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LD, Developmental Delays, and Phys. Ed.

Pediatrics Expert Advice from Shari Nethersole, M.D.

Q: My 12-year-old daughter just started 7th grade in a middle school. She has been diagnosed with a reading/learning disability, and also has a delay in her gross and fine motor skills, along with an auditory processing delay. We have known this since she was a third-grader, but just kept thinking things would get better for her. Now, in physical education class, the gym teacher is concerned because my daughter is not interacting or "actively participating" in the gym class. She does have a hard time throwing and catching, but she is on a swim team and can play basketball very well. Our meeting with the counselor and gym teacher is next week. How can we keep her mainstreamed and happy? My daughter never complains about any of this. She does not know it is a problem.

A: This is a difficult question to answer without knowing more specific details about the situation. But one thing I would do is ask your daughter about it. I find it unlikely that at age 12, she has no awareness of this as an issue. Overall, I'd say that the key is focusing on what you and the teachers feel benefits your daughter the most. I don't think it is reasonable to switch her just because the teacher thinks she's holding up the class or "can't do it." If she is happy, and is not being taunted by the other students (the teacher should be making sure that this doesn't happen in school) it may be a great learning experience for her as well as for the other students in the class to have her continue to participate and become more competent in some of these skills.

However, if she is not actually participating in the class and is just sitting on the side observing, then it may be useful to have her in an environment where she can get experiences that are particularly targeted to her abilities and disabilities. I think that based on what you said, she should be able to participate in a regular gym class. I think the key is to talk with the teachers involved and find out what the specific concerns are and whether or not these can be addressed without making your daughter feel that she is in some way deficient.

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Shari Nethersole is a physician at Children's Hospital, Boston, and an instructor in Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. She graduated from Yale University and Harvard Medical School, and did her internship and residency at Children's Hospital, Boston. As a pediatrician, she tries to work with parents to identify and address their concerns.


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