How Parents Can Take N.O.T.E. of Signs of Learning and Thinking Differences to Help Students Thrive at School

By: Dr. Tracy Packiam Alloway

As a psychologist, I have spent over a decade investigating how learning and thinking differences can impact academic progress. Throughout this journey, I have had the privilege of working closely with educators and parents.

Now more than ever, it is crucial to accurately identify learning and thinking differences. According to Understood and UndiosUS’ Back to School Study:

  • 64% of parents have noticed their child experiencing learning challenges over the past school year

  • 68% of parents of a child with learning and thinking differences worry about their child falling behind academically and not being able to catch up. 

In my published research, I have found that early identification is the first important step in helping a child feel supported. And when working with schools, I have seen how support can make a significant difference to children’s learning and, ultimately, their academic success.

Once parents and teachers identify the strengths and growth areas of a student’s learning profile, specific and targeted accommodations can be made to support learning. The aim in supporting students with learning difficulties is not just to help them survive in the classroom, but to thrive as well. Strategies can provide scaffolding and support that will unlock their learning potential.

It can be difficult to identify some of the signs of learning and thinking differences, but common signs include:

  • Messy backpacks

  • Fear of reading aloud

  • Trouble making friends

  • Difficulty focusing

  • Challenges with taking tests

Understood, in partnership with the American Academy of Pediatrics, has launched Take N.O.T.E., an interactive digital tool to help parents discover if the struggles they are seeing in their children could be signs of a learning and thinking difference. The four steps are notice, observe, talk, and engage. Not everyone’s journey is the same, so these steps may not occur in this order, but the mnemonic device is meant to serve as a cue to parents:

  • Notice if there’s something going on with your child that’s out of the ordinary. 

  • Observe and keep track of patterns. 

  • Talk with other people who can help support your child, like pediatricians, teachers, and other caregivers. 

  • Engage your child to get information and explore options for what to do next.

Each step in Take N.O.T.E. includes simple, free, and accessible practice activities, conversation prompts, checklists, and multimedia features available in English and Spanish — all designed to help families understand the signs of learning and thinking differences.

If you think you may be noticing signs of a learning and thinking difference in your child, I encourage you to try to start taking note. The first step can sometimes feel like the most challenging, but it’s the most important to help your child thrive at school and beyond.

Of note: Take N.O.T.E. is designed for information and educational purposes to guide those on their journey to discovering more about learning and thinking differences. It does not constitute, nor should it be used as, official medical advice for identification or diagnosis. Understood encourages those seeking official diagnosis to consult with their local health care professional or pediatrician.


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