Why is My Child Having Trouble in School?

Children who are performing poorly in school may have a health or mental health problem, a learning disability or a combination of the three.

How Can Problems in These Areas Affect My Child's Education?

A health problem, such as a vision or hearing impairment, can prevent learning.

Mental health (emotional or behavioral) problems such as Attention Deficit/ Hyperactivity, Anxiety, Mood or Eating Disorders make it difficult to do well in school. See the brochure Mental Health Disorders in Childhood for more information.

Learning Disorders interfere with a child's ability to learn, remember, and/or communicate things they are taught.

A problem in one area may cause a child to have difficulty in another. For example, if a child has poor hearing (a health problem) or dyslexia (a learning disability), he or she may become anxious (a mental health problem).

What are Learning Disabilities?

A child who has a weakness in one or more of the many skills needed to learn, may have a learning disability. A learning disability can cause a child to perform below age, grade and intellectual levels in school. Very intelligent children can have learning disabilities. Children with learning disabilities are sometimes mislabeled as dumb or lazy.

What Are Some Signs of Learning Disabilities?

  • Difficulty with reading, writing or math skills
  • Reversing numbers or letters
  • Anxious and discouraged about school
  • Cutting classes and missing school
  • Falling behind or failing classes
  • Teachers reporting behavior problems

What Causes Learning Disabilities?

The precise cause of most learning disabilities is not fully understood. In general, they result from a combination of genetic and other biological factors, and nurturing and other environmental factors.

If My Child has School Problems, What Will Help?

A child who has a mental health problem, may need mental health services. However, a child may also need Special Education Services to overcome a learning disability or mental health problem that interferes with learning.

What is Special Education?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires states to make free and appropriate education available to all students with disabilities. If your child has a qualifying health, mental health or learning disability, schools will provide specialized services designed to help them succeed.

First, the schools will evaluate your child. If your child is eligible the school will meet with you to write an Individual Education Plan (IEP). This plan requires that the school district provide the services listed in the IEP.

If your child qualifies for Special Education due to an Emotional Disorder, the school and county mental health department may provide mental health services to support your child's education. These are sometimes called AB3632, AB2726 or 26.5 services.

If your child is not eligible for Special Education Services, the school may still offer additional assistance to your child. Request an evaluation for "504 services" or assistance through the American's with Disabilities Act (ADA).

What are Special Education Services?

Special education services are individualized. The way in which subjects are taught are adjusted so the child can learn. Therapy and/or academic assistance help children overcome emotional disabilities.

How can I get help?

First, consult your child's doctor. Ask for a complete health examination of your child. Tell the doctor about the behaviors that concern you. Ask your doctor if further evaluation or treatment by a specialist in child behavioral problems is needed.

Your child may be eligible to receive mental health services from the County Mental Health Plan. The County has a toll free number available 24 hours a day. They will be able to talk with you in your own language, and answer questions about your child's behavior. Their services and phone numbers are listed in the county government pages of your local phone book.

You may also want to contact your child's school, or the local Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA). Teachers and school counselors may also be able to help.

For Special Education Services ask your child's school to conduct an assessment to determine whether or not your child is eligible. You must submit this request in writing. When this is done, the school district must begin a formal process with timelines.

Where Can I Get More Information?

Learning Disabilities Association of America
(412) 341-1515

For publications:

National Institute of Mental Health
(888) 826-9438