By Laura Ory

October is Learning Disabilities Awareness Month. Karla Phillips-Krivickas of Think Inclusion helps to explain what can be done to support students with learning disabilities.

Learning and attention issues, like dyslexia and ADHD, are quite common, impacting about one in five children in the U.S.

However, not all students with learning disabilities are getting the support they need.

“Learning disabilities are invisible, are often unnoticed, and are still greatly misunderstood,” said Karla Phillips-Krivickas, a state Board of Education member with more than 20 years of experience in state and federal policy. She is also a mother of two children with learning disabilities and the founder of Think Inclusion, an organization that aims to build policy and investment agendas that include students with disabilities to improve outcomes for all students and families.

“Throughout my children’s educational journeys, I began to see all of the policies I have worked on through a different lens,” she said. “My mission now is to ensure students with disabilities are included in all policies, programs and initiatives.”

When it comes to students with any kind of disability, evaluation is often the first hurdle to getting the support that is needed.

“The first challenge is simply obtaining the evaluations necessary to determine that your child does indeed have a disability,” said Phillips-Krivickas.

Learning disabilities and conditions like ADHD can often be difficult to discern. Besides struggling with reading, writing, or math, some possible sings of a learning or attention issue might be losing homework, not wanting to go to school and trouble sitting still and making friends, according to the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

If you have any concerns that your child may have a learning disability, Phillips-Krivickas suggests that you start by talking with your child’s teacher or school administrators to get the evaluation process started.

Know Your Rights & Resources

The right to free, appropriate public education for students with disabilities is guaranteed by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), said Phillips-Krivickas.

This means that public schools must provide special education and related services to children with disabilities. Unfortunately, getting the support these students are promised may not be easy.

“One of the things that I find very frustrating is how inequitable the system can be,” said Philips-Krivickas. “Parents who know how to navigate the system or are to obtain a lawyer or advocate, are able to secure the services and supports their child needs, but others cannot.”

One local organization is working to change that.

Raising Special Kids offers free training for Arizona parents about their rights and empowers them to advocate for their children.

In recent years, more parents of students with learning disabilities have also taken their concerns to the state capitol.  As a result, there are new efforts to both support parents and schools to address disabilities, in particular those with dyslexia.

Setting Higher Expectations

Unfortunately, students with learning disabilities or ADHD are often misunderstood as lazy or unintelligent, when in reality, they are as smart as their peers and have the ability to achieve at high levels.

With the right educational and emotional supports, about 90% of students qualifying for special education services can be expected to reach the same level of academic achievement as their peers without disabilities.

However, misconceptions about students with disabilities can, and do, seep into state policy and lower expectations for these students. As a result, students with disabilities are more likely to repeat a grade, get suspended, or drop out. Students with disabilities are also enrolling in college at less than half the rate of students overall.

National disability advocates hope to address one of the barriers to postsecondary learning for students with disabilities with the Respond, Innovate, Succeed, and Empower (RISE) Act, a bill that would improve the process for students to receive disability services in college.

“Arizona didn’t wait for Congress to act,” said Phillips-Krivickas “Our state was the first to pass similar legislation at home.”

With the passage of HB2031 earlier this year, it should be easier for students with disabilities to get the services they need to succeed in college.

It is one of the changes that Phillips-Krivickas hopes will lead toward a future with higher expectations, greater inclusion, and increased outcomes for all students with disabilities in Arizona.

Education Forward Arizona champions P-20 education attainment as critical to advancing the state’s economy and improving the quality of life of its residents. We do this by advocating for solutions, implementing innovative programs and services, and using our voice to drive progress towards the goals in the Arizona Education Progress Meter. Learn more at

 Learning Disability Resources

  • Arizona Department of Education

  • Learning Disabilities Association of America

  • National Center for Learning Disabilities


Take N.O.T.E.

Concerned that your child may have a learning disability? created Take N.O.T.E. to help identify the signs of learning and thinking differences:

  • Notice if there’s something going on with the child that’s out of the ordinary.
  • Observe and keep track of patterns.
  • Talk with other people who can help support the child, like pediatricians, teachers, and other caregivers.
  • Engage the child to get information and explore options for what to do next.