“No other skill taught in school and learned by school children is more important than reading. It is the gateway to all other knowledge. Teaching students to read by the end of third grade is the single most important task assigned to elementary schools.” – American Federation of Teachers
It is important that you understand your child’s learning difficulties. There is no substitute for your own first-person understanding of the challenges your child faces in learning. If you don’t understand what your child needs, how can you advocate for them? Although you can get information from your child’s school and teachers, remember that they are accountable to district and state education bureaucracies, so their goals are different from yours. You need objective, scientifically based information as a counter-balance so that you can advocate for your child’s specific needs.
You won’t be able to become an expert on all on all the challenges your child might be facing so begin with getting a good understanding of your child’s top 1 or 2 difficulties. You will learn more about what your child needs as interventions begin and you learn what works and doesn’t for your child. In addition to reading articles and books, one way to experience a little of the difficulty your child struggles with is to go through the simulations at Misunderstood Minds http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/misunderstoodminds/.
Talk with your child’s teacher to see if the school sees signs for concern. However, you know your child better than anyone else. If it seems to you that there is a problem, there probably is. Teachers are wonderful, generous people who won’t deliberately mislead you. Even with the best intentions, however, very few teachers have any training in the sciences related to learning disabilities or reading difficulties. It’s up to you. This year’s teachers won’t be with your child 10 years from now, but you will be!
Trust yourself and your knowledge of your child. Parents often sense that their child is having difficulty long before the school does. Well-meaning teachers may try to reassure you by saying that the problem is a “developmental lag” and that your child will “catch up,” or that “one day everything will just click.” Unfortunately, research shows that most of these children will not catch up on their own. Early intervention is critical. Waiting to intervene only allows your child to fall farther behind, and the longer your child doesn’t get help, the harder it will be for him or her to catch up.