With school back in session, parents hope their children will find a path to academic success. Learning disabilities, once considered road blocks to that success, can now be helped with the right tools, according to local educators.
Eve Rak, the center director at Sylvan Learning Center of Schererville, said that if students, parents and educators work together, learning disabilities will not keep a child stagnant in his or her education.
“As an educator I believe that with the cooperation of all parties we can meet the needs and choose the best course of action for any student,” Rak said.
Jane Winkoff, director of Northwest Indiana Special Education Cooperative (www.nisec.org), said if parents suspect their child has a learning problem and the child is school aged, they would first go to their school and meet with the teacher and principal and let them know that they have concerns. The schools work with the parents to assist them in refocusing instruction if there are gaps that need to be closed or more minor issues. If that doesn’t seem to be effective, then they can request a special education evaluation.
“That’s where we come in,” Winkoff said of the cooperative.
“We would work with the school and evaluate the child and determine whether they are eligible for special education services or not. If they’re eligible, then we develop a formal plan with the parents’ input and the teachers’ input and if they’re not eligible, but have a disability, the school can consider developing what’s called a 504 plan to help them, or they can also put just additional support from general education in place.”
She said that the majority of their current students have what would be considered mild disabilities.
“That could include a learning disability, speech or language impairment, other health impairment or mild cognitive disability."
The cooperative has many support services and aims to help all students reach their fullest potential while having them included in general education as much as possible, she said.
Connie Manous, director of special education for the school city of Hammond, advises parents to first check with their child’s pediatrician if they see him or her lagging behind.
Doctors are a good source, she said, because they see children at a younger age than a school does, and can detect issues like hyperactivity, for example, if a child can’t sit still and is not sleeping well.
“All school systems are required by law to identify any youngster in need of services by the age of 3,” Manous said.
Classes of disability vary by state, but in Indiana, there are 13 including autism spectrum disorder, communication disorder, deaf-blindness, developmental delay, emotional disability, hearing impairment, learning disability, mental disability, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, other health impairment, traumatic brain injury and visual impairment.
“A lot of youngsters qualify under developmentally delayed and can get caught up by kindergarten,” Manous said.
Once a child enters kindergarten, teachers start introducing him or her to academia and through informal assessment, may spot difficulty and begin what they call Response to Intervention, a form of remediation.
“It’s a pre-step to identifying kids with needs that if they get sufficient help will not be a candidate for special education,” she said.
No matter the disability, Hammond schools focus on getting the students extra help though an individual education plan and have them be able to function in a general education environment.
“In Hammond we do a lot of push in,” she said, where the special education teachers will assist in the regular classroom, allowing students to stay in traditional classrooms. They also have a basic skills period, where students who need additional help can have one period a day to work on skills.
Parents who still feel their student needs extra help outside of school can contact a for-profit agency and get individualized tutoring.
Sylvan Learning Center (www.sylvanlearning.com) offers a variety of tutoring programs for students outside the classroom. The center reaches out to classroom teachers and any specialists working with the student, said Rak, who worked as a classroom teacher before working for Sylvan.
“In my experience children presented with a challenge and given the support and encouragement needed will always rise to the occasion.”
Sylvan has worked with students with many types of learning disabilities, Rak said. When assessing the child, they take into account the severity and type of disability.
“Every child learns differently,” Rak said. “Visual, auditory, and haptic learning are all part of our curriculum.
“We have never turned away a student because we were unable to work with them.”