This post is part of a series of guest posts on GPS by the graduate students in my Psychopathology course. As part of their work for the course, each student had to demonstrate mastery of the skill of “Educating the Public about Mental Health.” To that end, each student has to prepare two 1,000ish word posts on a particular class of mental disorders.
Overcoming Learning Problems by Betsy Chen
If you are a parent that recently discovered that your child has a learning disorder, or even if you are an adult struggling with how to cope with your disorder, or you’re simply just curious or know someone who has a learning disorder, then listed below are some ways to help overcome specific learning disorders. Although there is no cure for learning disorders, there are a number of ways to help to combat the negative effects.
Although early intervention does not really apply to adults or teenagers with later diagnosis of learning disorders, early intervention is crucial when assessing a child with a learning disorder. The earlier the diagnosis, the sooner the parent and child can work to bring the child up to the academic level of their peers. Many specialty schools exist that work one-on-one with a child with a learning disorder. Many use Fluency Based Instruction, which is instruction evoking accuracy and correct responses at an extremely quick pace, and promises two years of growth in only one year. Fluency Based Instruction is known to help the child achieve mastery in a skill that later is generalized to improving the child’s application, comprehension, and problem solving. Individualized intervention also helps target the child’s needs and closes the academic gap that may have developed between the child and their peers.
Early intervention also allows time to inform teachers and other faculty if special arrangements need to be made. It also provides the parent and child with an understanding of the child’s disorder, the impact it may have on the child’s life, family and relationships, and also aid in developing ways to help conquer the disorder.
Focusing On Individual Strengths and Improving Them
Everyone has a strength, but sometimes it takes time to find it. If it is your child, really pay attention and try to think “What does my child excel at?” or “What does my child enjoy doing more than anything?” and focus on that skill. Whether it be art, sports, or even talking, let that strength flourish and continue to encourage that skill. Give the child plenty of room for improving. Enroll your child in art classes, let them join a sports team or try different sports, or let them give a speech to you every morning during breakfast. Small strides not only improve and perfect the skill, but it also provides social reinforcement in a form of encouragement and praise that is beneficial for developing the child’s self-esteem and confidence in their abilities. A wonderful video (below) of Piper Otterbein talks about how she use focused on her strengths and passions to overcome her Dyslexia.
A number of studies have shown the benefits of positivity and encouragement in helping to build children’s success. Encouragement and support should be continuous for those with learning disorders because it is a disorder the child must live with their entire life, they must learn to adapt to it, and learn to build success despite extra obstacles they may encounter along the way.
Family relationships are crucial during the child’s young years, and even more so if the child has a learning disorder. Numerous articles emphasize the importance of family involvement for those with learning disorders. Some parents may think that learning is the responsibility of the school or the teacher. Or the parents may not feel qualified enough to provide assistance to their children with learning disorders, or even how to handle their behaviors.
Support and encouragement is not just providing your child with individualized interventions (which can be extremely expensive and not many families are able to afford it), but working with your child one on one yourself to help harbor any skills. This is not just limited to those fancy trainings a specialized teacher would partake in, but even just sitting with your child patiently while they read a book is enough. Providing countless “you can do it!” statements or “wow you got that word right!” to them makes the world of difference. A number of studies have also shown the positive effects of motivation on children’s academic achievement. Encouragement as well as social praise is one of the biggest reinforcements for children. A simple enthusiastic “YAY!” when the child has made a small stride, makes a huge difference to the child and reinforces that behavior tremendously from happening again. The smaller strides will later become larger strides, and soon the child’s successes will be their own reinforcer.
Not Allowing the Learning Disorder to Define the Individual
It is often difficult to avoid labeling someone as “Dyslexic” or “having a learning disorder” because it is often used as a crutch for the individual or the parent as an excuse for a child’s lack of achievement or difficulty with reading or learning. But defining an individual can also have detrimental effects, especially if the label is negative. Negative labels often create a stigma with society. Society can hear the word “Dyslexic” or “learning disorder” and automatically think “stupid” or “slow”. No child or individual wants to be associated with such negative words and they often create lower rates of self-esteem. Children with learning disorders often have much lower self-esteem rates than other children, and the negative stigma certainly is not helping.
Teaching your child or telling your friend that although they may have a learning disorder, they are not and will not be defined by that term. Although it is unfortunate that they learn a bit slower than others, it is simply an obstacle they must overcome and they can when they set their mind to it. They can be normal individuals just like everyone else, they simply have to work a little bit harder at tasks, but they can and they will. This will give the child or individual hope in themselves and are less likely to use the disorder as a crutch or an excuse, but simply see it as an obstacle they must overcome in order to succeed.