You may have known, even before your child's birth, that she had special needs. You may not have had any concerns until it was time for her to walk or talk. Or you may not have realized that anything was amiss until the school years.
School districts, in cooperation with regional special education programs, offer preschool screenings. The importance of finding a disability and providing early intervention is critical to a child's success. However, not every special educational need can be caught in preschool screenings. It's impossible to assess a three-year-old's reading ability. It is also difficult to assess math computation in a child who is just learning to count.
Some children do not go through a preschool screening. They do not attend any kind of preschool or day care center that might pick up on the child's struggle. A red flag may not be raised until the child enters kindergarten and is introduced to schoolwork — reading, writing, and arithmetic.
Kindergarten is considered by many to be the beginning of formal education. Whether your child attended an early childhood special education program, a traditional preschool, or did not go to any formal preschool program, you probably agree.
Many children with severe cognitive or developmental delays are not ready for the kind of kindergarten program that their peers will attend. Parents may assume that because their child has been working to get caught up for several years she has mastered the skills of “typically developing” children her age.
However, she may or may not be ready to attend kindergarten in the “regular education” classroom. Some children, with the needed educational support, may be ready to learn with their peers. Others, however, need continued, intense special education — perhaps in the form of a transition kindergarten class or a specialized, self-contained program.
Some children may not have a known disability and first encounter educational difficulties in kindergarten. A child may have difficulty learning the letters of the alphabet and their sounds. She may not be able to rote count (counting just to count), and she may not be able to count a number of objects. Perhaps she cannot recognize printed numbers. Maybe just staying in her seat and listening to the teacher is difficult.
In first grade, children are expected to take kindergarten skills to the next level. Although a child may have been taught a few sight words, first grade focuses on putting letter sounds together to read words. Most teachers believe that learning to read is the most important goal of first grade.
Your child's school will conduct an annual hearing and vision screening for every student. If your child fails the screening, she may be retested on a later day. If she fails again, the school nurse will notify you that further testing by a doctor should be considered.
Math skills are taken to a higher level in first grade. Students are expected to add and subtract numbers. They begin to learn special math words that signal how to figure out simple word problems.
Third grade is another turning point in the school years. Incoming third graders are ready to take the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic and use them to learn new information. Much of their earlier school years have focused on learning the skills. Now they are taking the skills and learning new concepts, such as science and social studies.
Fifth, Seventh, and Ninth Grade
Sometimes difficulties arise in the fifth, seventh, or ninth grades. These are often transition years when a child goes to a different type of school setup (where it's necessary to change classrooms, for example).
Some children with ADD or learning disabilities may have been successful in earlier years because of the supervision of one teacher. As expectations change and the student must keep herself organized, a previously undiagnosed problem can surface.