By Linda Siegel
The road to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is littered with magic cures for learning disabilities that do not work: vitamin C, sunflower seeds, an additive-free diet, or pills to relieve motion sickness. The older cures—sitting in a dark closet, standing in the back of the classroom with a dunce cap on your head, being whipped with a cane or beaten with a strap—also did not work.
Parents of children with a learning disability often search desperately for a program to help their children. It can be difficult for the parents to be at the mercy of schools and teachers who are victims of bureaucracy and not allowed to use helpful techniques. Sometimes schools are unresponsive, or the problem is so severe that it requires intensive intervention. Many problems at school can be eliminated if we search for the underlying cause of school difficulties at a young age and intervene when the child is in the early grades.
For parents of children with learning disabilities, there are some useful web-based discussion groups, including LDExperience and LD OnLine. They provide important information and the opportunity to pose questions and join in the discussions. Another resource with practical advice for parents is the Helpguide page on learning disabilities. Support groups for parents, whether in the community or online, can help parents and their children navigate the challenges of a learning disability.
Parents and teachers should also look for independent research published in refereed journals that shows the effectiveness of an intervention program. They should ask whether the program teaches basic skills in reading (or spelling, writing, mathematics). A U.S. government website, What Works Clearinghouse, is a reasonably reliable source for information about the effectiveness of various programs.
Linda Siegel is a Professor Emerita from the Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology and Special Education at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, where she holds the Dorothy C. Lam Chair in Special Education. She has conducted research on the development of reading and of mathematical concepts, language development, dyslexia, mathematical learning disabilities, early identification and intervention to prevent reading difficulties and the development of reading and language skills in children learning English as a second language.
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