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Parent Stories: Don't Wait to Get Help

A mom shares the story of how seeking early help for a learning disability helped her son succeed.

By GreatSchools Staff

Rochelle Blumenfeld is the mom of two children and works as an optometrist in San Francisco. Her son, Jonah, was in first grade at a private elementary school when his family first suspected he might have a learning disability. This is the story of her family's experience.

First Signs of a Difficulty

Rochelle's husband, Joel, has dyslexia and had struggled in school, so she and her husband knew to be on the lookout for academic problems in their children. In kindergarten and first grade Jonah attended a private school where students learned both English and Hebrew. When he was in first grade, it became clear that Jonah was not learning to read while other children were. Jonah also had some social difficulties, which his mother knew can accompany learning disabilities.

Getting Help

Rochelle and Joel did not delay, but instead sought help right away. They and the school looked for strategies to help Jonah. The private school Jonah attended did not offer any special in-school help for students with learning disabilities, so Rochelle arranged for Jonah to see a private learning specialist after school. The school made Jonah a "kindergarten helper" so he could be exposed to remedial Hebrew. Neither of these strategies worked. Jonah saw through the school's ruse and thought he had "flunked Hebrew."

He also started calling himself "stupid." Visiting the learning specialist two to three times per week after school was hard to manage, because Jonah didn't get out of school until 3:30.

Making a Change

As Rochelle began to realize that her son needed to change schools, Jonah's first-grade teacher pulled her aside and suggested that the school was probably not the right place for Jonah. She appreciated his honesty and began to seriously look for other options. For second grade, she enrolled Jonah in a public school in Kensington, California, near their home. The school evaluated Jonah and diagnosed a reading-based disability that included difficulty with comprehension, letter-word identification, and visual memory. Jonah was pulled out of the classroom to work with a resource specialist every day for an hour and a half. He also received speech services. Rochelle remembers that the resource teacher, Miss Shores, would work with Jonah on things like copying, completing drawings and tracing letters with his fingers. "It looked like mumbo jumbo to me," she said, "but it was working."

Jonah and Shores worked well together, and he stayed in the resource program for a year and a half. By the end of third grade, he was performing much better academically, and he did not need resource help in fourth grade. He did get a "touch up" in fifth grade and was completely mainstreamed into the general education program in sixth grade. He performed at grade level throughout middle school and high school, although his standardized test scores continued to be low in reading.

Rochelle says they were lucky that Jonah's evaluation placed him within a type of learning disability that the school could support, and that the particular strategies used by the resource specialist were effective for him. He had a friend with an auditory processing problem who did not qualify for services at the school, despite his parents' advocacy for him. Rochelle said she would have had to look for another school-public or private - if the Kensington school had not met Jonah's needs. She said that supporting children with learning disabilities is much more difficult for families without access to public schools with the right services in place or the ability to find a private school to meet their child's needs.

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