Special Education Q&A

How Parents Can Spot Signs of Learning Disabilities During Remote Learning

By Corey Mitchell — September 10, 2020 2 min read
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Special education has emerged as one of the most significant concerns for families and schools during the global pandemic, with much of the focus on the plight of students who are separated from the teachers and specialists that ensure they have equal opportunities to learn.

But students with undiagnosed learning disabilities may also be missing out on services and supports during distance learning.

To help families and caregivers who suspect that their children may have disabilities or developmental delays, Understood.org and the American Academy of Pediatrics have developed Take N.O.T.E., a digital guide available in English and Spanish.

The guide walks parents and caregivers through four steps—Notice, Observe, Talk and Engage—to help them become aware of patterns in a child’s behavior, talk with teachers about what they’re seeing, and engage with pediatricians and school specialists who can help determine why their child is struggling.

Education Week spoke with Bob Cunningham, the executive director of learning development at Understood, about Take N.O.T.E. and how parents and schools can work together to address concerns about learning differences and difficulties. The questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Education Week: How can parents distinguish between potential signs of ADHD or a learning disability and the struggles that may come from being unfamiliar or uncomfortable with distance learning?

Cunningham: The trick is, ‘OK, now we’re in this virtual environment a lot of time. How much of this is just being in a different environment and chaos in the world and that sort of stuff? And how much of it is something’s really going on with my kid?’ Take N.O.T.E. can help a parent look for patterns and then gives them advice on how to talk to their pediatrician, how to talk to their family, how to talk to the child to help them figure out what’s going on, and then how to communicate that to engage the school to get the support they need.

If you’re seeing an outsized reaction in your child, then it could very well be the result of a learning difference that really hasn’t been picked up yet by the school or by you. We wanted a tool that would help parents think that through thoroughly, instead of reacting, jumping to conclusions, or worse yet, doing nothing.

Education Week: How should parents and educators work together to understand what students are experiencing or what support they may need?

Cunningham: The communication between families and school is where the rubber meets the road, where relationships get built. If things don’t go well in those initial conversations where someone says, ‘Hey, I’m a parent and and I’m concerned about what I’m seeing with my kid,’ if the school doesn’t understand what the parent is saying or they’re not be able to articulate clearly or concisely specifics about what they’re seeing, then the school doesn’t give the response that the parent was expecting or hoping for. That could [throw off] the whole process.

Parents are with the kids the longest, they know the kids best. They know when something is not quite going well. We’re hoping that Take N.O.T.E can really help school teams and the parents communicate more concisely, more effectively to get the right kind of support for the kid.

Related Reading

Will Months of Remote Learning Worsen Students’ Attention Problems?

How Will Schools Provide Special Education During the Coronavirus Crisis?

Image Credit: Understood.org

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A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.