Completing two Master’s degree’s simultaneously allowed me to learn about child development and special needs education in a uniquely integrated way. Often, explaining the range of typical child development helps answer parents and teacher’s concerns about whether a child has, or is at risk for having, a learning disability. The following question was posted on a parent list I follow:
My child is a kindergartener with speech & language issues and is having a very difficult time learning to read, even with the resource specialist. He has a hard time writing the letters within the proper space. Can anyone recommend a handwriting tutor/specialist or perhaps an O.T. who can assist?
Developmentally, children should not be expected to read or write in Kindergarden. Looking at a bell shaped statistical curve, children are ready to begin learning to read at age 7. That means that a few will be ready at 5, and some not until 9. Our curriculum in the US, and particularly in areas like Palo Alto and the Silicon Valley, have what is informally called a “push down curriculum.” This is where we (parents, teachers, curriculum directors, textbook companies, etc) expect children to do things they are not yet neurologically able to. Just as you wouldn’t expect your baby to walk until their brain had made the neurological connections which allow him to balance and make his legs move alternately, a child can not read or write until their brain is ready. No tutor, resource specialist, occupational therapist, software, or repetitive practice will alter a child’s developmental curve—but they will make the child feel bad, and incapable at school.
That said, speech and language issues are early indicators of a potential learning disability. The best things to do now are:
- Allow your child to enjoy kindergarden without academic expectations,
- Read Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz,
- Have your resource specialist, speech therapist, and pediatrician keep close tabs on your child’s development.
- Continue intensive speech and language services, as early intervention is especially effective.
If your child continues to struggle with reading and writing during the summer after 1st grade, then it is a reasonable time to start psycho-educational testing to begin to tease out developmental and dyslexia type issues. Even then, however, be mindful of any assessment specialist who will give your child an absolute diagnosis. Until the outer edge of the developmental curve, we can only give an educated guess as to whether a child has a true learning disability. In most cases, I feel that line occurs around age 9, or in the third grade.