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Helping Children From Other Cultures With Possible Learning Disabilities

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By Annie Stuart

Helping parents take concrete steps

You likely know the challenges of helping a child with a learning disability. Now imagine other challenges heaped on top of those. These might include English as a second language, lack of transportation, or working two jobs. In addition, parents still learning about U.S. culture and customs may not have felt welcomed in the classroom by the teacher, or, for various cultural or personal reasons, parents may not see a role for themselves at school.

You can help in a variety of ways. Here's how:

  • Keeping in mind that collaboration with school authorities may be a new or intimidating idea for her, gently encourage the parent to participate at school. You might begin by asking about the parent's own school experiences and sharing your own.
  • Model parent involvement and describe some of the benefits. "This is key," according to Brian Inglesby, MA, school psychologist in the San Francisco Bay Area. "You might explain that parent participation has a big effect on how children view their education," says Inglesby, adding that it also alters how the teacher regards the student.
  • If transportation is an issue, offer to drive parents to parent-teacher conferences or PTA, school board, or other school meetings. If English language proficiency is an issue, ask if the parent would like you to stay with her during the meeting to help explain what is said and provide support. If integration into the school community has not occurred, introduce them to other parents and staff.
  • Facilitate communication as needed. Ask if the parent would like help to organize records and notes before IEP (Individualized Education Program) meetings or would like someone to attend meetings with her. Ask if writing letters or notes to teachers or school principals would be helpful to her.
  • Observe and get to know the child. Have your child and hers do homework together. Then diplomatically offer any insights to the parents. Remember to mention the child's strengths and talents, as well as any learning difficulties. This can help enhance self-esteem and yield creative ways to help the child learn better and participate in school. For example, a child who loves to draw might design a poster for a school event or a cover for a school publication.

Expanding the support system

"Rather than focusing on a specific child, you might help by organizing a support group," says Leung. You can set these up at the school, a community center, or someone's home. Post a notice or get teachers to help identify children who might benefit. The school may even provide support (e.g., a guest speaker) for this purpose. Of course, it's important to arrange for translators and child care.

Short of a support group, a variety of other resources are available. Libraries and schools often provide reading or tutoring services. Community colleges, mental health agencies, or recreation centers may also provide resources or referrals. High school students sometimes need to earn community service credits and can do so by tutoring younger students.

Many culturally specific parent groups and community or religious organizations offer parent education opportunities. You might suggest learning disabilities as a topic. This could be done as a formal presentation or as a discussion with parents from a variety of cultures whose children have identified learning disabilities. A parent may be more receptive to this type of conversation within a comfortable cultural context.

Hooking up parents and their children to these resources will go a long way toward helping them navigate what may be incredibly challenging terrain.

Bridging cultural and language gaps

Finding common ground in the complex world of learning disabilities and cultural or language differences isn't easy. But by keeping an open mind, listening, offering your ideas in a nonjudgmental way, and providing concrete support, you can do a great deal to help other families. And, though the rewards for you may not be always be tangible, gaining allies to help all children succeed will benefit everyone in the long run!

Comments from readers

"Want some additional information, answers to questions, or support? Please consider joining and posting them at the 'Learning and Attention Difficulties' group found here at GS to receive to receive practical suggestions from parents who have faced similar challenges:"