48 answers

4 Year Old Might Have Learning Disabilities

I am the mother of a 4 year old, a full time nanny, and have worked in daycares for 10 years. I do "preschool time" with my son (4) and the other 2 boys, both of whom are 2.5 years old. I teach them through worksheets, activities, crafts, field trips, all kinds of hands-on games, repetition, and more- I like to try and keep it as fun as possible so they do not get bored. I know that my son is very smart, but he has NO interest in learning anything. He only knows 2 colors, 3 shapes, and the letter "O". We work on this every single day. The boys that are 1.5 years younger than him are so much more ahead- they both know all the colors, shapes, numbers, letters, and can do things like put simple puzzles together, etc. I know that all children learn at a different speed. I know that different kids learn things different ways, and I try lots of styles of teaching to see what works for my son. He doesn't like to color, he can't draw anything recognizable, and his speech is not understandable to anybody but family. He gets bored of any activity that we do within a few minutes, even if I don't specifically say, "it's preschool time," or anything like that.
My son is extremely strong willed, gets frustrated very easily, and can never sit still- even if I make him sit down he has to stomp his feet, wave his arms around, or swing his head. He also talks/sings all the time, in a high pitched voice or in whispers, and lots of the time it's just made-up words and phrases. He has a horrible time concentrating.
I have taken him to his doctor, who agreed he is possibly behind, physically as well as mentally. I am planning on calling the local school district and see if they can screen him for anything- I think he might be colorblind and dyslexic (both run in the family). We can't afford therapists, preschool, or anything really... we're just getting by.
I just don't know what else to do. I always encourage him and tell him how good he is doing, and I am so proud of every small step he makes. He'll be starting school when he is closer to 6 years old. I just want to prepare him and help him learn what he needs to go into school, but nothing is working. No matter what I do, I can't spark his interest. I don't want to force him, and make him hate learning, I don't want to make him feel like he's not smart (that would break my heart if he felt bad about himself), but I don't want him to hurt in school because he is not prepared.
If anyone has any ideas, please let me know! I really appreciate it! Thanks :)

Wow! I have received so many responses, thank you everybody.
You all have given some great advice and I have lots to think about and do.
Right now though, since so many people commented about his hearing and sight, I just wanted to write about that.
My son has a genetic condition called Ectodermal Dysplacia that effects his skin, teeth, and hair. All of his teeth are small and pointy, like shark teeth, he gets random high fevers often because he cannot sweat, and his skin is very sensitive. One of the other things the condition can effect is his sight and hearing. We have had him tested for hearing, the last time was about a year ago. It is perfect, thank goodness! My son has also been wearing glasses since he was 2. He has had surgery on his eye to correct amblioplia. He goes to the eye doctor regularly and has done patch therapy. His vision isn't too bad, but with glasses, which he wears without complaining, he can see perfectly. He wears them all the time. Someone also asked how I know he is smart- my son is a great problem solver. He thinks a lot and will explain things to me that I know I have not explained to him. With the things that he *does know* i.e. the color yellow, letter "o", and stars and hearts, he points them out all the time, whenever he sees them. He just can't move on from those few things, and "turns off" in a sense, if I ask about/show him something he doesn't know.

Lots more to comment on, but I will do that a little later :)
Thanks again everybody!

What can I do next?

More Answers

Dear M.~
You sound like a terrific Mom and I think you right to be concerned about your son. From your description regarding his speech and behaviours, I am very surprised at his doctor's, how should I say it, unenthusiastic response to your concerns. He says he is probably a little behind. He is definately behind and I am quite surprised that the his doctor didn't bring up concerns sooner himself. Number 1, please find a new doctor for your son, one that will take your concerns seriously. And one that has some experience with Autism. I know that can be a scary word but there are many, many "levels" to autism. Some autistic children are extremly high functioning and other are extremely low. A few things you said made me mention it. His repetitive singing (ang high pitch) and nonsensical words and his problem solving skills specifically. I have a family member who worked for NAAR, now called Autism Speaks, for several years and I have worked with a PA-C (certified Physician Assistant) whose children both are on the very high functioning end of the scale who are autistic. Both are in regular classrooms at school, although they are very high needs children. Just another avenue you may wish to pursue. My best wishes to you and your son and your family. Again, you sound like just a wonderful mom and are doing everything right. Keep up the great work.

2 moms found this helpful

Hi M.,

First, let me tell you that you're not alone! Other moms out there are probably reading your post and recognizing their own child in your words. Second, there are resources out there for you. I was concerned about my two year-old's speech development (or lack thereof) and learned about my county's Education Service District, which provides FREE services for children, including the assessment, education, and intervention for speech, gross motor skills, fine motor skills, etc. Each county has an ESD, and the cost is covered by the taxes we pay. I highly encourage you to schedule an assessment for your son. It's been a blessing for us-with monthly visits from a "counselor" and regular visits from a speech pathologist, my son's speech has exploded in the last six months. I don't know what county you live in, but here are links to the two larger county ESDs. You can always google to find the other counties.

Clackamas ESD: http://www.clackesd.k12.or.us/
Multnomah: http://w3.mesd.k12.or.us/

Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful

I'm sure you have had a ton of responses but i thought i'd add my small amount of knowledge. I am a nanny, or should say was before my son was born. I have had many different nanny jobs but, I worked with this wonderful little girl with down syndrome for years. She taught me so much I am forever debted to her and her family. A couple of the things I learned...your child doesn't have to start school until the age of 7 in washington state. Kindergarten is completely optional. We kept her home unitl she was ready and I really think it helped her. Everything I did with her I did at her pase. We worked on eye therapies, fine motor skills, everything you can imagine. She also has a very short attention spand, so we mapped the day out for her. She had to work for a few, complete a small task, tehn she could ahve a break and do something fun. She's take ten minutes and go dance or look at books, and we come back and do another small task. I spaced her structured activities throughout teh day rather than all clumped together, and at the end of the day we spent a good amount of time doing something of ehr choice, a rewards of sorts for doing everything she needed to do. We'd go the the park or for a long walk, jump on the trampoline (she was very into gross motor activies) With children with any kind of special needs, high functioning or not, there are "window's of opportunity" times when they are open to new things. You just have to be patient and be ready when they come. Now that doesn't mean you don't do anything in the mean time, but take it slow and go from their ques. My precious little girl and work is so smart, she just turned 10 last week, she doesn't speak but a few words that really only family can understand, but we do a lot of sign language. When she started school it was very hard on her mother and I, we spent a lot of time crying and trying to adjust. When your son does start school just make sure you are and positive advicate for him, because the school systems have their own way about things that are not always best for children. My little angel goes to North Shore School District and supposedly they are suppose to be great with special needs children, and for the most part they are, but you really have to take the time to be there and observe and find which people work well and are positive for yor child. Some people are natural at it and others aren't. Good luck to you, and enjoy your journey!

1 mom found this helpful

Many of the other responses have already said this; get him evaluated NOW!! You are right, he IS smart. MANY kids with Autism issues are also very bright... He sounds like there are possible sensory and/or Autism spectrum issues going on, and early intervention is absolutely critical. If you want help figuring out how to get help and therapy for him, e-mail me; I have been a special ed teacher for over 15 years and I have a son with disabilities, so I have been there.... If you are in Oregon, call the local school and the local ESD (Education Service District); you could also try to get an evaluation done at the nearest children's hospital, which is often covered by your health insurance (if you have Keizer, DON'T go there). If you are in Washington, go ahead and get him evaluated by contacting the district and / or ESD as well, but FIRST get in touch with a parent advocacy group; try the Wyatt Holliday Foundation (www.wyattshouse.org)... there is a HUGE pattern of poor special ed services in most of the districts in Washington, and they can help you get services effectively. I would also look at changing doctors; yours does not show much understanding of developmental issues!!!
Best wishes to you and your little guy!! Let me know if I can help :-)

1 mom found this helpful


I am sorry to hear about your worries, but I am also glad that you are aware there might be a need for support for your son and family. It is hard for parents sometimes to see that their little ones might not be developmentally on track. I know this because of my background...I worked as a case manager for a children's therapy center that specialized in working with birth to three Early Intervention clients (developmental delays and therapy for motor, speech/language, cognition and socialization). The program I worked for was in Washington so I am not 100% about the ins and outs for Oregon, but I know that Early Intervention programs are federal and run for both 0-3 years and 3-5 years. These programs are generally contacted through your school district where they will evaluate (or refer to the right center/program) and see if your son has a delay that is significant enough to be eligible for services.

These programs, like I said, are federal and supported by taxes so there is no cost (or very little) to families who are eligible due to delay, not income. The goal is to provide services early so that children are then ready for school when its time and hopefully save on the need for more support and service later on.

Another option that you may want to look into if Early Intervention doesn't seem right to you, or if you want a medical evaluation, is to see a developmental pediatrician. Not wanting to make a specific recommendation, but the ones that might be good to start with are through the Child Development and Rehab Center (CDRC) with OHSU or with Emanuel Children's Hospital. These programs will do an evaluation somewhat like the Early Intervention programs, but then take it a little farther looking more for medical issues and a possible diagnosis, if there is one (since you mention that there are learning disabilities in your family).

I know that this is a hard process, as I said earlier. I have been by many parents sides as they have navigated through the maze of services, but I have never see a family who regrets getting this sort of help. Please let me know if you have any other questions...I am not what I would consider an expert, but even though I am not working in this field any longer, I am very passionate about helping children and families.

Best wishes,

1 mom found this helpful

I have a six year old niece with physical and mental disabilities. Even though her parents both had jobs with insurance, her disabilities qualified them to receive state assistance with therapy, special schools, tests, etc.

Don't make money the issue. Follow through with contacting the school and going through the testing process. If there is anything wrong, they should be able to point you in the right direction to signing up for assistance for your son.

1 mom found this helpful


You have already received wonderful advice. I just wanted to add my 2 cents that you sound like a fantastic mom!! Your son is lucky to have such a loving and intelligent mother.

Keep up the good work and I hope they find out quickly what is going on with your son so that you can all start focusing on helping him.


1 mom found this helpful

Public schools have 'child find' where children as young as 3 yrs old are assessed for their needs and entered into early education. They receive physical, occupational and speech therapies as needed and required to help them develop and learn the lessons that are being taught in class. This classroom/school is free of charge, your district receives federal and state funding for it. (However, funding is subject to cuts, so when you vote this fall vote for someone who supports education funding, fully!) But getting him into this program is going to help him immensely. He will be going to school now rather than later, and it's in his best interests. Don't hesitate. Contact your school district and your pediatrician.

1 mom found this helpful

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