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ArchivesLearning Difficulties Do Not Have to End in Academic Failure

Learning Difficulties Do Not Have to End in Academic Failure

Decades of practical experience have shown us that not all children learn the same things, at the same pace. Many children have learning differences that may result in considerable school challenges. Regardless of learning pace or capability, children with learning differences often have strengths in one or more of the “3C’s”—Complex problem-solving, Creativity, and Cognitive flexibility. Children with learning differences, such as dyslexia or ADHD, often have stronger capacities in making unusual connections between things that don’t seem to be connected, out-of-the-box thinking, and other types of creativity in one or more areas. It is these “3 C’s” capacities that companies are most looking for when they hire new employees. 

Sadly, most traditional educational systems do not easily accommodate students who learn differently—and this can be one of the most marginalizing factors in a child’s life during the early academic years. School systems often over-focus on specific learning objectives, and thus inadvertently project negative expectations for children who find traditional, mainstream academics to be challenging. The deficit-based mindset that permeates most traditional educational systems often leaves children feeling that they are “broken” and need to be “fixed”. This can become self-limiting and prevent students from participating in class, asking questions, and learning how to learn from their mistakes.

Children who have learning differences or other cognitive disabilities are often promoted through the educational system before they can develop the coping strategies they need to interact effectively with their peers, learn HOW to learn, and persevere in a positive manner in the face of challenges. For these students, school often becomes a series of overwhelming challenges that seem insurmountable. These students find everything about school, and life, to be a constant struggle. Teachers, friends, and parents often add to the stress, in spite of their best intentions, because they do not have the tools and support they need to do what is best for the child. 

At age 9, Ty was already well behind his peers in reading skills. His teachers said he was inattentive and disruptive during class. Ty’s parents could not understand the problem as there were no obvious signs of problems outside of his school environment. He was on the swim team and rugby team. His coaches found him to be extremely hard working and easy to engage. At home, he was always eager to learn. Ty’s parents met with the teacher and also consulted with an outside agency, which recommended that he be assessed for a learning disability. 

Ty completed a battery of academic and psychological tests designed to determine whether he had a learning disability. Ty performed extremely well on several of the tests, which indicated that his primary strengths include solving novel problems, making conceptual connections, and thinking outside of the box. After the testing process, Ty’s parents attended a school meeting and quickly learned that his teachers were more focused on his challenges and inefficiencies rather than his strengths. This happens a lot because teachers experience a great deal of pressure to ensure that all students meet certain standards based on the curriculum, what is known as “teaching to the test”. Ty’s parents wondered whether he could cope with the school’s current academic curriculum and be successful during the school year. Like many families, Ty’s parents were concerned and didn’t know where to start. 

Here are some ideas for families of students who have learning differences or difficulties:

Make sure you have all the information you needassessment, understanding the diagnosis: If you suspect your child has a learning disability, it’s important to get a diagnosis as soon as possible. If you are concerned, don’t let anyone else convince you to wait. Remember, others may have expertise in education or learning disabilities, but you are the expert on your child. In order to get a definitive diagnosis, a psycho-educational assessment should be scheduled. Your child will undergo a battery of standardized tests that assess intellectual, academic, and social, and emotional development. Once diagnosed, ask for a “plain language” explanation of what the disorder is and how it affects the way your child learns. Also, clear up any misconceptions that you may have about the diagnosis. Then, explain to your child what the disorder is in the language your child can understand and how it affects the way they learn. Be sure to reinforce for your child that this particular disorder is not to be interpreted as “I’m stupid” or that it will somehow “just go away” when your child grows up. 

Build trusting relationships with your child’s teachers: Young children thrive when they have secure, positive relationships with adults who are knowledgeable about how to support their development and learning. The relationship between an adult and a child—the emotional quality of their interaction, the experiences they share, the adult’s beliefs about the child’s capabilities—helps motivate young children’s learning efforts and inspire self-confidence. 

Get the extra help your child needs: If your child has a learning disability, your child’s doctor or school might recommend extra help. A reading specialist, math tutor, executive function coach, or another trained professional can teach your child coping and learning strategies and other techniques that will improve his / her academic, organizational, and study skills.  

Focus on engaging your child in his / her or his strengths, interests, and passions: All children have things that they do well and things that are difficult for them. Find your child’s strengths and help them learn to use them to showcase their creativity. Your child might be good at math or sports or could be skilled at art, working with tools, or love animals. Be sure to praise your child often when he/she does well and succeeds at a task.

Be an advocate for your child: You may have to speak up time and time again to get special help for your child. Embrace your role as a proactive parent and work on your communication skills. It may be frustrating at times, but by remaining calm and reasonable, yet firm, you can make a huge difference for your child. 

Learning differences are not a prescription for failure. With the right kinds of instruction, guidance, support, and intervention, all learners can become resilient, learn how to shift their perspectives, and begin to direct their own learning journeys. 

For more information about learning differences, go to www.readingclinic.bm

For more information about mindsets go to www.flexiblemindsets.com

reFLEXions® is a community alliance of professionals with a diverse range of expertise. Their tailor-made interventions build Flexible Mindsets that equip learners with the tools they need to respond resiliently and adaptively to adversity and uncertainty. The recent addition of Dr. Stephanie Guthman’s expertise in ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) has allowed reFLEXions® to expand resources for addressing the underlying causes of learning difficulties and negative school outcomes. 

Stephanie Guthman, PhD

Special Projects Consultant 

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