Learning Disability: Experts Tips if you Suspect your Child might have one
The most inspirational stories are often the kind where those at a disadvantage overcome obstacles and emerge victorious in spite of – and because of – the challenges they were faced with. Such is the case for Emily Yudofsky and Stefan Bauer, who were both diagnosed with dyslexia as children. After watching their own parents struggle to get the support they needed growing up, the pair teamed up to start Marker Learning, an organization dedicated to helping children with learning disabilities receive the diagnosis and resources they need to thrive in school.
We chatted with Stefan and Emily to delve into how their own experiences led them to start Marker and what parents can do if they suspect their child might have a learning disability.
Q: What are the signs of a learning disability parents should look for in their kids? What are the signs of dyslexia, specifically, that parents should look for?
Emily: Learning and attention disabilities can present in a myriad ways. For example, a student with ADHD and executive functioning challenges may not be able to manage their time effectively, stay organized or prioritize multiple tasks.
With dyslexia, it can present in struggling to sound out words, substituting words, or even avoiding reading at all costs. We commonly see young children who are able to answer questions accurately when they are verbalizing, but have difficulty when they are writing out responses. Across the board, we find that for most students with learning challenges, they’ve lost a lot of confidence as they see their peers advancing and feel stuck. As a parent, it’s critical to notice some of the social and emotional challenges that might be manifesting because of a learning challenge.
Q: What are some of the types of learning disabilities you often see in children you work with?
Stefan: We see a range of learning challenges in the children we work with, from reading, writing and math disorders like dyslexia, dyscalculia and dysgraphia, and attention disorders like ADHD which manifest in executive functioning issues.
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Q: Is there anything parents can do to prevent learning disabilities?
Emily: The truth is learning disabilities cannot be prevented – we’re born with them and they last a lifetime. Many learning disorders are actually known to be genetic, running in families. So the question isn’t as much about prevention as it is about intervention, and the earlier, the better. This means pursuing a formal psychoeducational evaluation to understand what a child’s strengths and weaknesses are, and what services and accommodations they will need for long-term success. Then it’s all about providing evidence-based approaches to refine skills and get back on track.
Q: Tell us about Marker and what inspired you to start it?
Stefan: Our mission at Marker Learning has always been a very personal one. In elementary school, I really struggled with reading and was placed in special education. My mom knew something wasn’t right and fiercely advocated for me, quitting her job to ensure I had the support I needed to succeed, and paying thousands of dollars for a learning disability evaluation. I ended up getting diagnosed with dyslexia. By receiving this diagnosis and documentation, I was able to unlock accommodations in school that fundamentally transformed my trajectory in life. My co-founder, Emily Yudofsky, who is also dyslexic, had a similar experience as a kid.
Unfortunately, many families do not have access to evaluation. While K-12 students are legally entitled to learning disability assessments in public schools, diagnoses are often delayed or missed entirely due to unprecedented staffing shortages and backlogs. Private evaluators, meanwhile, can have months-long wait times and charge exorbitant amounts of fees, often costing tens of thousands of dollars.
Our mission was inspired by these experiences. Our goal is to provide clear diagnosis and certified documentation for anyone who is dealing with a learning or attention disability – all for a much more affordable price and faster timeline.
Q: What work do you do in schools?
Stefan: We’re very excited to partner with a range of schools across the country (including some in New York). In fact, we already reach more than 1 million students through these partnerships. We work with school district special education staff to manage caseloads and act as an extension of school psychologist teams. We want to help schools retain their staff and prioritize day-to-day student care.
Q: What steps do you recommend parents take after their child is diagnosed with dyslexia or another learning disability?
Emily: Once you have that diagnosis and documentation, it’s then really about advocating for your child to get the support they need at school. Ensure your child is set up with an IEP or 504 plan, a written roadmap ensuring your child receives special education services tailored to meet their unique needs. This will follow them through school, and staff should reassess needs over time as your child develops. Communicate frequently and directly to gain clarity about how your child is doing in the classroom, and what’s being done to support them. And be sure to ask your child how they’re doing, ensuring they know there’s nothing wrong with them. They have so many amazing strengths and everyone learns differently.