A Resource for All Independent Educational Consultant Specialties
Prepared by the LD Awareness subcommittee of the IECA Learning Disability Committee
IECA members have the option of pursuing a Learning Disability (LD) designation as a secondary specialty to the school, college, graduate, or therapeutic designations. The number of children who are diagnosed with a learning disability as well as other neurological and health impairments, such as ADHD, is on the rise, as are co-morbid mental health issues. It is our belief that it has become crucially important for all Independent Educational Consultants (IECs) to have a basic working understanding of these issues even if they do not plan to serve this population.
Although IECs are free to choose the population with whom they work, IECs with limited knowledge of LDs may not recognize when a student has an issue that requires further attention. That situation may be further complicated because some parents who engage with IECs do not realize that their child may have a learning disability (or they suspect it but are not ready to face the possibility). Understanding the issues and how they present in a child is essential in such a situation. With more education on LDs, an IEC who is not an LD expert might be able to recognize when it is appropriate to recommend a student for further evaluation or consult with a colleague who has the appropriate LD expertise. The risks of overlooking a potential diagnosis could have long-term negative repercussions for the student.
IECs without LD experience who take on clients with learning issues may not serve them well, despite good intentions. This commonly occurs with students who are very successful academically and whose disability may be hidden. Our hope is to convey to IECs who take on such cases that such a student may require additional support and guidance—more than meets the eye. Consider the following five recommendations when meeting with clients:
1. Interpret evidence from the student file and initial parent assessment.
Are there comments on report cards that suggest an underperformance in academic areas? Has there been a history of difficulties with social relationships or developing friendships? Do the parents provide an army of tutors or extensively support the student with daily life routines to a degree that seems out of the norm? Although these factors do not necessarily point to a learning disability, they do warrant further investigation on the part of the IEC.
2. Pay attention to the student’s history.
Does the parent refer to a neuropsychological evaluation that was completed many years ago, but say that the student has “outgrown” the disability? A student can learn strategies to deal with disabilities, but no one outgrows them. Likewise, note any reports of early speech and language services or support from a therapist or mental health professional.
3. Observe and listen to the student.
Ask the student about study skills, attitudes toward reading, and typical feedback received from teachers on writing assignments. Ask about comfort with math—are some aspects of math more challenging than others? Does the student report difficulty focusing in class or while reading a text? Does the student take a long time to respond to your questions? Is the student able to express ideas eloquently, but not able to put them in writing? Is there more than typical incidence of lost papers, missed appointments, or baseball caps and water bottles left behind and general disorganization? Do you notice a flat affect and lack of expression, or does the student frequently misinterpret what you say?
4. Note the student’s attitude toward school and testing.
Does the student dislike school? Are there frequent absences or tardies and missed assignments? Does the student have a discrepancy between GPA and test scores? Do they perform well on homework and in-class assignments, but bomb on tests? Does the student engage in extracurricular activities? Inconsistencies in methods of evaluation and lack of engagement with school may or may not be because of an LD, but they deserve further analysis.
5. Pay attention to the student’s emotional health and self-esteem.
Does the student make self-deprecating comments or express feelings of worthlessness or sadness? Does the student worry unnecessarily? Be sure to note comments about difficult family relationships or changing friendship groups. Many students with LD have a connected mental health issue, such as anxiety or depression. Students with LD and ADHD also are more likely to have issues with substance abuse.
What Happens Next?
If you suspect a student may have an LD and you do not feel prepared to serve them, contact an IECA colleague to take over the client or to assist you jointly. Even if you are not interested in working deliberately with LD clients, please consider developing a base of knowledge about LDs by attending relevant pre-conference and breakout sessions at conferences, viewing webinars, and reading about the subject (resources are available in the IECA Resource Library: www.iecaonline.com/library.html#learning-disabilities). The LD Committee is available to support you in your learning. We hope you will become interested in these topics and decide to pursue your LD designation.