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Listen Up Moms: Trust Your Judgment

Research in education and psychology.

Over the last thirty years, research in education and psychology that is focused on struggling children produces one consistent truth—early identification and intervention trumps waiting and acting later. This is especially so with early reading development.

Who are the best people to identify problems early? Pediatricians? Psychologists? Neurologists? Teachers? Nope. The moms.  (OK sometimes dads, but it’s usually the moms.) In my view, 99 percent of the time when the mom thinks that something is wrong with her child, there is something wrong. It is the rare mom who is mistaken about this.

Yet often when the moms raise the issue of their late-preschool, kindergarten, or first-grade child, they tend to get messages like these:

“You’re worrying too much.” “There are many late bloomers.” “You know how boys are.” “We really can’t tell what’s going on until third grade.”

Not being professionals in the field, the moms accept these messages and stifle their worries.

But rather than suffering through the agony of waiting until third or fourth grade, so many kids could be identified by early screening and given services. Screenings do not take a lot of time, money, or effort; some fifteen minutes per child can identify those at risk for learning/reading problems at the ages of four, five, and six years. Sadly, these screenings are not occurring in many schools, despite all of the research and clinical knowledge that exists.

A mom recently said to me, “Look. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. I know my kid is struggling. He’s in third grade and I keep getting put off. For what purpose?”

There is no purpose. Why let the fire smolder and build to the point where it is overwhelming? At the first signs of smoke, it’s time to act. It’s not time to panic but to take an effective action, like identifying the child’s stage of reading development and deciding which area you are going to target.

You don’t need to be a psychologist or a reading specialist to know when a child is struggling. On a nightly basis, moms see the effort that goes into getting through a reading assignment or a difficult worksheet. This is something moms get intuitively.

One solution: listen to the moms and take early action. Waiting and seeing what will happen is not an option.

Takeaway Point

Moms, trust your gut, especially with early reading development. If you are concerned, take action if possible. Seek outside help in the form of testing and remedial tutoring if you do not feel that the school is stepping up to the plate. Don’t listen to messages such as, “He will grow out of it.” Rarely does that happen.

Richard Selznick, Ph.D.  is a contributing blogger for JenningsWire, a blogging community created by Annie Jennings.


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14 Responses to "Listen Up Moms: Trust Your Judgment"

  1. Heather Adams says:

    As a teacher I can tell you that I have never seen this happen and I have been teaching for ten years. It is usually the opposite- teacher sees a problem and parent disagrees. I don’t know any teacher who would tell a parent that they can’t tell what’s going on until third grade. While there are some things that are developmental, they aren’t things that would cause major problems for a child. Sometimes kids are immature and need more time, especially kids with late birthdays. Sometimes kids just need extra help at home or in the form of a tutor. That doesn’t mean the school isn’t “stepping up to the plate.” Children who have a lot of experience with literature, who have been read to at home, who have been worked with for the five years before they started school are much more likely to do better in school. Some kids come to school with little to no academic experience and those kids are going to struggle. That doesn’t mean the school isn’t doing their job. If a child is struggling at school more than likely that child’s teacher works with him in a small group and one on one throughout the day. Teachers want students to be successful. I’m sorry that some people feel like their child’s school isn’t doing what they should for their child. I do not believe, as you stated, that parents get these messages often.

  2. Rosie Beck says:

    Heather – I can tell you that what Richard Selznik wrote about is exactly what happened to me and my child, as well as countless other parents that I am in touch with via Yahoo reading groups. My child is dyslexic and thus, doesn’t learn to read the way it is taught in school. When my child was in second grade, the school started MAP testing, and even tho he was at the 1st percentile in reading (which had dropped from the 4th p’tile just a few months earlier), the school did NOTHING. I brought this matter to their attention, and asked for them to test my son. Instead, they told me they “observed” him in the classroom, and “saw” nothing odd/wrong. They never looked at his school work, never asked him to read anything to thm, never asked him to write even one short sentence. Does that sound okay to you? I certainly hope not.

    After learning as much as I could about dyslexia, I was shocked to learn that teachers are never taught anything about learning disabilities!!! They have no idea what they (LD’s) look, so they are unable to recognize the signs. Dyslexia is very easy to spot, once you know the symptoms. I did eventually convince the school to test my daughter (which took 4+ months to accomplish, not because the testing is that long [it isn’t], but because school districts wait until the last possible moment to test. They don’t WANT to find a learning disability, because then they have to do something about it. Dyslexia needs one-on-one remediation, via an explicit, Orton-Gillingham influenced multi-sensory method. And schools do not have the resources for that, even tho by law, each child is entitled to a FAPE.

    I have been tutoring my child via the correct method to teach a dyslexic child for almost 2 years now (at my own cost – approx. 3K) and my child has made HUGE gains in reading. My daughter is at the 70th percentile in reading – not because of her public school, but in spite of her public school. I hope and pray you nor any member of your family ever has a dyslexic child, because then and only then, will you understand what us parents (and our children) have to endure via our public education system. It is truly heartbreaking.

    I can tell by your e-mail above that you too have no clue what a dyslexic child is all about. I don’t mean that to be a dig, because I believe most teachers really do want to teach their students to learn. But how about the kids that don’t learn the way you teach? Trust me when I say that having a teacher work with dyslexic kids “in a small group” as you say above, will not work because the child doesn’t learn that way. If they WOULD learn that way, they would have already learned it.

    I could go on and on. Do yourself a favor and Google dyslexia. You will be shocked at what you find..

  3. Donna Van Camp says:

    As a mother i have absolutly seen this happen and with my own child! She was in kindergarten for 6 months then I started asking questions, I was told those exact same answers, “Give her time, “her light bulb has not turned on yet”, “don’t worry” yet the instincts as her mother I knew something was going on. When they made her repeat kindergarten and she fell to the bottom of the class yet again…they said no worries. When she went into first grade and was struggling and I was begging for help they said, “no we don’t see anything” maybe you need to work harder with her, get her a tutor. I started going up the line of the school board to get my daughter help and low and behold…she was found to be SLD, yup dyslexic…hmmmmm who knew…oh wait I did! I might have not known exactly what diagnosis to look for but I knew something was going on. If I waited and just listened to her teachers and staff it would have been at least until 3 grade when they would have said…wow she does not seem to get this, maybe we should look further into it. I have always, aways said when a parent approaches someone beccause they just have some feeling that something is going on, they should be listened too!

  4. Cheri Potter says:

    As a mother of an honor student and a girl with dyslexia I heard she needs more time to mature. I felt something was wrong when she was in preschool with her speach and when tested they told me it was age appropriate and to not worry. Her kindergarten teacher wanted to hold her back because of her age (summer birthday) but no suggestion was made for early intervention to help with sight words, basically her basic skills. She still struggled in 1st grade with reading but somehow she was passing her spelling tests with 80% or better (usually she got a 10 out of 10). This year made me think maybe it was her maturity and she caught up…WRONG! In second grade about 4 weeks into the school year I received a call from her teacher. She felt my daughter had a serious reading and writing issue and she should be tested, my honor student daughter had the same teacher and in second grade was reading on a 4th grade level so I trusted her judgement. Finally my gut instinct was brought to light I just never knew how to go about getting my concerns heard. I wish I had been more up front when it came to my concerns about her with the school but I did hear it is age appropriate and most issues can’t be diagnosed until 3rd or 4th grade so let’s wait and see. Once tested even then she was not placed in the right program, mainly because there were too many kids in the resource room for her age group. She was supplemented with BSI and in a class with an inclusion teacher. It wasn’t until 4th grade was she placed in the resource room for language based disability (dyslexia was not an excepted diagnosis) but the group she was placed with were 3rd grade kids, so unfortunately to the person who responded before I definitely feel like my school “did not step up to the plate”. We got her tutors outside of school, I read to her from before birth and she went to preschool starting at two and a half years old (I am a stay at home mom). I knew when her speach was a bit delayed and she couldn’t pronounce certain sounds that something was wrong…she was 2!

  5. MyChildsAdvocate says:

    Thank you for this article. It describes exactly our experience with our son and the school he attends. He is our third of four children. In preschool, we knew he was struggling. He struggled with things that were very basic to other kids…letters, numbers, days of the week, etc. The school tests all incoming kindergarteners and meets with the parents to discuss concerns. At that time, we told them we suspected that there was something going on but did not know what it was. We trusted the experts in the school system to help us. One of our primary concerns was his ability (or rather inability) to write legibly. I requested an OT review and was told the OT would come into the room and observe informally to determine if she saw any red flags. None were found.

    As he continued to struggle through kindergarten, I spent hours researching learning disabilities and finally zeroed in on dyslexia. Our son exhibited so many of the warning signs, it was uncanny. At the beginning of first grade, we sought out and paid for an independent evaluation which determined that he had dyslexia. This report was provided to the school, however no action was taken other than initiating RtI. A formal OT evaluation was again requested in 1st grade, although they only agreed to do an informal observation. In the diagnostician’s report, she indicated no OT issues but suggested problems with written expression. Despite this, no further testing was done. At this time, we also began independent tutoring with a certified dyslexia specialist, whom our son has continued worked with twice a week for the past couple of years.

    In 2nd grade, we finally insisted on a full evaluation to determine IEP eligibility. The special ed co-op found him ineligible for special education services noting that he was performing “within normal range” despite the fact that his scores were consistently at the cut score. Their only suggestion was to have him evaluated for ADHD and consider medication.

    The school ended up paying for an independent evaluation (IEE) which concluded this week. (He is now in 3rd grade!) Our son was diagnosed with a laundry list of issues, including a reading disorder (dyslexia), math disorder (dyscalculia), disorder of written expression, developmental coordination disorder, and several others. The team who performed the IEE indicated that there was no gray area during the evaluation. These things were all very obvious and should have been caught by the initial IEP evaluation.

    So although I’m glad that he’ll (hopefully) be getting the services he needs to make progress and be successful in school, I’m nearly irate that we’ve wasted nearly 4 years on this process. I wish the school would have taken us seriously in kindergarten…or first grade…or even second grade! Instead, we heard over and over again how he “isn’t the worst one” or “there are other kids who struggle more than he does” or “perhaps you should work with him more at home” and my personal favorite “but he’s making progress in RtI”. Sadly, I think the teachers that he’s had through the years saw the problem but found their hands tied by the administration and special ed co-op.

    My advice to other parents is that if you suspect a problem, be persistent! You are the only advocate your child has in this world.

  6. Jess says:

    Heather – This article is absolutely 100% SPOT ON. It feels like it was written about me and my child. I am a mother of three, my oldest is dyslexic and my other too have no learning differences. The school told me exactly what this article says. But by the time he got to sixth grade and was reading on a 2-3 grade reading level I had to draw the line. I now homeschool him and he is making beautiful progress with a curriculum tailor made for him. He is finally LEARNING TO READ!!!! He is so much happier and he is blossoming in to an awesome young man. My point…MOM’s listen to your instincts!

  7. Krista Werner says:


    I wish I could agree with you, but the child and parent this article is referring to is my child and am that parent. And to further prove my point, I have a degree in English education. My husband has a college education as well. My child was read to and exposed to literature before he was born. In other words, “worked with” long before he met with failure in our public school. I knew something was wrong in preschool, but my public school waited until the end of second grade to identify him as learning disabled. After a year and a half of specialized teaching in learning support, he still couldn’t read. He was barely reading at a second grade level in the middle of fourth grade. He had shown no growth. He became depressed, he started hating school, and he became physically sick. He vomited almost every day. Finally we removed him from school, started at a public charter school that immediately recognized his reading problems and started us on an orton gillingham based reading program for students with dyslexia. After a few years, he bridged the gap and re entered our public school system as a high school freshman with reading comprehension on the twelfth grade level. Schools are not doing their job. Teachers are not educated about dyslexia. I speak to parents every day who are struggling with their children who cannot read. I find it overwhelmingly frustrating that you are a teacher and you blame the parent, but it is an all too common mistake.

  8. Cydne says:

    Heather, you sound just like my child’s third grade teacher. Always giving me her resume and how many years she taught. Instead of actually listening to my concerns and trying to help me figure out what my child needed. All she would say, “she clearly did not learn phonics”. To which I would reply, “ok let’s fix this what do I do?” When I finally found a program for my child, this teacher then said she did not know anything about it, even though the teacher claimed she was a phonics specialist. While I agree some teachers are wonderful and supportive, there are many who are not and are clearly not knowledgable enough to understand certain LDs. I would think as an educator you would be willing to admit you don’t know everything and perhaps further educate yourself. Plus, I figure why wait, when we know there is a weakness, lets work on fixing it now. I don’t agree with the wait and see approach. That approach failed my child in speech and I was not going to wait and see if her phonics would catch up.

  9. Becky Hart says:

    My advice-don’t depend on the student’s school to help. They have too many students and other obligations. Become your child’s advocate away from the school. Luckily we had money to pay a tutor to teach the Wilson program after school. In only 2 days a week after school she went from a fourth grade reading level to second year college in 3 years.

  10. Lisa Reed says:

    I am that mom too…4th child thankfully. I recognized the distress because my other 3 children learned to read, recognize letters, rhyme etc. very easily. Dyslexia takes specialized, direct, and appropriate instruction. You can expose children to literature, tutor them, and small group the heck out of them. But, until they receive the method of instruction that works for their specific needs-they will continue to struggle, and be made to feel stupid. Do you have children? You cannot imagine what it is like to watch your smart, inquisitive and amazing child beat herself up because she can’t read.Get to know your students and you may find that the puzzle doesn’t fit….otherwise very articulate, intelligent, and engaging student with significant difficulty reading. I challenge you to learn about dyslexia and provide the help that is needed to the children you work with that are not yet officially diagnosed. You will find that there are EARLY signs in children we should all be looking for. We should all spend more time spreading the word, paying attention to these early signs of difficulty, and providing early intervention to students and support to parents. Blaming is a waste of precious time.

  11. Tracy says:

    I have been teaching special education for 18 years. Let me say, as a mom of a son with dyslexia, I LISTEN to parents. Unfortunately, as a parent I have experienced EXACTLY what this article states. I was devastated that teachers and administration at my sons school seemed to work harder at figuring out how to not help my child. We asked for testing and were put off with the same excuses Heather stated. When we found out recesses were being taken away daily because he took longer to complete his work ( he is a quiet, shy, well behaved boy), I was floored. They wouldn’t accommodate him or test him, but they would punish him. We ended up having him tested privately and tutored. We got support, not from my son’s school, but from a wonderful disability advocate who came to every meeting. Finally, two years later, my son was granted a 504 plan. I think about other parents, who don’t have the background in special education that I do. Do they just accept what some schools tell them? It’s a double whammy when teachers like Heather have all the answers that usually suggest some fault of the child or parent. This whole experience opened my eyes. I learned that not every educator/ administrator is going to have my child’s best interest at heart. That was a hard lesson to learn, but ultimately a lesson that has made me a better parent, advocate, and teacher.

  12. teacher4life says:

    As a teacher with 27 years experience in the regular and special education classrooms, I can tell you that most experienced teachers recognize children with dyslexia and learning disabilities after 2-3 days in their classroom in September! The problem is the “hoops” we have to jump through to get our students help! I believe most of the blockades revolve around money that will need to be spent by the district. Money they often do not have in their budgets. The second set of resistance lies in the fact that experienced teachers do not make these decisions and our opinions are often under-valued. Sept. 3 I recognized that a student in my class has a learning disability. It is now January and I am still fighting to get her the appropriate help and diagnosis! I have to first document all of the modifications and alternatives I have tried in the classroom. Second, I have to bring her case to a committee called Intervention and Referral Service I&RS. Then, they assign Basic skills help for her in small group. (Which I voiced my objection that it was the wrong kind of help since I see memory issues, OT and PT issues and possible neurological “soft signs” of a delay.) (27 years experience and three teaching certificates help me here!) So, we try Basic skills for at least a month and then revisit the I&RS committee. Finally she is referred to Child Study Team for an evaluation. The state of NJ give them 90 days to complete this (at the school’s expense). I may hear the results by March! Meanwhile, I am modifying her work load, trying alternative reading programs like Wilson and Edmark and working every day to preserve her self esteem. Notice, none of the programming decisions are in my hands as a classroom teacher. I voice my opinion, thank god for tenure protection, but can only go so far and keep my job! It is so frustrating!!!! Meanwhile, I know that this child’s progress or lack of will show up on my class results for the year and somewhere in the back of my mind I hear Gov. Christie saying that I did not do my job with this student. I do not want this child out of my classroom or passed on to another staff member to deal with….I want a solution that works I want a prescriptive assessment done on September 5 and the program in place by Sept. 10! None of the decisions are within my control. Something has to change. If a parent took their child to a medical doctor and they were told that we will try this and that we have to wait months to diagnose what is wrong….they would shout and demand a second opinion or change doctors! Why do we accept this in education?

  13. Proud Parent says:

    With all do respect, your response is very typical and defensive. I was told many of these same things and pressed my way through. Children can have all the access to literature in the world and if there is a Dyslexic diagnosis your theory is trumped. I would admonish you as an educator to research different diagnoses of reading difficulties. I would also recommend volunteering in your states MTA reading programs, as it sounds like you have no experience with these cases. This is not a war of teachers versus parents, it’s a team effort. My son’s teacher did not think he was Dyslexic, and the school refused to test him because he was not failing. I paid from my own pocket for private testing and outside tutoring. Two years later we are now all working together to make a difference in the life of my son and many like him. My son’s teacher wrote me a long letter to thank me for not giving up and advocating for my son. I thanked her for her patience and diligence with him. It’s been successful because we worked as a team. With that said, my son’s success today stemmed from me as a mother trusting my gut and pushing through despite no help in the beginning from my son’s school. I am grateful that I was financially able to do that. There are many families that are not. My hope is that everyone will open their hearts and minds to this issue for early intervention. The key will be breaking the walls of defense, listening to the parents, and working as team for the success of our students.

  14. Dalton says:

    I did’nt know where to find this info then kaboom it was here.

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