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Online Tool Helps Doctors Engage Parents on Learning Disabilities

The National Center for Learning Disabilities recently launched a website intended to help doctors and other pediatric health-care professionals talk to parents about specific learning disabilities.

The LD Navigator was created in partnership with the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners, and funded through a grant by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The resource offers informational handouts that can be printed for parents; talking points for doctors to guide conversations about referrals and evaluation; screening questions for new patients; and information on federal and local laws that govern educational services for students with learning disabilities.

A learning disability is defined under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act as a psychological processing disorder which may manifest itself an inability to listen, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations. It is the most common disability label given to students covered by IDEA; of the 5.8 million students covered by the disability law in fall 2011, about 2.3 million were identified as having a specific learning disability.

Parents often go to their child's doctor first if they have concerns about a son or daughter, but pediatric health professionals are often not well-versed in special education policy and the responsibilities held by school districts, said James H. Wendorf, the executive director of NCLD.

"Parents need to straddle two professional communities—the school community and the health-care community," Wendorf said. "It sets up almost a guarantee that there will be a failure to communicate." The LD Navigator can help doctors frame issues in the language used by schools and districts, with the ultimate goal of providing better services for families, he said.

Response to the tool has come from as far away as Malaysia, where a doctor reached out to ask that the tool be translated, Wendorf said. Though translation is not currently in the works, the organization is investing in making the tool into a mobile app. "When you put out a resource like this that is targeted to the professional community, it generates excitement and interest," he said.

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