Not every child comes skipping home from school carrying the "A" paper in his or her hand. For some children, learning is a problem.
There are numerous professionals and support groups to assist North County parents who suspect their child has a learning problem or who have a child already diagnosed with learning disabilities.
But getting to that help usually requires parents to learn how to navigate the system, says Linda Wulle, a private educational therapist in Encinitas.
The school is often the best place to begin.
"The teacher may be able to provide assistance and information regarding the parent's concern," says Gary Myerson, director of Special Education for Poway Unified School District. "If the teacher has observed that the child exhibits suspicious learning problems, the teacher may wish to try different approaches with the child or refer the child to the school's problem-solving team. . . . If the interventions attempted over a period of time are not helping, then a referral for assessment for special education may be appropriate."
During this period, the parent is asked to be a part of a Student Study Team and to meet formally to develop strategies for helping their child.
If classroom intervention is not wholly successful, testing for special education may be indicated.
To determine whether a student is learning disabled under California law, a specific diagnostic assessment must be made, Myerson said. That is a specific process separate from a preliminary screening, which is only intended to give a general indication as to the presence or absence of a problem.
A learning disability is defined as a lifelong disorder that affects the manner in which individuals with normal or above-average intelligence select, retain, and express information. Incoming or outgoing information may become scrambled as it travels between the senses and the brain.
"A major question that must be answered is: 'Is there a severe discrepancy between the student's ability and his/her academic achievement?' Another question that must be answered is: 'Does the student have a perceptual deficit?' If the answer to both questions is yes, the student may legally qualify as learning disabled," Myerson said.
Not every child who has trouble learning qualifies for special education in public schools, though.
Rhonda Johnson, supervisor of special education in the Vista Unified School District, says that a child identified as having attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, or attention deficit disorder, does not qualify for special education under state law. The exception is the student who also has a qualifying disability.
The news that those disorders don't qualify for help is often a surprise to parents, she said.
There is considerable interest among parents, educators, psychologists, and physicians to encourage legislation to have these students qualify for special education.
Johnson said that within the Vista District, special education teachers are involved with these students through a Student Study Team.
Referral, testing and services for children with learning disabilities is governed by state and federal laws, points out Antonette Hood, a resource specialist in Cardiff. "A very specific process must be followed in all cases."
A multidisciplinary team does formal assessments and is usually composed of a school psychologist, resource specialist and speech therapist, Hood said.
A wide variety of tests may be used. Testing can include, but isn't limited to, intelligence tests, achievement tests, aptitude tests, receptive and expressive language tests, and curriculum based assessment.
When the diagnosis of a learning disability is made, the educational system responds with a plan for the specific child.
Arlene Kagan is a program specialist for the North Coastal Consortium for Special Education, which serves the 13 districts north of Del Mar.
Kagan says that if a student qualifies as learning disabled, the School Study Team develops an Individual Education Plan. The plan identifies the handicapping condition, makes a statement for justification for placement and develops goals and objectives.
There are a variety of approaches that may be adopted.
Myerson describes two primary options: One keeps the child in a regular classroom, the other places the child in a specialized classroom.
Resource Specialist Program: The student remains in the regular classroom and assistance is provided by a special education teacher known as a resource specialist. The resource specialist may deliver service by taking the student out of the regular class, may deliver service within the regular classes or may simply consult and provide assistance to the regular teacher. A resource specialist teacher may carry a caseload of 28 students.