Professional guidance, personalized advice and in-depth information are just an e-mail message (or a toll-free phone call) away for parents and educators of children with learning disabilities.
Through a Web site developed by the Schwab Foundation for Learning, computer technology is providing a nationwide Internet connection that gives the public a direct link to experts in the field of learning disabilities.
"What people really need is information and resources," said Ann Wallace, communications manager of the nonprofit Schwab foundation, which operates a learning disabilities resource center in San Mateo, Calif. "When they have that, it empowers them to be able to help their kids.
"A lot of times parents focus on a child's deficits," Wallace said. "We can help them turn it around, to focus on the child's strengths and take a more positive outlook."
What distinguishes the Web site (www.schwablearning.org) from others with information on learning disabilities is the personalized assistance available through e-mail or by telephone (800-230-0988) from information specialists and resource consultants, Wallace said.
Anyone can get a speedy reply to basic questions -- at no charge. Worried parents may contact the foundation with concerns about whether a child is exhibiting signs of learning disability. Foundation staff members can help to alleviate concerns or give an alert to possible problems.
A parent might want a list of the best horseback-riding camps in the country for a child with attention deficit disorder (ADD). Another may ask for the names of famous individuals with learning disabilities who might serve as role models for a child.
The foundation was started about 10 years ago by Charles R. Schwab, chairman and chief executive officer of one of the nation's largest brokerage firms, and his wife, Helen O'Neill Schwab. Both Charles Schwab and one of his now-grown sons struggled with dyslexia.
Through the foundation, which has 3,600 members, the Schwabs hope to provide information and support that will help other parents of children with learning disabilities.
Those who join -- the cost is $40 a year or $100 for a lifetime membership -- are entitled to in-depth research and one-on-one guidance counseling from resource consultants. Free one-year memberships are available to those with financial need.
Members who are the parents of a child who has recently been tested for a learning disability can send by fax the results to a resource consultant who will help interpret them and develop an action plan.
"We want to help parents navigate the maze of finding help for their child," said Sally Jess, a retired special education teacher, coordinator of curriculum and principal who is a resource consultant for the foundation.
"Parents who are facing learning disabilities for the first time often find it very disturbing," Jess said. "They want some help and some guidance. And we're eager to point out to them that there's a lot of hope and a lot of support available for them."
The counselors can also offer advice and guidance to new special education teachers, explain the criteria for a child to receive special education, help with referrals and discuss strategies in compensating for learning difficulties.
"There is someone available six days a week to answer to their needs no matter where they are," Jess said. "There are times when parents are just confused and they need someone to sit down and go through their list of questions with them."
Members and nonmembers can access information at the Web site on matters from dyslexia and ADD to assessment, self-esteem and study strategies. The site can be personalized to notify the browser of new information in particular areas of interest.
Also available are a quarterly newsletter, book lists, names of other organizations and Web sites and information sheets. Recommended questions for a parent who wants his child tested for a learning disability, or who is seeking professional services such as tutoring, are available. Lesson plans and teaching strategies are offered for educators.
Bulletin boards for parents and teachers provide the opportunity for discussion on topics from the use of technology to working in partnership with schools.