Even well-meaning parents have their children evaluated 3 to 7 years after the student first exhibits a serious learning problem. That lost time is usually devastating – since the younger a child is the more their brain is able to correct for problems (See neuroplasticity research).
It is funny that when people have car problems they do not hesitate to bring their car to the mechanic, but when their child has learning problems they usually think “they will grow out of it”. This is often delusional thinking.
From 15 years of working with children and adolescents, parents, teachers, and pediatricians, here are what I consider to be the top three problems that go undetected:
“My kid has trouble focusing”
Often labeled as: fidgety, procrastinator, oppositional, lazy, dumb, social butterfly, not academically focused, video game addict, “jock”, hands-on learner
Typical student maneuvers: These kids become the angry bully, class clown, Great Athlete (which hides their deficits), or develop some non-academic talent where they try to get positive attention and protect fragile self-esteem.
Commonly camouflaged because: When presented with artificially rich visual environments (video games/movies/music concerts) or highly stimulating situations (sports/music events), they can do fine. Or, when they are deeply interested in something, they CAN focus.
Common roots of problem: ADHD, depression, undetected trauma (e.g., PTSD), social or test anxiety, visual or auditory processing problem, mismatch between teaching style and learning style.
Surprising fact: A lot of children who have been physically or sexually abused are never evaluated until their focusing problem makes them stick out from the crowd.
Evaluation helps by: articulating each of the contributors to the focusing problem, clarifies the dynamics among the contributors, and reveals a roadmap of exactly what to do and in what order.
“My kid does not like to read or has poor reading comprehension”
Often labeled as: doer, spacey, poor concentration, fidgety,
Typical student maneuvers: Become very good at activities that do not involve reading to minimize their exposure to written material; ask parents to read to them; ask for audiobooks
Commonly camouflaged because: Parents and society have shifted away from a focus on reading.
Common roots of problem: ADHD, dyslexia, visual or spatial processing deficit, slow processing speed, visual deficits
Surprising fact: There are so many different types of dyslexia that too often people look for archetypal dyslexia whereas it actually can present in a myriad of ways.
Evaluation helps to: Ensure that students figure out what specific obstacles are getting in the way of their reading, so that any child can enjoy reading again.
“My kid’s test scores or athletic performance does not match what they REALLY know or how they can REALLY do”
Most often labeled as: lacking confidence, anxious, serious, perfectionistic, shy, introverted, low self-esteem, depressed
Typical student maneuvers: Amazing at practice, develop panic attacks pre-test or pre-game, get sick on test/game day
Commonly camouflaged because: they squeak by and/or problem is oversimplified as a “confidence” problem.
Common roots of problem: anxiety, subtle cognitive deficit, poor performance strategies, phobias, subtle panic attacks, poor parent approach to issue
Surprising fact: With a relatively small amount of work with a counselor, scores or athletic performance can dramatically improve.
Evaluation helps by: articulating exactly what mixture of cognitive, relaxation, and real world behavioral strategies can ensure performance optimization occurs.
REMINDER: Some of the saddest moments I have with parents are when they realize they waited too long in order to have something checked out. If you agree your child is as valuable as your car, then use the same philosophy you perceived there might be a problem with your car: get it checked out immediately by the mechanic!!!!
HOW TO ENSURE YOU GET A QUALITY EVALUATION?
1) Ask for sample reports from the evaluator you are considering using. We regularly release sample reports to potential clients, as well as talking with them on the phone and answering all of their hardball questions.
2) Also, ask the potential evaluator for their resume to determine to what degree they have established an expertise in the evaluation.
3) Look for whether they have ever published any articles.
4) Finally, make a list of the most difficult questions you can think of and set up a time to interview the potential evaluators on the phone. I love to be grilled on what I do because this is about the welfare of a person!