Learning Disorders do not simply "go away", rather, individuals have them for a lifetime. However, there are many ways to treat and cope with these issues. Special Education programs often utilize specific methods of instruction that will be helpful to those with disabilities. Common examples of Special Education curricula are Individualized Education Plans (frequently referred to as IEPs) and 504 Plans.
Any American child attending public school and receiving some type of special education services, regardless of the degree of severity of the learning disorder, will have an IEP. The Individualized Education Plan is developed with the input of parents, school administrators, and teachers. These individuals work together to create a comprehensive plan for optimizing each child's learning potential. IEPs are tailored to particular children, but they all share a common format that includes documentation of current levels of functioning, academic goals that are desirable and realistic for the child, and a plan for how the school will help the child to meet those goals. IEPs may also include information regarding how the attainment of goals will be measured, ways to help transition a child from one grade level to the next, and what other types of services a child may need in order to achieve his or her goals.
An IEP for a child with dyslexia may include recommendations that directions related to schoolwork are provided on audiotape, or that spell-check devices may be used. In addition, the IEP may suggest increased spacing between questions or items on a test, or allow the student to work in a different, quieter location than his or her peers. These are only examples, however, as IEPs are based entirely on the needs of an individual child within an individual classroom.
A 504 plan is another type of special education plan required by Section 504 of the (American) Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a law which protects the rights of disabled children who attend a school or program that receives federal financial assistance. According to this law, schools/programs must provide appropriate environmental accommodations and modifications for children with special needs. A child with a 504 plan does not necessarily have to have an IEP, but he or she must be receiving some type of accommodation in their school or classroom. For example, teachers can allow students with Disorders of Written Expression to speak into a tape recorder rather than writing their essays. Students may also have a teacher read words to them rather than using flashcards, and have permission to use a dictionary for in-class assignments.
Psychotherapy may also benefit an individual with a learning disability. These sessions are not designed to "cure" the disorder, but to help a child cope with associated behaviors, emotions, and thoughts that come about as a result of having a disability. Cognitive-behavioral techniques (based on the theory that unhelpful thoughts lead to problems with behavior and emotions) can be helpful in improving problem-solving strategies and attitudinal/motivational problems. These types of techniques are used to help children to reshape the way they think (e.g., challenging the idea that they are stupid or a loser and should therefore stop trying) as well as to develop a personalized rewards system to encourage them to engage in positive behavior, for instance, by instituting a sticker chart where stickers can be awarded for homework completion. As is the case with any positive rewards system, the reward must actually be desirable to the child who is to be rewarded. A sticker system will not motivate a child who could care less about stickers, for example.
What else can you do?
As the parent of a child with a learning disability, it is important to maintain a close relationship with your child's educators and counselors. Staying involved will help you make sure your child stays on track in school. Talking with other parents may also help- you may want to find out if your child's school has a group for parents of children with learning disorders. On-line resources may also be beneficial. Try visiting the website www.ldonline.org, which not only offers a large amount of information about learning disorders, but also offers a section especially for parents. Visiting All Kinds of Minds, or the website of the Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights, may also be helpful. If your child is in high school, this website offers information for college-bound students with disabilities.
Different Is Not Bad, Different Is the World: A Book About Disabilities by Sally L. Smith
A Mind At A Time by Mel Levine
A Parent's Guide to Special Education by Linda Wilmshurst, Alan W. Brue
Educational Care-A System for Understanding and Helping Children with Learning Problems at Home and in School by Mel Levine
Reversals: A Personal Account of Victory over Dyslexia by Eileen M. Simpson
The Complete IEP Guide: How to Advocate for Your Special Ed Child by Lawrence M. Siegel