It’s the NEW YEAR! But not really – we’re actually halfway through the school year. If your child is struggling, the blame can no longer be put on adjusting to a new teacher or grade level.
Learning disabilities and dyslexia have been called “Invisible Disabilities” because in so many cases, you would never suspect that these kids struggle in school. Our two learning centers are full of bright, motivated students who struggle, sometimes quite terribly, with reading, math, writing, speaking, or getting their work done. But outside the academic arena, they are athletes, musicians, artists, actors, and Lego Masters. They are silly, friendly, motivated, and kind.
So, learning differences don’t really make them that different – they’re just kids, after all – but learning differences do get in the way of students working as comfortably and independently as they should, and they can create real confusion and frustration for parents, teachers, and others who work with them.
Here are some things every parent should know about their struggling learners:
1. When you struggle with listening or reading, it will affect your attention. Loss of attention is often a symptom of a learning challenge, but it may not be the real issue.
2. It takes excessive energy, motivation, and attention to compensate for a learning challenge. It’s almost impossible to maintain this level of mental focus indefinitely, causing students to become fatigued, tune out, or perform inconsistently.
3. Laziness and lack of effort are NOT the reason smart students struggle in school.
4. Because they are often quite bright, students may be able to compensate just well enough to make it look like they can do the work better than they actually can. This is confusing to parents and teachers, as kids seem to get it one day and not the next.
5. Contrary to popular belief, most learning and attention challenges do not need to be permanent. Neuroscience research over the last 30 years has shown us that through intensive and targeted training, the brain can literally re-wire itself.
This kind of training is not the job of the schools and not the focus of traditional tutoring. However, our experience with thousands of struggling students has shown us that by identifying and developing the weak underlying learning/processing skills needed to support efficient learning, most learning and attention challenges, including learning disabilities and dyslexia, can be corrected.
Here are some ways parents can support their struggling students:
1. RESPECT the effort! Instead of saying, “Quit whining and do your homework,” try, “I’ll bet you’re tired from working so hard all day. How about if I help you get started on the first problem?”
2. Don’t tell them to “TRY HARDER.” Validate what they’ve done and then move on. Even if the child has gotten only one problem done in 20 minutes, say, “I’m proud of you for getting started. Let’s take a look at the next problem.”
3. Get their Attention. Obtain eye contact and be sure you have the student’s attention before giving verbal instructions. Tell them, “I’m going to give you some instructions – are you ready?”
4. Break the cycle of being stuck. “Just Do It” doesn’t always work. If students are stuck, pushing on will be counterproductive and will extend homework out forever. Go shoot some baskets together. Chase the dog for three minutes. Do a minute of deep breathing. Drink some water. Do something to help them get unstuck – to shift their mental and emotional focus – before trying to move on with the task.
5. Know that there are real and permanent solutions to most learning and attention challenges.
Jill Stowell, M.S., is the Founder and Executive Director of Stowell Learning Centers, Inc. She is also the author of At Wit’s End: A Parent’s Guide to Ending the Struggle, Tears and Turmoil of Learning Disabilities. Learn more at www.LearningDisability.com.