Thriving School Psych Thriving Students

"Kid Problems"

I once went on a blind date in which I was asked the following question about my job as a school psychologist: “So, what’s your favorite kid problem?” In my head, a sarcastic thought bubble popped up and responded, “I just LOVE when they can’t read! It’s my favorite!” But I knew what he meant, so I responded politely that I enjoy working with students with learning disabilities.*

The majority of students I work with in special education for learning disabilities think they are stupid or slow. The reality is that part of the definition of a “Learning Disability” is that you have at least average intelligence, so it’s simply not true. The current definition states that you must demonstrate a significant discrepancy between your ability (intelligence) and achievement (reading, math, writing, etc) and have one specific way that is difficult for you to learn. That specific difficulty is called a “processing deficit.**”

Here’s how I explain what a processing deficit is to my students: There are three main ways kids learn: listening (auditory processing), looking (visual processing), and doing (visual-motor processing). Everyone’s brain works differently. Your brain has difficulty learning by (insert processing deficit). That is why learning (reading/writing/math) is hard for you. But you are very good at learning by (other two processing skills).

I’m a big fan of educating kids with Learning Disabilities on how they learn best. With little kids, you can draw a picture of eyes, ears, and a hand and have them circle the ways they are good at learning. Middle school students usually benefit from having their scores put on a graph of some sort so they can see the intelligence score within the average or above average range. It seems more like “proof” at that point, because they sometimes still feel like they’re stupid even when you try to reassure them they are not. To help with the stigma of special education, one teacher I worked with put up pictures of famous people with Learning Disabilities with the banner: “If these people were still in school, they’d be in Special Ed.”***

For high school students, going over the testing results and the IEP document (especially modifications) together can be helpful as well. High school kids can be empowered to start advocating for their learning needs and ways to accommodate their own difficulties. It seems to really click in high school that having a learning disability or being in special education doesn’t mean you’re stupid or slow. It is one of the best parts of my job when students finally understand that they don’t have (to borrow a phrase) “kid problems.”

*He did not get a second date. But it was for a number of reasons, including that he wore MC Hammer pants to our date and serenaded me with a song about Spam called “Meat Brick.” Weirdest date ever.

**In some states, you do not need to identify a “processing deficit” to be considered eligible as a student with a Learning Disability. States interpret the federal law differently. The federal law is also changing the definition. And if that’s not confusing enough, private practitioners use a totally different set of criteria from the DSM-IV to identify students with learning disabilities.

***Tom Cruise has a Learning Disability. I have stopped using him as an example as he is weird now.

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Comments on "Kid Problems"

  1. Jenni says:

    Hi Rebecca!
    I came across your blogs a couple of months ago and have been lurking around since then. I really enjoy the humorous perspective you bring to being a school psychologist. I find many of my own daily challenges echoed in your writing.

    This is my first year as a school psychologist–I work in Michigan. My district is teetering between the discrepancy model of LD and the RTI model of LD. We are not a progressive district and our ISD has not received much guidance from the state.

    I was just wondering on what your thoughts are on using RTI to identify students with LD. I know that a severe discrepancy is no longer required for LD identification, but I’m confused as to whether a student who has an IQ of 74 (70 in Michigan is Cognitively Impaired) would qualify for a learning disability if they have not responded to researched based interventions. Wouldn’t a student who has an IQ of 74 be working at maximum potential if he has a reading score of 79? Yet, under the new definition, it appears that IQ is not a factor any more (unless they are in the cognitively impaired range). Have you had any experiences with determining eligibility for students whose IQ is in the borderline range based on the RTI model?

    Any quick insight you could give me into this would be helpful. You seem very knowledgeable in the area of school psychology and again, I really enjoy reading your blogs!

  2. Hi Jenni,

    Thanks for your kind words! As you know, if you do not retain your sense of humor in this field, you will not survive!

    As for RtI, I have to admit that the districts I have worked for are still on the fence and have not made any real movements toward getting rid of the discrepancy model. The federal law said that local districts CAN choose to abandon the discrepancy model. So we have not chosen to do that yet. It’s a loophole.

    So I’m afraid I don’t know the answer to your LD question about the student with a 74 IQ who does not respond to intervention. I think it would depend on if the student has concurrent adaptive functioning deficits in 2 or more areas (e.g. communication, socialization, daily living/safety skills). If there were adaptive skills deficits, I’d tend to say the child is borderline CI and make a case for that eligibility. If the child has good adaptive skills, then I might make a case for LD. It is so difficult because the SPED law does not really have a category for borderline cognitively impaired students.

    The correct answer is always to consult with your supervisor about what your district policy is at this time with RtI. I think districts are all struggling with this problem. Wish I had a better answer. Perhaps when my district starts RtI, I will have more insight! Do let me know how it goes.

    Take care! R

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