Three Steps to Help a Student with a Learning Disability

Today’s blog is from Nautrie Jones, a contributing writer for the Growing Leaders Blog. Nautrie is the Director of Teacher Leadership Development at Teach For America where she manages coaches, develops strategy, and designs trainings focused on content, pedagogy, classroom management, racial identity development, culturally responsive teaching, and adaptive coaching.

After years of confusion, we finally had an answer. We knew that our child was an introverted, yet pleasant student in the classroom. At the same time, she also found reading to be a challenge from the time she had been in second grade. Now, here we were in middle school finally having our daughter evaluated by a psychologist. After a lengthy battery of tests, we finally had an answer.


That’s right. We finally found out that the struggles with phonemic awareness, phonological processing and fluency were the result of her reading challenges.  After the diagnosis, I knew that we had to decide how we wanted to move forward in a way that would empower Amara in both the short and long-term. What I mean by that is, we knew that Amara would have to discover how she learns best and at some point, she would need to advocate for herself in the classroom and in life.

You likely already know that dyslexia and ADHD are the most commonly recognized types of specific learning disabilities, but there are additional types of learning differences which can impact a person’s ability to receive, process, associate, retrieve, and express information.

  • Dyscalculia
  • Dysgraphia
  • Auditory Processing Deficit
  • Visual Processing Deficit
  • Non-verbal Learning Disability
  • Executive Functioning Deficit

Regardless of your child’s diagnosis, you likely have the question, “What do I do now?”

How Big Is This Problem?

There are a 2.3 million American public school students identified with learning disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). In fact, The National Center for Learning Disabilities asserts that both parents and educators agree that students with learning differences have unique learning needs and that their ability to achieve is not due to below-average intelligence.

As a parent, this insight is very comforting. It’s important to know that the school that I have entrusted with my child’s education hires teachers who understand that my child learns differently, and they do whatever is necessary to ensure that all of the students in their care can have their needs met. Ultimately, the work of supporting students with learning differences falls on teachers, students, and parents. We all have a role to play.

When my daughter was diagnosed with dyslexia two years ago, I knew there were some things I needed to know and some things I needed to do to take action.

Three Steps to Help a Student with a Learning Disability

While these diagnoses are certainly serious, if you are the parent of a child with a learning disability, that doesn’t mean the situation is hopeless. There are a few simple things you can do to help them succeed.

1. Get Informed
Once your child is diagnosed by a medical professional, ask for resources. Use tools such as to begin to get a sense of what your child is experiencing and to determine how to best set up your child for success moving forward. Use these resources and share the information with others in your circle who will also support your child.

2. Talk to Your Child
Talk to your child about their learning difference and give them concrete, age-appropriate examples of how they can advocate for themselves when you are not around. This means that if your child has a 504 plan or an IEP, you can sit down with your child to talk about the goals in a way that they understand. If this is something that you do not feel comfortable doing, work with your child’s special education coordinator and medical professionals to identify ways to explain to your child what services they should receive in order to support their learning in a way that is developmentally appropriate for their age. Let me be clear. All kids can do this. It will just look different.

3. Get Them Engaged
Encourage your child to participate in activities that build and reinforce a sense of belonging to the school, community and a strong connection with peers. This could include involvement in after-school clubs, religious activities, and sports leagues. Research suggests that helping students to become socially competent can go a long way to build student self-confidence. What we know is that students who develop social skills will have an easier time advocating for themselves as they get older.

A diagnosis like this is not a prophecy that your child will be behind for the rest of their life. In fact, today my daughter, Amara, is thriving because of steps we took to help her. If you are where I am, just know that there is still so much hope for their future.

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Three Steps to Help a Student with a Learning Disability