Let’s face it, every family has good days and not-so-good-or-even-very-bad days. On some days, our homeschool journey may feel full of sunny “aha” moments with leaps and bounds in progress . . . and on others, our kiddo may feel like learning is impossible as they struggle to grasp an important concept. 

As homeschool moms, we have tremendous freedom to adjust our teaching approach until that important concept sticks! Perhaps our child simply needs to pause on a certain skill while it cements and becomes automatic—for example, reading sight words quickly and effortlessly. 

But sometimes we start to wonder: Is this learning struggle simply a bump in the road . . . or something more significant? My child is bright and creative—but could they have a more serious disorder / disability that is hampering their ability to progress? And if that’s the case, how do I best help them? 

You’ve come to the right place! Let’s start by determining the level of your child’s learning challenge—is it a reasonable difficulty or an actual learning disability?

Don’t worry . . . the checklists below are quick and straight forward, and they provide next steps for you to follow once you’ve identified the level of the issue your child is experiencing! 

Checklist: Is my child experiencing a mild learning difficulty? 

  • My child is typically (as expected for their age) developing cognitive and physical skills and the learning difficulty does not affect their general intelligence (IQ). 
  • My child has difficulty processing certain forms of information but is able to keep up with most of their work for the most part. 
  • My child is working harder to learn than they should have to, but naturally compensates on their own or when given a little extra support. 
  • My child may have more than one specific learning difficulty. For example: challenges with quick recognition of sight words, choppy, nonfluent reading, and difficulty with fine and/or gross motor skills are often encountered together.

If you checked one or more of the boxes in the checklist above, your child may be experiencing a mild learning difficulty.

How to address a mild learning difficulty:

Some short-term academic remediation, tutoring, and extra encouragement might be all your child needs in order to succeed! But it’s possible they may also need to be more explicitly taught specific helpful coping and study strategies. 

A great way you can explicitly teach them new strategies is by providing more modeling or demonstrating. You can coach your child through each simple step to use their areas of strength to learn, memorize, retain, and retrieve difficult concepts. For example, if your child enjoys drawing, they can create a picture or chart to help them visualize information. In other instances, if you have a child who may be skilled in music—have them make up a catchy song or jingle! 

For help with any of these ways of equipping your child to overcome a mild learning difficulty, you can reach out to learning specialists, academic tutors, and, if you’re a member, one of HSLDA’s Special Needs Educational Consultants. 

Checklist: Is my child experiencing a specific learning disorder (the medical term)/learning disability (the educational term)?

  • My child may show signs of being bright, gifted, and/or creative in some area of functioning, but also they display some form of cognitive or neurodevelopmental impairment.
  • My child does not have an intellectual disability but is experiencing unusual difficulty with their academic performance.
  • My child’s academic difficulties cannot be explained by inadequate access to good learning opportunities. 
  • My child’s academic difficulties cannot be explained by emotional or sensory problems. 
  • My child is experiencing difficulties in the area of language, communication, social-emotional skills, and/or behavior along with academics.   
  • My child has a wide scatter or discrepancy in abilities—for instance, they are really high performing in math, but more than one year below age or grade level in reading. 
  • My child needs a high level of support and individualization to succeed academically.   

If you checked two or more of the boxes in the checklist above, your child may be experiencing a learning disorder or a learning disability.

How can I tell whether my child has a learning disorder/disability—or whether the challenges we are experiencing at home are just the result of a learning difficulty?

Distinguishing between a difficulty and a learning disorder (term used by the medical community)/disability (term used by the schools) can be a complex issue. But one key factor is that a child with a learning disorder/disability will have struggles that don’t get better with standard teaching or extra help.

In fact, in order to be considered a learning disorder/disability, four conditions must exist:

  1. difficulties must persist for six months despite extra help;
  2. skills affected are below expected and cause difficulties in academic or everyday activities;
  3. problems start during school-age years; and
  4. problems are not due to other conditions such as vision, hearing, or intellectual impairments.

If you suspect a learning disorder/disability, we encourage you to reach out to a private local professional, such as a psychologist. 

How to address a specific learning disorder/disability

Support for a student with a specific learning disorder/disability will more than likely include remediation instruction, special interventions and therapies, accommodations, and/or modifications to curriculum. (It’s important to document any accommodations you provide during homeschooling so that your child will be able to continue receiving them during post-secondary education.) 

You’ll find that building a support team filled with people who have specific training and experience with your child’s learning disorders / disabilities can really make your homeschooling journey smoother. 

Medical specialists, learning specialists, therapists, diagnosing psychologists, counselors, mentors, and other community resources and supports will be tremendously helpful in meeting your student’s needs along with expanding your own knowledge and skills as your child’s parent-teacher.

Next steps! 

Hopefully, now you have a clearer understanding of how to differentiate the level of your child’s learning struggle. Are you ready to take a deeper dive into understanding your child’s needs and how to help them experience success in learning?  

In the rest of this series, you’ll find helpful tools for you as a parent that will walk you through beginning to pinpoint the specific areas of academic functioning where your child needs a boost and identifying support strategies. You can simply click on the “More From The Series” bar below to start exploring specific processing issues.

HSLDA’s Educational Consultants are here for you! We are homeschooling moms with qualifications in a variety of special-education disciplines. If you’re an HSLDA member, you can call or email us with questions, and we will walk with you through the process of identifying your child’s area of struggle and addressing it in your homeschool. (Not a member? You can join today!)