so using graphic organizers to break down large reading or writing assignments can be helpful for a student who’s learning English for the first time, or students that just need that visual support.
Highlighting vocabulary terms and pre-teaching content specific vocabulary can be beneficial to many diverse learners, not just specifically students with learning disabilities.
I make the point to tell teachers that an accommodation you might see in an IEP can become a class-wide accommodation if you feel it benefits all of your students, because I think that’s just part of good teaching.
Partnering with Special Education Teachers
How can general education teachers and special education teachers partner to benefit students with LD?
I really think that one of the most crucial pieces to supporting any student with a disability is the collaboration between the special education teacher and the general education teacher, because there may be a point where co-teaching needs to be embedded in the delivery of instruction, and so making sure that teachers have the opportunity to collaborate, and co-plan, co-teach and co-assess, and come up with a model that fits the classroom.
Working on building positive relationships between both teachers is very crucial, that line of communication needs to be consistent and clear. And both need to understand the roles in supporting the student.
It shouldn’t be me versus them, it should be us working together to support the needs of the student. And so in the classroom, whenever I push in, I always let the teacher lead the classroom. With the delivery of instruction, I will float around and support all students. And I think that’s really key.
Students who have IEPs and a learning disability don’t want to be picked out in the crowd and have an adult hovering over them. I see my role in the classroom as supporting all the students, so I build relationships with all the students. I’ll spend time working with students that aren’t on my caseload, because I know that kids on my caseload are working independently and are perfectly fine.
So the classroom kind of sees me as a co-teacher that’s there for everyone. I don’t hover over a particular student, and that classroom climate and environment is positive. They see myself and the general education teacher as partners, as a resource to ask for help. I never would turn away a student asking for help.
I think it’s also important that the co-teachers use common language and are on the same page of knowing that, ‘Yes, I have five or six students in your classroom that have IEPs that are on my caseload that I’m supporting, but I’m also supporting the entire class’
Advocating for Students
If a teacher has a student with LD and they feel like their needs aren’t being met, how can they advocate?
I think that goes back to the collaboration piece. When a special education teacher is not present in a classroom with a group of students who have a learning disability, and the general education teacher may be struggling with reaching those students or teaching a specific lesson, that’s where collaboration and communication need to come into play.
Having that open line of communication, where the general education teacher is comfortable to say, ‘Hey, I did this lesson today, it didn’t work out for the students, what can I do differently next time?’ Or, ‘Can you come in and maybe I’ll reteach those students and you work with the other group of students and then we’ll kind of do a split classroom.’
No teacher should feel that their hands are tied. And again, I think that goes to building positive relationships, communication, collaboration, and making sure that the special education teacher is also there to support the teacher. Because ultimately, the general education teacher spends the most time with their students.
Advice for General Education Teachers
Do you have any other advice for general education teachers who have students with learning disabilities in their class?
For teachers that find they have a large group of students primarily with LD, the number one thing is to reflect on your teaching practices. Because oftentimes, a lot of students with LD need things taught in a specific way that’s really broken down, through scaffolding or chunking, and usually need a lot of visual supports.
So if you really implement differentiation of instruction, you build strong relationships with those students, you refer to those IEPs, you’re an active collaborative member of the IEP team, and have a partnership with the special education teacher, you’re pretty much meeting all the needs and requirements of effectively teaching students with a learning disability.
And also understand that a learning disability should not be the focus. We want to focus more on the abilities and the strengths of the students. Oftentimes teachers will say, ‘Well, they have a reading disability, I’m never going to catch them up to reading at grade level.’ Well, maybe that’s not the goal, maybe the goal is to focus on what their strengths are, and using those to teach those areas of difficulty. And so it’s flipping the equation, in not so much focusing on the dyslexia, the LD, the ADHD, but focusing on what the student is capable of.
And that’s something to speak to on a personal level. I was diagnosed with a reading comprehension disability as well as a math disability in the fourth grade. And I received special education services throughout elementary school, throughout middle school, and up until junior year of high school. And I remember what it was like, being a student who receives services and had a co-teacher in the classroom, and feeling the stigma of having an IEP, having someone follow you and try to help you. And so my other word of advice would be it’s okay to let the students be independent, because in the end, special education shouldn’t be a life sentence.
And that’s something I always try to tell parents too. I don’t think it is talked about enough, but special education is there to support the student as much as is needed and appropriately. But if a student does find strategies that are effective and is compensating for those areas of difficulty, and they’re doing well academically and socially, students can be exited from special education.
A student with a learning disability will have it their whole life, but can find strategies to really address the difficulties that they’re having academically in school, and we shouldn’t look at them any differently than any other student. And so I think really understanding where the student is and where they’re coming from and building that relationship is crucial.
Listen to the full interview with Gregg French on The LDA Podcast: An Educator’s Guide to Helping Students with LD, Part Two
With Gregg French, special education teacher at Bullard Havens Technical High School and president of LDA Connecticut
Preparing for an IEP Meeting
For a first time teacher, whether they’re special education teachers or general education teachers, an IEP meeting can be very stressful. There’s a lot of planning that goes into the before, during, and after. And this is where a lot of the legal guidelines come into play with developing the IEP with annual meetings, and the trainings that happen every three years for determining if a student continues to be eligible for receiving special education services.
One of the things I learned early on in my training to become a special education teacher is when you go into an IEP meeting, always use a checklist. And I had a great professor that really ingrained in me the importance of being organized when it came to these meetings, and she gave us a template of a checklist of every step of what to do for an IEP meeting. And I would tailor that checklist depending on what type of meeting it was. But it allowed me to go through and say, ‘Okay, before the meeting takes place, here’s what I need to go through and be prepared for.’ That checklist allowed me to go through and check off as I went through the meeting, then afterwards, it created my meeting minutes in the IEP, which I really just cut and pasted.
For special education teachers, I would say communicate with all stakeholders who are invited to the IEP meeting, and I say that because I’ve been in many IEP meetings where the team comes in with decisions already made, but not every stakeholder was involved in that decision making. Oftentimes, it’s to the parent, ‘Okay, the team discussed this, the team wants to do this, do we have your approval?’ And as a parent, that can be a very overwhelming encounter, and sometimes threatening because you weren’t prepared for what the team is delivering.
So when you’re developing an IEP, prior to an IEP meeting, or preparing for an IEP meeting, make sure that you have an agenda and a checklist to go through. Everyone can see that agenda before the meeting and be prepared for it, and have an open line of communication for all stakeholders invited.
General education teachers often ask what they should bring to the meeting, or how to prepare. I always say to bring any type of assessments that show student progress. Bring any online reading or math programs, or do a printout of the month of their progress using the IEP program, or include any work samples that relate to the goals and objectives in the IEP, like if they have a graphic organizer and they did really well using it. Get prepared with the reports that will be beneficial to speak to.
The Role of a General Education Teacher in an IEP meeting
The general education teacher is the main eyes in the classroom, they spend the most time with the students, they’re assessing their work and grading it, and they’re familiar with it. So that role is important, they have the most observations on the student, they can identify the strengths and the areas of difficulty.
When we look at the present level of performance, general education teachers can give a good report on what changes have occurred based on the previous IEP, and what should be changed.
And I always tell general education teachers that it’s okay to talk privately with a student with their IEP to ask the student what they think. Oftentimes the teachers are implementing the accommodations and modifications in their classroom and when it comes to the annual review I always ask if they think the student has any accommodations in IEP that you feel they haven’t used, or if they think there’s something that should be added.
And a lot of times the teachers are good about saying, ‘Well, I noticed the student is provided with preferential seating up close to the board. Recently, they’ve been sitting more in the center of the room, and they seem to be more on task. So I think that’s an accommodation that I think can be removed from the IEP.’ So, the general education teachers have a lot more to say about specific parts of the IEP than they even know they do.
And have a conversation with the students, and see what they think. Because you have a relationship with the student that is different from a special education teacher’s relationship. And it provides both you and the student time to reflect on the IEP, which I also think is very important.
Listen to the full interview with Gregg French, “An Educator’s Guide to Helping Students with LD, Part 2.” Available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts
This series has already passed, but you can register to receive the recordings of one, two, or all three webinars.
Join us for our 2022 S2P Summer Equity Series! The LD Institute is proud to present these three webinars, which feature important topics for speech-language pathologists, psychologists, and other professionals.
Each webinar is approximately 90 minutes. These webinars will be recorded, and can be viewed at a later date. Sign up for one webinar, or the full series! Members receive a discounted rate.
Oral language and reading acquisition: Considerations for Black dialect speakers
For many children, learning to read is the process of learning to understand their spoken language in a written form. The relationship between oral language skills and reading skills is well documented. But what happens when there is a disconnect between a child’s oral language system and the languageof reading? This webinar will discuss oral language as the foundation for reading and the added complexity of learning to read for Black dialect speakers and how not understanding this complexity contributes to illiteracy and inequity.
Dr. Ryan Lee-James is an ASHA certified speech-language pathologist and published author with expertise in language development, language disorders, and literacy in the context of linguistic differences and socioeconomic disadvantage and believes that eventually, all children will be liberated through language and literacy. In her current role as the Director of the Rollins Center for Language and Literacy at the Atlanta Speech School, Dr. Lee-James is responsible for working collaboratively with community-based organizations and key stakeholders to impact language and literacy achievement for our all children, especially those who have been disenfranchised by inequitable systems. Before joining the team at the Atlanta Speech School, Dr. Lee-James had the privilege of training and mentoring graduate level speech-language pathologists as a member of the Communication Sciences and Disorders faculty at Adelphi University in New York. Dr. Lee-James serves on numerous boards and committees for local and national entities.
Dr. Lakeisha Johnson is an Assistant Professor in the Communication Science and Disorders program at Florida State University and a certified speech-language pathologist. She is also the director of The Village, the community outreach and engagement division of the Florida Center for Reading Research. Her primary research interests include language, literacy, dialect, and executive function development in African American children. Dr. Johnson believes in building and leveraging research-practice partnerships to ensure children from vulnerable and underserved populations obtain strong language and literacy skills. She has a passion for diverse children’s books and runs a website, Maya’s Book Nook, to help caregivers and educators use these books to promote language and literacy foundations.
Evaluation of Specific Learning Disabilities in English Learners: Visualizing normal ability via Cattell-Horn-Carroll theory of cognitive abilities domain-level analysis
The presentation will introduce a new method of determining the impact of cultural and linguistic factors on domain-level cognitive performance thru using Excel-based histograms to form visual representations of expected performance within the context of normal ability. Participants will learn how use the “Visual Normal Ability Profile” to provide a more systematic and evidence-based method for addressing test score validity while using a graph format that is familiar to practitioners. The process assists in the identification of specific learning disabilities while retaining an inherent focus on fairness and equality while ensuring validity to prevent potential bias in evaluation of English Learners and diverse populations.
1. Explain how cultural and linguistic factors affect test performance across various domains of cognitive ability.
2. Assess the validity of measured test scores at the broad ability level for English learners relative to cultural and linguistic factors.
3. Compare expected versus obtained test score results to effectively identify Specific Learning Disabilities in English learners in a nondiscriminatory manner.
Dr. Ortiz is Professor of Psychology and former Director of the School Psychology Program at St. John’s University, Queens, New York. He earned his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Southern California and completed postdoctoral training in Bilingual School Psychology at San Diego State University where he also obtained certification as a school psychologist. In addition, he has served as Visiting Professor and Research Fellow at Nagoya University in Japan and was recently elected Vice President for Professional Affairs of Division 16 of APA beginning Jan. 2003. Dr. Ortiz trains and consults nationally and internationally on topics ranging from nondiscriminatory assessment to contemporary evaluation of learning disabilities. He combines practical and research based experience with specialized education and training in working with culturally and linguistically diverse children and parents. Dr. Ortiz is bilingual (Spanish) and bicultural (Puerto Rican).
Larry Pristo, Ph.D. is a school certified and board licensed psychologist providing services in Arizona since 1977. He currently is the director of a contract agency that has provided a variety of special education support services to over 50 school districts in the state, and supervises interns in Phoenix at the Washington School District, the largest elementary district in the State. Dr. Pristo is the co-author of the District’s specific learning disabilities (SLD) identification model and developed a local format to assist in SLD determination, presenting the information at a number of school districts and universities throughout Arizona.
Over his career, Dr. Pristo has worked within the Department of Corrections, the County Jail, health maintenance, an alcohol recovery program, one-on-one therapeutic settings, and provided in-services statewide through the Department of Education. As a school psychologist, he has been in numerous schools with high rates of bilingual, diverse, or refugee students. Dr. Pristo is a long-standing advocate for the appropriate assessment and interpretation of evaluation results for diverse populations.
Equity through Literacy: What School Psychologists Need to Know about the Science of Reading
Literate citizens are essential for a functioning democracy. However, reading failure is a persistent problem across the United States. In schools primarily serving low income and culturally and linguistically diverse learners, there is a well-documented literacy crisis. No matter if the role of the psychologist is to design evidenced-based interventions and progress monitoring plans or to evaluate to determine special education eligibility, it is critical for all school psychologists to understand what the research tells us about evidenced-based instruction, intervention and assessment. This webinar will overview the science of reading instruction and the role of the school psychologist in promoting social justice by working to ensure all students achieve literacy.
Michelle Storie, Ph.D. is a New York state licensed psychologist and certified school psychologist, and is the Director of the Psychoeducational Teaching Laboratory at Syracuse University. Michelle has formerly served as Visiting Assistant Professor in the Counseling and Psychological Services Department at SUNY Oswego and has taught courses in educational psychology and learning disabilities at Syracuse University. Michelle’s research interests include development of prosocial skills, the impact of health and wellness programs on academic achievement, and effective transition from high school to college. She presents locally and nationally on these topics, as well as learning disabilities and psychoeducational assessment.
Dr. Whittaker is an experienced school psychologist, educator, relationship builder, and administrator with a proven record of excellence in the areas of special education and student services, assessment, developing academic and social-emotional programs, and fostering strong relationships with students, parents, and the community. His career began as a special education teacher, where he taught dually diagnosed students. Dr. Whittaker served as a school psychologist for over ten years before moving into a variety of district leadership roles Dr. Whittaker grew up in Chester, Pennsylvania and received his Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from Cheyney University. Dr. Whittaker earned his Master’s degree as well as his Doctoral degree in Educational Leadership and Administration from Immaculata University. Dr. Whittaker’s dissertation focused on the underrepresentation of African-American students in gifted education and he is passionate about addressing the educational achievement gap within the public school system, diversity-equity- and inclusion, assisting parents and families navigate the special education process, and gifted education.
Monica McHale-Small is the Director of Education for the Learning Disabilities Association of America and an Adjunct Associate Professor of School Psychology at Temple University. Monica retired from public education after twenty-seven years of service in Pennsylvania as a school psychologist and in a variety of district leadership roles including, most recently, district superintendent. She earned her doctorate and masters’ degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, Graduate School of Education. Dr. McHale-Small has long advocated bringing sound research into practice in public schools. She advocates for responsible inclusion and equity for historically underserved students including racially, culturally and linguistically diverse students and students with disabilities. While superintendent of Saucon Valley School District, she co-founded the Greater Lehigh Valley Consortium for Equity and Excellence for the purpose of facilitating training and conversation among school district leaders focused on educational equity. She currently consults with the ACLU of PA on School to Prison Pipeline issues. She serves as past president of the Learning Disabilities Association of America, and has previously served on boards of the International Dyslexia Association, the Pennsylvania Branch of IDA, and the National Association of Pupil Services Administrators.
A Q&A with LDA CEO, attorney, and parent Cindy Cipoletti
If you suspect your child has a learning disability, what should your first steps be?
This would depend on how old your child is. When you first suspect that they might have a learning disability, the earlier a child is identified and gets the appropriate intervention, then the more successful they can be, and the better they’re going to be able to do in school.
So if your child is already enrolled in school, and you suspect they may have a learning disability, the first step would be to request in writing an evaluation from the school. If your child has not yet enrolled in school, if they’re in preschool or it’s before they start kindergarten, then I would tell parents to discuss your concerns with your child’s pediatrician. And look into some early screening options. There are a lot of new early screening options popping up and some can even be done online now too.
Get a sample of a written request for an evaluation here.
What rights to parents have when requesting an evaluation?
Parents have the right under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, to request an evaluation of their child, which the law provides should be performed within 60 days of that request. A lot of states have their own timelines, so generally the schools will follow whatever the state mandated timeline is. There’s also no cost. Part of the law is that you are entitled to have your child evaluated for a learning disability and there is no cost to the family.
What should parents do if they don’t agree with the child’s evaluation?
Parents can request an independent educational evaluation for their child if they don’t agree with what the school’s evaluation says, and they can request that the school pay for that individual or independent education evaluation (IEE), but you’ll have to show why that’s necessary. And the school might disagree with you and decline to pay for it.
But as a parent, you can always have an independent evaluation done and pay for it yourself, though they can be quite pricey. But if you really feel that the evaluation is wrong, or inaccurate, you can definitely take that route. The school has to consider the independent education evaluation, but it doesn’t have to accept the results or recommendation. The IEE will become part of your child’s educational record, but again, the school doesn’t necessarily have to accept the results.
What’s the difference between an IEP and 504 Plan?
There are two different federal laws that apply here. So the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, is a federal education law requiring school districts to offer a free appropriate public education. You may have heard that referred to as FAPE for students with disabilities in the least restrictive environment. So that’s one law, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a different law. That’s a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance. So those are the two different laws that we’re talking about when we talk about the difference between an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) and a 504 plan.
So when we’re talking about IDEA and the IEP, if a child is determined to be eligible for special education services, under the IDEA he or she will be offered an IEP. There are 13 disability categories under the IDEA, and a student must have one of those disabilities, and that disability must affect their educational performance in order for them to qualify for an IEP. The IEP lays out a program of special education instruction, so it’s really a roadmap. It sets forth supports and related services that the child needs to make progress and thrive in school. It’s a very detailed plan, it contains goals, measurable outcomes, details of modified instruction and timelines for those measurable outcomes. So that’s the IEP, and again, the IDEA is the law that the IEP falls under.
A 504 plan, which again refers to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, is a different method for students with disabilities to get the supports that they need. It’s like a blueprint for how the school can provide support and remove barriers for a student with a disability. Unlike an IEP, there’s no standard 504 plan. And Section 504 has a broader definition of disability than the IDEA, so sometimes students who may not qualify under IDEA for an IEP can actually get the support and accommodations they need through a 504 plan.
How should parents prepare for an IEP meeting?
If you are new to IEPs and you’re about to go into your child’s first IEP meeting, write down your specific concerns for your child. Because when you get into that meeting, you may think that you’ll remember what you want to say, but it can be overwhelming. Even as someone who is an attorney, and I would consider myself fairly educated in this area, I was intimidated going into my first IEP meeting. You tend to forget what you want to say. So write down your specific concerns, list challenges that your child is struggling with in school, and write down anything else that you really want to make sure that you communicate and don’t forget.
I would request that the school provide you with any evaluations and proposed goals or objectives prior to the meeting. Bring a notebook, something to write with, and any evaluations that you may have had done outside of the school.
And be prepared for the meeting to be a little bit emotional and stressful, especially if it’s your first one. It can be really difficult to discuss your child’s challenges and to hear about them from other people, some of whom you may not know. So don’t be surprised to go into your first, second, or third IEP meeting, and come out feeling a little emotional and a little stressed, or a lot emotional and a lot stressed. That’s really normal.
And don’t be afraid to ask questions or voice your opinions. It can be intimidating and feel like everybody else in the meeting knows more than you about the processes and terminology, but don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand something. Or if somebody uses a term that is unfamiliar to you, don’t feel that you can’t ask what that means. Make sure you ask, that’s the time to do it.
And know that you don’t have to sign the IEP at that meeting. If you feel like you need some time to process it or talk it over with your family, know that you don’t need to sign that IEP right there. Special education services won’t start until that IEP is signed, but if you need a couple days, make sure you do that, and make sure you take that time for yourself.
Who will be at the IEP meeting?
There will be a bit of a difference from state to state on this, but generally speaking the student is always allowed to be at the meeting. But it’s the parent’s decision on whether they think it’s beneficial for your student to be at that meeting or not.
A parent or guardian is required to be at the meeting, and a general education teacher is required to be at the meeting. They may or may not be your child’s teacher, that role may just vary depending on the school district. The special education teacher is required to be at the meeting, a representative from the school or the local education agency is required to be there, and someone who can interpret evaluation results, like a school psychologist or speech pathologist, or another special education teacher, will be there.
And then anyone else that is invited by the parent or guardian is also able to be there. So if you have an advocate or a case manager or someone else that you want to be a part of that meeting to either be a support to you or you think can offer valuable input on your child, that person can be there as well.
What is the parent’s role in an IEP meeting?
I would say that the parent role is the most important role in that meeting. Whether you’re a parent or the primary caregiver of that child, you know your child better than anyone else, and you’re going to be able to provide the most input on your child struggles, on their strengths, on their weaknesses, where they’re succeeding, where they’re failing, and how they’ll respond to certain approaches.
Your role as a parent or caregiver is to make sure you provide the team with all the information about your child that you think needs to be considered in the development of their IEP. And again, if the team is using words and phrases you don’t understand, ask questions. I would err on the side of over-communicating, just to make sure that everyone knows exactly what they need to know.
How often are IEP meetings? And when can you expect your child to get a new IEP?
If your child already receives special education services, the school typically must reevaluate at least every three years. The school has to have your consent to do new testing, but not necessarily to review the existing data on your child. You can request a reevaluation more often than that, but not more than once a year, generally. And especially if, after two years, you feel like they really need to have this reevaluated because the goals aren’t pertinent any more, then definitely, definitely request a reevaluation.
What should you do if you feel your child’s IEP is ineffective?
The first thing you should do is request a reevaluation. Offer documentation or examples of how the goals of the IEP aren’t being met, aren’t relevant, or aren’t applicable anymore. Like I said before, you can always have an independent evaluation done.
Many disputes can be resolved just by talking through the disagreements or discrepancies, and I always advise parents to try to resolve any kind of disagreement amicably. Rarely is taking an adversarial approach the most effective way to resolve a dispute. However, if you aren’t able to resolve things through conversations in meetings, which unfortunately happens, you do have a legal remedy under the IDEA called due process. Due process starts when you file a written complaint against the school. After you file the complaint, you and the school will attend what’s called, generally, a resolution session, which is a meeting where both sides try to reach an agreement before going any further.
And the school may agree to waive that meeting and try mediation, like bringing in a kind of a mediator or a third party to try and reach a resolution.
This might be a situation where a parent should hire an attorney or an advocate if you get to this point. Under IDEA you can file a due process complaint for a dispute related to the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of a child with a disability, or the provision of a free appropriate public education. So if you feel that’s the case for your child, then due process is the avenue that you would take to make sure that your child’s needs are being met.
A Q&A with Mitchell Beres, President of LDA Virginia and a parent to two children with learning disabilities.
Anthony would start asking the question, ‘Why me? What’s wrong with me? Why do I have to be taken out of class and go to this other classroom to have somebody read to me?’ And we learned that telling him ‘Anthony you just learn differently. You really just learn differently, you don’t do it the same way.’
And over time that started to work, he started feeling more comfortable in his own skin, who he was, who he is, and that carried through in such a way that he’s become self confident, self assured, a self-advocate.
And my daughter, as she started understanding herself, she fit the mold of ‘I am who I am.’ She even jokes around, she has working memory issues. And if we tell her don’t forget, she goes, ‘You know me, send me a text. Because I will not remember this by the time I drive from Virginia to New York.’
And so they’ve gotten very comfortable. And I think where we help that it’s: You just learn different. They’re not different, you learn different. And we kept pushing that and pushing that all the time.
I think when you start work using vague words, you start to hide what is reality. And I believe for the child to really become comfortable with who they are, they need to know who they are. And when you start playing with, ‘Oh, you have some differences.’ What does that mean? We all have differences, you know.
Saying I have dyslexia, I struggle with reading, it’s important that they understand that too, because one of the things I found over the years is the lack of knowledge of what dyslexia is, people throw that word around like there’s no tomorrow. They go, ‘Oh, he jumbles letters.’ No, it may look that way. But you can’t describe dyslexia as ‘he jumbles his letters.’
And it’s the same with the anxiety kinds of issues, if they don’t understand what it is, that makes them different. If you cover it up, it’s like, well, ‘she’s just a little shy.’ No, it’s more than just a little shy. And so you can’t hide behind that. You have to be upfront.
So especially with Anthony, because with dyslexia and dysgraphia, and tackling from two sides of the coin. And so first, what I had to really, really learn is that dyslexia is the difficulty in translating the written word into something cognitive.
And then dysgraphia, just reversing, they’re taking the cognitive picture in your head, and translating into written word. So with him, my style of working had to be to sit with him when he was reading and read with him, and make him read and have him understand it. And when he started typing words, he was like ‘How do you spell this?’ I’d say ‘Okay, look it up. You do it.’
So I worked with him a lot on papers. And tying the two together with dyslexia and dysgraphia is ‘Ok, do understand what this was about? This assignment. When you read it, you understand?’ And we’d talk about it for a while.
And then when it came to writing it would be ‘Okay, Anthony, tell me what you want to say.’ Because he can create a story and tell you all day long, put that pen in his hand or the typewriter in front, I would say start typing. It’s very, very slow.
So just tell me, and let’s start writing down what you said. And by doing that, it became easy later to reformat and edit. What was down, even if it wasn’t all logical in the way you wanted it, the storyline was there. And so it was being there with him, and helping him by making him do the things, and not doing it for him. You know, ‘just go do it’ didn’t work. I had to be around help.
So you have to change your style. And you have to understand not only what the child is wrestling with, but then how you help them through it. And just doing it for them doesn’t help anything because you’ve done all the work. They get good grades because you wrote a paper for them, but that doesn’t help. But things that we might have grown up with ourselves or believe ‘this is the way you do it’ might not work. You just have to sit there and say ‘What’s working?’
And you’ve got to be willing to try different types of things. Again, helping them with homework. Do you do it in the bedroom? Do you do the kitchen? Where do you get their attention? Especially children like this, because both kids have ADHD, so you have to look for that period of time I have their attention. And it’s going to have to last long enough to do something.
Going through this is a multifaceted education process for the parent. You need to understand what their issue is, why are they struggling? Is it dyslexia? Or dysgraphia? Is it ADHD? Is it something physical that creates a problem with learning abilities? You have to understand what you’re dealing with so that you know how to react, then you have to educate yourself on how you should help, and then be willing to adjust many times during that process. Because as your child grows, what you did in third grade might not work in sixth grade, or won’t work in high school.
We have to educate ourselves on the whole picture, and then you can help. But if we go in thinking, ‘Oh, I know what to do,’ then you’re gonna run into a brick wall and say, ‘Why isn’t this working?’
It wasn’t just me. You know, clearly, my wife had a lot to do with it. It was the Winston School in San Antonio, they went there in high school. If there was one thing they taught, and pushed, is be your own self advocate. If you want it done, you have to be able to stand up for yourself. And you’ve got to stand up proud of who you are. And understand yes, you learn differently, but you’re not different.
And then you also educate them.
Branson, the Chairman of Virgin Atlantic is dyslexic. Einstein was dyslexic. I don’t know if it’s true, but the story goes that in seventh grade, a teacher sent a note home with Einstein, telling his mother that he was too stupid to learn. And when they start finding out if there’s these famous people that are just like them, in regards to how they learn and how they do things, it’s ‘Oh, okay. I’m not out here on an island. I’m not different, I learn different.’
And as they get comfortable in their own skin, then it’s easy to become a self advocate, because now they know who they are. And they’re comfortable with who they are. So it’s easier to stand up in front of somebody and say, ‘Wait a minute, I have a right to have more time on my test, I have a right to go someplace else so I’m not distracted or nervous.’ And do that.
My daughter had to do that with the professor at Hofstra, he was adamant that she didn’t need more time, or some going into a private thing. She went into SAS and the head of SAS said, ‘He’s wrong, you will have a special place to take the test, and then you’ll have extra time.’ And it was a done deal. She was totally comfortable saying ‘Wait a minute, I have this right,’ and went in and got the support that she needs. So it’s something that you know, we push as parents, if you have the right educational system around them, not only do they push it also, they succeed in it, and then they can see.
Parents need to be aware of everything that’s out there. What kind of programs are there? What can you have? Can you have extended time? Do you have rooms to go take tests in?
And then research. I mean, you have to do a little research because every state is different in terms of what’s available and what’s not. As you go from grammar schools, to high school, to college, everything changes and it takes a lot of research. You have to dig into it and say ‘What are we allowed to do, what are we expected to do?’
I’m not an expert in IEPs but IEPs are not the teacher telling you ‘Here’s what we’re going to do, take it or leave it.’ You as a parent can go in there and say ‘No, wait a minute. No, I took my child to a neurologist. And if we do it that way, it’s not going to work. I took my child to the second neurologist that’s not going to work,’ these kinds of things.
There’s no one part answer that says, here’s what you need to know. What you need to know is to go research and find out what you’re entitled to. I think I mentioned earlier, when I was on the board of this high school where the kids went to school, the parents that would come in from public schools and say, ‘I want my child to go here,’ a lot of the stories, behind the tears of the parents, because the child was struggling so much, they didn’t know what to do.
They went in and the teacher said, ‘Here’s your IEP.’ And they said, ‘Okay,’ and it wasn’t working. And they didn’t know why it wasn’t working. And they didn’t know what they could do to go back and appeal what was in the IEP, or where to go to get support to go in and fight what was in the IEP.
I wish I could just say here’s what you need to know. You need to know everything. You need to be able to go out and research it. And the more you research and you find out your rights, the better advocate you can be for your child, because you’ll go in there and not accept something that’s half hearted, or maybe technically follows the requirements, but isn’t really doing what your child needs. And if you don’t have any information as the parent, you really can’t help your child, because then you’re a victim of the system. And you know, the system is bureaucratic.
The parents really have to be in there. And they have to be smart about what they’re asking for.
Learn more about some of the most common national laws affecting individuals with learning disabilities here. LDA members have access to weekly public policy updates, which include national, state, and local news that affects individuals with learning disabilities.
To really reach out to the school, find out who is the counselor, who is the person in charge of ensuring that your child gets the accommodations they need, and get in front of them, talk to them. ‘What do you think my child should do? What are you the school proposing to do?’ And you need to get your hands around that topic and understand what it is they’re proposing. And then as I said previously, then you need to go out and do some research and say, ‘Is this going to do it? Is there more that I can ask for or should ask for? And is there a specialist?’
And then people say, a specialist costs money. And unfortunately, it does. But one of the things you can do is research your insurance, because certain insurance policies and certain companies will pay for some of these tests. And so get as much information as you can for yourself, and then find who’s the person that’s going to sign off on that IEP or 504 and that information from the school. Who’s the person driving the program that my child will go through, because that’s where you have to sit down.
And some people say it’s negotiation, maybe it’s a little bit of a negotiation, but you as a parent, have a right to ensure, and in fact it’s an obligation, to make sure your child is getting everything that they can and should get, and not get the minimum because the school says that’s what we need.
Follow what’s going on in your state, whenever you see anything, and there’s a lot of things that go on from the state and the government perspective.
See if you can log into the education department. What rules are they passing? What are they allowing people to do? We need to understand that.
It really is just doing a lot of research. Get involved in the school, not necessarily joining the school board or becoming a volunteer, but get involved. Talk to them. What’s going on? What are your plans? How are you going to do this? What is your formal program? And even if you know your child has this learning disability, and it’s one thing, what’s their plans for children with learning disabilities in its entirety?
So the more you understand everything that’s going on, it gives you more strength and knowledge. Plus, it takes you a long time to think you know everything.
Now, we started out with my son, he had problems reading. And it took a while to find out he had dyslexia. ADHD came in during that. Dysgraphia wasn’t found until the very end and he really had to start writing papers. My daughter, we found the anxiety issue kind of early on. But the ADHD piece, which was written off as, ‘oh she’s just anxious,’ wait, no, it’s more than she’s just anxious. So you don’t always know the whole thing.
You think sometimes, ‘oh, I know, my child has this. And this is what I need to do.’ Not necessarily. Keep looking, keep researching. And stay involved. If you sit back and just let the school do it, well then the school will do what they ‘have to do,’ but it may not be everything that your child needs.
Get involved in every way you can. Clearly, LDA is a great resource of information, everything that’s online, and everything that comes out on a regular basis with what’s going on is phenomenal. When they have webinars, listen to one of those webinars, listen to what people are saying, here’s what’s going on, especially when they’re coming up with the webinars on here’s how we work with dyslexia, which could be different than here’s how we did it 10 years ago.
If you don’t stay involved and understand everything you can, then you’re going to do your best for your child, but there’s more you could do if you had more knowledge.
Being a parent is work no matter what. That’s just what it is. One day you sit back and say, I hope they take care of me like I took care of them. But it’s work, and when you have a child with learning differences, yes, there’s more work. But you can make tremendous progress and help your child make tremendous progress by doing the work and helping.
When we took my son to Winston School and spoke to the administrator, the administrator said ‘So what did you want?’ And my wife was almost in tears. I just wanted him to be able to get out of high school. And now both will graduate from Hofstra University. It’s work. But the success is there. And you’ll sit back and just be so happy at how well your children are doing.
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Advice from learning & behavior consultant Bev Johns
Adults need to learn what the triggers are for the children, and then help the children identify those triggers, so that they can do better. For instance, in a classroom, it might be certain words that trigger something worrying. The first thing we have to do is know our children, and what I call the emotional baggage that they’re coming into the classroom with, because a lot of our children are coming in with a lot of baggage.
We need to not make assumptions based upon children’s observable behaviors, because underlying those observable behaviors may be issues that are far more complex and involve a mental health issue. For instance, the child may act out because of anxiety or because someone moved his book out of place and he has obsessive compulsive issues.
I always remember a little guy that I worked with, he was one of my favorite students. None of his materials could touch other materials. So in other words, the reading paper couldn’t touch the math paper, couldn’t touch the social studies paper. Well, if they did touch, somebody forgot and that happened, he might start screaming because his pattern was upset. And so it was related to what was going on with the child. But the observable behavior was the screaming. But if you didn’t understand what had happened before, you wouldn’t understand how to work effectively with the student. That was always a trigger for him.
We have to remember that not only do our children have trouble emotionally regulating, but they have something that we call the ‘lack of cognitive flexibility,’ meaning the ability for them to move from one activity to another. So that’s why we want to do one step directions. We’re not giving them multiple things to do at one time, because multiple things to do at one time, regardless of their age, is very difficult for them. And then we need to make sure that our directions are clear.
One of the big concerns that I see with children is that we switch activities, and we switch activities fast. And sometimes our children can’t move from PE class to math, because that’s just too big of a jump. So we might need to build in an intermediate step. So for instance, rather than going right from PE to math, maybe we can go from PE to doing an active activity in math, that involves some body movement.
The other problem that I see is with worksheets. If you have problems with cognitive flexibility, a lot of our worksheets today switch directions on one sheet of paper six times. So I say to teachers, don’t put more than one direction on a sheet of paper at a time. Because otherwise, you’re causing that child to have more anxiety. Sometimes we just don’t think about those things.
If we say to children, ‘you have five minutes to do this,’ that in itself is going to cause anxiety for some children. It’s probably much better to say, in math, do two more problems, or in reading, answer one more question, or if you’re an art teacher, finish painting with this one color. It’s those little things that can really make a big difference for a child, and can avoid a lot of stress and anxiety.
For children with anxiety, we need to be careful of the use of timers because those may be upsetting to them. They’re so busy worrying about ‘when is the timer going to go off?’ that this may not be an effective practice for them. So remember to instead say things like, ‘let’s do two more together,’ as opposed to using timers.
We know about children who have trouble with tests. I was working with an older student one day, and she was so anxious because she had put so much pressure on herself. She had to do well on the test, she had this goal. And if she didn’t do well on the test, she wasn’t going to be able to meet her goal. She spelled her own name wrong. Those things break your heart.
We could reduce some anxiety if we taught our children how to take tests. There are lots of well-researched test taking strategies that are out there for students. Test taking is a skill.
Never assume that children just automatically know how to emotionally regulate. They have to be taught, and they have to be taught first by co-regulating with someone. So for instance, when we see the child is stressed, or where we’re stressed, we may need to teach them some deep breathing activities, we maybe want to teach them things that are what we call ‘cognitive distractions.’ In other words, let’s move to another activity, or let’s change the topic.
How do you know if a child is a worrier, or has an anxiety disorder?
We all worry. One of the things we can do with children and with ourselves is identify those things that make us worry. But once we get into anxiety disorders, then what we’re talking about are the children who the anxiety is interfering with their life functioning. There are certain things that they’re not able to do and are developmentally inappropriate. Young children are going to worry, it’s just part of development. But when it’s lasting for six months or more, then it’s a concern for us.
Bev Johns has been an active member of the Learning Disabilities Association for many years serving as a State President and State Presidents’ representative. She is very active in the Healthy Children Project. She has over 35 years experience in special education in the public schools in Illinois. She is now a Professional Fellow at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Illinois, and is a learning and behavior consultant. She has chaired legislative committees for a number of professional organizations and was the recipient of the 2000 Outstanding Leadership Award of the Council for Exceptional Children. She is the author of over 20 books in the area of special education and working with children with challenging behaviors.