A Caregiver’s Guide to Neurodivergent Learners: Finding & Measuring Success for Your Child

By Jess Corinne
September 7, 2022

This three-part series focuses on the experiences of parents and caregivers as they become aware of potential learning differences in their children and navigate the many challenges and surprises along the way. 

You can find part two here: A Caregiver’s Guide to Neurodivergent Learners: Education Therapy and Other Treatment Options. Or go back to the beginning: A Caregiver’s Guide to Neurodivergent Learners: When to Consider an Evaluation.

Monitoring your Child’s Progress

Your child’s IEP must contain goals with which their progress will be monitored. Progress monitoring refers to a standardized, scientifically-based process of measuring progress toward a performance target. IEP goals must be explicit as to which skills are being measured (e.g. reading comprehension or mathematical automaticity) and how progress monitoring will be conducted. A baseline of and how your child is currently performing (prior to receiving specially designed instruction) on these skills must also be included in the IEP goals.

There are many different commercially-available providers for progress monitoring that a school program might use, but they fall into two categories: mastery measurement (MM) and general outcome measurement (GOM)—commonly referred to as curriculum-based measurements or CBMs. When people use the term progress monitoring, they are usually referring to a CBM. A CBM focuses on achieving a single general task that provides an indication of change in the general outcome desired (as opposed to a mastery measure or MM, which assesses one isolated skill at a time). When a CBM is used, a child is tested briefly each week, usually for about 1 to 5 minutes, and the results provide the teacher with data on how to adapt their instruction to the learner’s needs.

What Happens to an IEP after the first year?

A child’s progress during the academic year must be reported to parents or caregivers, and they must be informed whether the child’s progress is enough for them to achieve the goals outlined in their IEP by the end of the academic year. Progress reports must be given to parents at least as often as parents of general education students are given progress reports [1].

According to the IDEA law, an IEP must be reviewed at least once a year, and parents must be invited to attend the review meetings. The review should assess your child’s progress and allow for any adjustments needed to their educational program. If necessary, the IEP must be revised. During the meeting, you can make suggestions for changes to the IEP, its goals, and your child’s placement. 

If you don’t agree with any part of the IEP, you can share your concerns with other members of the IEP team and discuss what needs to be revised in your child’s IEP. If necessary, you have options at this stage to request additional testing, get an independent evaluation, or ask for mediation or a due process hearing. If you are unable to reach an agreement with your IEP team, you can file a complaint with your state education agency [2]. 

At minimum, every three years your child must be reevaluated (this evaluation is often called a “triennial”). This evaluation is to determine if your child continues to be a “child with a disability,” (as defined by IDEA) and what the current educational needs for your child are. Some conditions necessitate that your child be reevaluated more often. A reevaluation must also be provided if you (or your child’s teacher) ask for one [1].

Whether or not your learner participates in Learnfully programming as part of a federally-mandated IEP, our technology-enabled platform provides insights into the growth & development of your learner. By integrating continuous inputs from your learner and their education specialist into our proprietary analytics engine, you’re always kept up-to-date and in control of your learner’s goals and progress. 

What Success Means for Your Child

Even if you and your child are at the very start of your learning journey together, it’s natural to wonder what lies at the destination. In considering academic and therapeutic outcomes, it is important to facilitate your child’s success by helping them establish their own goals. Learn about their dreams for the future—this will open up sources of inspiration that will fuel their motivation to learn and succeed. Be open-minded and non-judgemental, and try to avoid transposing your own desires for them onto what they want for themselves. Try to avoid imagining that their present limitations will prevent them from achieving potentially lofty or ambitious aspirations. Instead, help them envision success and work around their differences, using their strengths to their benefit in pursuing their goals. Help them turn their individual challenges into a determination to overcome obstacles.

What do journalist Anderson Cooper, comedian, actor, and activist Whoopi Goldberg, and entrepreneur Richard Branson have in common? They are just a few of the many successful and famous individuals with learning disabilities.

Specific outcomes will vary by your learner’s age, IEP, or explicit therapeutic goals, but in all cases the most important factors in achieving a successful outcome for a neurodivergent learner are quality of education—whether through an IEP, or supplemental programming provided by Learnfully’s network of education specialists and programming—and caregiver support. As a parent or caregiver, you know your child the best, and you must help them recognize their unique strengths, abilities, and learning style to gainfully influence their developmental progress and learning outcomes.

When early intervention can be leveraged, it is highly effective and desirable due to the fact that learning problems often become more complex and difficult to remediate as children get older [3]. The U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) has identified three early general childhood outcomes that can be achieved through early intervention:

  1. Building positive social-emotional skills and relationships, which includes how children interact and play with other children and adults, how they show their feelings, and how they follow social rules.
  2. Acquiring and using knowledge and skills, which includes how children understand basic concepts, learn new things, solve problems, and use words or other ways to communicate.
  3. Taking appropriate action to meet their needs, which includes how children become more independent by learning to move on their own, feed themselves, ask for assistance, begin to get dressed, and take care of basic needs [4].

As students with learning differences transition from high school to college, research suggests that competence in several areas can be reasonably expected as outcomes of your learner’s journey. These areas include, but are not limited to: functional academic skills (in reading, math, writing, and problem-solving), personal-social skills, self-determination, and more [5].

Effective Learning Strategies for High Schoolers
As students with learning differences transition from high school to college, research suggests that competence in the following strategies appear to prove the most effective
  • functional academic skills (e.g., reading, math, writing, and problem-solving);
  • community living skills (e.g., money management, community access);
  • personal-social skills (e.g., getting along with others); vocational skills (e.g., career awareness, job search); and self-determination skills (e.g., self-advocacy, goal setting);
  • Participation in vocational education classes during the last two years of high school, especially classes that offer occupationally-specific instruction;
  • Participation in paid work experience in the community during the last two years of high school;
  • Participation in transition planning;
  • Graduation from high school; and
  • Absence of continuing instructional needs in functional academic, vocational, and personal-social areas after leaving school.
Source: National Council on Disability. (2004, May 17). Improving educational outcomes for students with disabilities. National Council on Disability. Retrieved September 23, 2021, from https://ncd.gov/publications/2004/mar172004.

Why multisensory programs work

Education therapists employing multisensory programs target the underlying sensory-cognitive functions that allow learners to strengthen, develop, and apply their skills into academics and beyond. They undergo extensive training in a multitude of behavioral, emotional, psychological, and educational modalities to support learners from all angles. 

Specialists at Learnfully leverage programming that supports both general and specific education skills-related outcomes through multisensory, evidence-based programs and teaching frameworks that engage and challenge each learner. This approach leads to improved instructional efficacy and outcomes. We use programs such as Orton-Gillingham®, Wilson Reading Systems®, Zones of Regulation®, Making Math Real®, SMARTS EF®, Handwriting Without Tears®, Lucy Calkins’ Writer’s and Reader’s Workshop®, Lindamood-Bell®, and Step Up To Writing®. These programs are validated by research and proven to:

  • develop literacy skills in the areas of phonics, fluency, comprehension, automaticity, and more
  • develops mathematical concepts and skills prescriptively in symbol imaging, automaticity, fluency, and other math areas
  • develop cognitive behavioral therapy strategies for self-understanding and self-management, improving emotional and behavioral control
  • strengthen critical executive function skills that boost student motivation and effort, improve working memory, and help with planning and prioritizing tasks.

Learnfully is not Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes. Learnfully is NOT affiliated with, certified, endorsed, licensed, monitored or sponsored by Lindamood-Bell, Nanci Bell, Phyllis Lindamood or Patricia Lindamood. Lindamood-Bell – an international organization creating and implementing unique instructional methods and programs for quality intervention to advance language and literacy skills – in no way endorses or monitors the services provided by Learnfully.

As a parent or caregiver, it’s important to take a long-term perspective on your child’s learning outcomes. This can provide a helpful mindset for you and your learner. The difficulties and stress experienced by neurodivergent learners often lessen over time, especially by providing strengths-based education instruction and therapy. School tends to focus on a relatively narrow range of academic tasks that may not play to  the strengths of your child. However, as children mature into adults, many of their abilities and talents transcend the narrow academic achievement realm to find a more appreciated and important place in a career setting, leading to job success and life satisfaction.

Contact us today for a free consultation if you believe your learner would benefit from multisensory programs.

[1] US Department of Education. (2000, July). Guide to the individualized education program. US Department of Education. Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://www2.ed.gov/parents/needs/speced/iepguide/index.html.

[2] Logsdon, A. (2020, September 17). Idea annual reviews and learning disabilities. Verywell Family. Retrieved September 24, 2021, from https://www.verywellfamily.com/understanding-annual-reviews-2162059.

[3] Spear-Swerling, L. (2005, November). Achieving good outcomes in students with learning disabilities. LD OnLine. Retrieved September 23, 2021, from http://www.ldonline.org/spearswerling/Achieving_Good_Outcomes_in_Students_with_Learning_Disabilities.

[4] University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Education Early Childhood Collective. (n.d.). Child outcomes: Measuring the benefits of early intervention. Illinois Early Intervention Clearinghouse. Retrieved September 23, 2021, from https://eiclearinghouse.org/einotes/child-outcomes/.

[5] National Council on Disability. (2004, May 17). Improving educational outcomes for students with disabilities.  National Council on Disability. Retrieved September 23, 2021, from https://ncd.gov/publications/2004/mar172004.

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