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Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > Teens, Preteens, & Young Adults > Teens and Learning Disabilities
My two teenagers both have processing issues which affect them in school. They have both been tested through the Berkeley School district as well as through Kaiser. My daughter was found to have an average IQ, slow processing and auditory attention weaknesses (but not disabilites). My son has a high average IQ, was diagnosed with ADHD but was not identified with learning disabilties. With each year, their grades get worse, their motivation lower, and their discouragement greater. They do not qualify for IEP's, just 504's and my son's has not been renewed since he started high school (they want to try other options, which seems like nothing). I still suspect either auditory processing disorder or executive functioning disorder or something else may be at work. I wonder if the tests that were done were not as comprehensive as they should have been. I need advice as I am drowning in despair over how to help them. Should I have further testing done and if so, what? How can I get the school to respond? Please help! stressed out single mom
It turned out that the biggest issue was a ''processing speed'' problem, along with inattentive-type ADHD. The testing sessions took much longer than was typical, but he did beautifully on any test that wasn't timed. If the test was timed, nearly everything that he did was correct but he never finished in time, so the score was low.
The problem didn't show up until Jr. High, because in the lower grades he was able to compensate, just by being smart. Eventually, though, the volume of work increased to a point where compensating just wasn't possible any more. He spent hours and hours on homework, and his in-class assignments and tests were usually turned in unfinished because he ran out of time.
When we got to high school, once I explained the situation, the teachers were very understanding and informally gave him as much time as he needed to finish his tests. He often went back at lunch or after school to finish a test from earlier in the day. (He still spent hours and hours on homework, but not everything has a tidy solution...)
Where we ran into trouble was trying to get a formal 504 plan -- because he was ''doing too well''! I tried to explain that his grades were so good only because he informally received the very accommodations I was trying to pin down. Finally, after a lot of work -- and the arrival of a different person as school psychologist -- we did get our 504 and the extra time was always given. This was important because ''informal'' accomodations cannot be given on standardized tests (SAT, AP, etc.), but a formal 504 is valid. (He is in college now, and the extra time is still granted on exams.)
Anyway, I did not mean to ramble on so long! I highly recommend the UC Berkeley Psychology Clinic. anonymous
1. The testing may not be comprehensive enough or the testing is comprehensive enough, they're just not being honest with you about the results.
2. If your kids have 504 plans and they're still not doing well, maybe it's time for an IEP. There are lots of different categories under which they may qualify.
I'm a special ed attorney and I offer a free one hour consultation if you have more questions. Bring the test results with you. LP
Do you have a teen like this and what did you do? Boarding school for dyslexic/LD kids? Homeschool? Private school? Outward Bound? Our almost 15 y/o dd is bright, fun and articulate, a perfectionist who gives up easily (deadly with LDs), and has a variety of learning disabilities (ADD, rapid naming type dyslexia, visual / auditory processing /executive function issues, slow processing speed etc) only partially remediated by vision therapy, lindamood-bell, making math real. We have tried Rx but they work 10% at best, and it's a struggle to get her to take them due to the side effects. She's at Orinda Academy, 9th gr, they say she is not yet 'literate' and needs intensive 1-on-1 this summer. Every day in school reminds her of what she CAN'T do. She just quit her therapist (long story) and we're investigating family therapy. She's giving up: all she says she wants to do is be a flight attendent or massage therapist. What we're hoping to hear from you is what things finally worked for your child? Signed Very concerned mom
Our approach has been to give him the support he needs, but also to let him be himself and to make sure he has his down time - for him that means having time to play soccer and other sports, no high intensity tutoring during vacations, and time to just relax and be. Finding the right school has definitely been a big part of this.
After many very painful years in private school where his self esteem basically went down the toilet, he is now in 10th grade at Millennium High School (part of Piedmont Unified, but they take out of district students). Millennium is an amazing school - small classes, engaging, hands-on curriculum, a real understanding that different kids learn differently, and real interest in helping each student find their strengths, passions, etc. They also strongly believe that kids should have a life outside of school. Millennium does not consider itself a school for LD kids, but it works for my son and many others where a more traditional lecture-notes-homework high-pressure structure just doesn't work for them. This is the first school my son has been in where he doesn't actually need accomodations for his LD on a day to day basis! He still goes to tutoring outside of school, but also has time for team sports and other activities.
The result? I can honestly say that I have a happy, healthy 16 year old who feels good about himself, which to me is 90% of getting through the teen years. After years of hating school and saying that he would go no further than high school, he now talks about college without even a question. Will he go to Harvard? I doubt it. But I have faith that because he is smart, knows himself, cares about the world, is able to think outside the box, and all those other non-academic gifts that all our children have, he will find his niche, his passion, and pursue it.
I know it's hard in these days of so much focus on high powered academics, and may not be the direction that you want to go, but maybe taking the pressure off will help your daughter to see her gifts, find her passions, develop interests that may end up taking her farther. Sometimes our round kids just don't fit into those square holes.
Best of luck - I know it can be challenging. If you'd like to hear more about Millennium or otherwise, feel free to ask the moderator for my e-mail. mom of a happy, healthy 16 y.o.
I recently had my daughter ( 15) tested at Scottish Rite for language learning problems because she did poorly on standardized tests, although I know she is bright. It turns out she qualifies as a learning disability student. Of course I feel awful not to have had this info earlier - she is very bright and had other things to cope with, things I thought were responsible for school difficulties and not liking to read. Now I am full of questions. Can anyone recommend a licensed neuropsychologist? I am told ( by a duslexia association spokesperson) that a more specific diagnosis is needed. Has anyone had experience helping a teen deal with this -- at this late age? I think we still have time to address the issues in preparation for PSAT, SAT etc -- the qualification will give her extra time for these tests and tutoring ( when I find the right person, etc) should help. But in order to get these accommodations I will have to document her as " learning disabled". I'm wondering how best to help her deal with this. She is in therapy. I have of course informed her therapist. But I'm just wondering if others have had experience with this situation. She is now doing average work in high school, but under her ability level because of obstacles in reading. I welcome suggestions.
Part of the challenge of getting help is negotiating your way through the maze of school and legal issues about just who does additional testing, sets up the IEP (Individualized Education Program) and assures your daughter's rights under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and Section 504 and the IDEA. These terms are terms you'll be getting familiar with over the coming weeks and months.
It's SO common to feel overwhelmed and a little (or a lot) guilty that you didn't recognize her needs earlier. But you have permission to set this aside. Most parents try everything they can on their own before seeking outside assistance and trying tutors, different teachers, different ways of giving assignments, etc., are all common things that parents have tried first. Learning disabilities can be tough to spot and if you're a parent like me you already have enough to feel guilty about without adding one more thing to the list!
So, one step is to contact the Learning Disabilities Association of California. You can ask for Betty Schiemenz (the administrative director of LDA-CA) and she or another staffperson can begin to help you negotiate the maze of support services. You can visit LDA-CA online too, at www.ldaca.org. This is a great place to start, because they have links and resources to the entire LD community of support. There are annual conferences, a host of workshops, more written material and support groups than you or your daughter will ever be able to get to--this is the great news! Don't do this alone, you deserve support in it just like your daughter does.
You might want to contact Marilyn Hatch, an educational psychologist in the Fairfield area (far, but worth it). I'm sure her number is available through information or you can get it from Betty at LDA. She can give you resources for additional testing in your area and is really great herself in terms of assessment.
Finally, I work with kids and families who are dealing with learning differences. Teens go on to have amazingly successful academic and professional careers and you'd be shocked at the number and just who out there in the world you see on television, movies, newspapers, etc. has a learning disability. A learning disability is not a solid impediment to success and progress; it is, however, an invitation to learning creative and compassionate ways of responding to difference. And you don't have to do it alone!
Michael Simon, M.S., MFTI Oakland, CA
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