When Jacob Ingram first took the ACT (American College Test), it was without the accommodations provided for someone with a learning disorder.
“I didn’t even know what I was doing,” he said. “I was in a room full with other kids and I just started working on problems, and a few minutes later, the teacher called ‘time’ and I thought, ‘What on earth just happened?’ I had only completed around four questions.”
Jacob had been diagnosed with dyslexia when he was 9 years old.
“When I saw the scores later, I didn’t know what to think because I didn’t understand what testing I had just undergone until my mom let me know what test it was and how low my scores had been, and expressed her concern,” said Jacob.
Recognizing the Signs
Knowing normal development is key in recognizing symptoms of learning disorders, said Dr. Scott Governo, DNP, board-certified family, pediatric and psychiatric nurse practitioner at the Olson Huff Center at Mission Children’s Hospital.
“Many children present with developmental delays or behavioral issues,” said Governo. “Some have normal-for-age behaviors that their peers have grown out of, but for some reason remain in the child with developmental issues. Other concerns may be poor progress in learning or weak communication and social skills.”
Jacob’s parents, Laura and Jay Ingram, began to notice that Jacob was struggling with reading, spelling and vocabulary when he was in first grade. “We also noticed significant attention issues and anxiety with homework, mainly with reading and writing tasks,” said Laura. “He usually did well with his math and science.”
Early Diagnosis and Treatment
“Treatment at a younger age can have significantly greater impact on improving core symptoms of a problem, expanding the type of support and, in general, has better outcomes,” said Governo. “This is especially true with children who have been diagnosed with autism, and learning or speech delays.”
Jacob was diagnosed with ADHD by Adrian Sandler, MD, also at the Olson Huff Center at Mission Children’s Hospital, in 2005 and prescribed Concerta, which helped with his ADHD symptoms.
“However, even though he was more focused and we did see improvement with behavior and with attention difficulties, he continued to struggle and display increased anxiety or would ‘shut down’ at home and in the classroom with reading, comprehension and written expression tasks,” said Laura.
In 2010, at Governo’s suggestion, he was tested for dyslexia and was diagnosed with a processing/reading and written expression learning disorder.
“I accepted that I was obviously different and now understood why everything, especially reading and writing, was so difficult,” said Jacob. “I had to get a tutor to break things down and learn to read. I had to give myself more time to read and write because I knew I could not be as fast as the other kids. This reality was frustrating and made me sad. I knew that I knew and understood the material, even advanced learning material like my other classmates; it just took me longer to comprehend.”
Jacob’s mother was a patient of Olson Huff Center when she was growing up. She had attention and hyperactivity issues, and although she wasn’t formally diagnosed with ADHD, Dr. Huff gave her parents the same medical advice given for a child with the disorder. “He helped my mother know how to do things with me so that I would get affirmation instead of criticism,” she said.
“Many developmental and behavioral issues are inheritable. A good example, and common condition, is ADHD,” said Governo. “Studies show that if you have ADHD, your children have about a 35 percent chance of acquiring it. If a child has it, there is a 50 percent likelihood that one of his or her parents does as well.”
Showing His True Abilities
With the support and advocacy of his parents, Jacob’s school provided accommodations — which included a separate testing area, reading aloud as needed, a write-in book and extended time for testing over days — for his next ACT test.
“Everything was a lot easier,” said Jacob. “I knew what was coming, and I would have more time to comprehend what I was working on. It also helped being able to go at my own pace and not try to keep up with others who read and write faster than I do.”
Jacob’s scores were much improved when tested with accommodations. “The testing results were dramatically different and showed more along the lines of Jacob’s true abilities,” said Laura.
Jacob has been accepted into the Mississippi State Bagley School of Engineering. “I’m currently deciding on career options and the best educational path for me,” he said.
This story was originally published in My Healthy Life, a publication by Mission Health.
Scott Governo, DNP, is a pediatric and psychiatric nurse practitioner at the Olson Huff Center at Mission Children’s Hospital.
The Olson Huff Center at Mission Children’s offers comprehensive services for the evaluation and treatment of learning disorders and behavioral issues. “There is now far greater awareness of learning issues such as dyslexia and developmental behavioral issues such as autism and ADHD,” said Dr. Scott Governo, DNP, board-certified family, pediatric and psychiatric nurse practitioner at the Olson Huff Center at Mission Children’s Hospital. “We offer specialty evaluations by a highly trained and seasoned team of professionals that include psychologists, nurse practitioners, physicians, licensed behavioral health providers and a speech pathologist.” The multidisciplinary team also includes occupational, speech and physical therapists. A Family Support Network provides educational support and guidance for families.