Things have certainly changed since I was found to be dyslexic as a young girl. It almost seems like every other minute another book or school program crops up to help those with learning disabilities. Back when I was a kid, my school didn't believe I was dyslexic because I was considered to be smart. Today, we know that most kids with learning disabilities are actually more likely to be among the bright ones. So while the things I suffered are probably no longer relevant to parents today, I also have a son with learning disabilities so perhaps my personal experience isn't quite as outdated as it might have been.
Of course, telling a parent that they should have their child tested is something that most parents will find to be superfluous advice. But sometimes there are cases when you're not sure if the problem is an LD or something else that's the problem. I can't urge you enough to make sure that the proper type of testing is done on your child, since a bad diagnosis could lead to the wrong type of treatment and no one will benefit. So if you suspect your child has LDs, do consult with as many professionals as possible to make sure that you know what you're really dealing with.
That said, once you know what you're up against, that's when you need to begin taking matters into your own hands. Children with LDs are so common these days that you might feel that not enough proper attention is given to them at school. This is especially true if your child's LD isn't terribly severe and the system is catering more to kids who are worse off than your child. I've heard of many parents who find that there is no institutional solution to dealing with making sure an LD child gets a proper education, and they've decided to home-school. While that wasn't an option for me and my son, I can understand that attitude, but this review will not and cannot give you any advice on how to home-school your LD child. Instead, I'd like to give a few tips to those of you who have mainstreamed your LD children in regular schools.
First of all, keep close watch on how the teachers relate to your child, and their feedback on the child. Many LD children end up with behaviour problems because while they're struggling with class work and homework, they're also probably very smart and that means they're possibly bored at the same time. While the bright child is one type of challenge for a teacher, one with an LD complicates things since they cannot always do the things that would keep their interest because they can't cope with certain types of tasks. For instance, a child with dyslexia might want to read a more advanced book, but it will take them much longer to read it than a child with full reading abilities. The key here is patience - make sure that you, your child's teacher and your child all are in agreement that the speed of performing a task isn't what's important.
That said even children with LDs need to understand that a deadline is a deadline and one of the first things they need to learn how to do is manage their time efficiently. The best way to help them do that is to make sure you know about tasks and projects and when they're due, as soon as possible. With that information, you can help your child set aside the needed amount of time each day to get the job done in a timely fashion. This will help the child feel less pressured and turn what might seem like an overwhelming task as something manageable.
Another thing that will help - and this is advice that's good for all parents of school aged children - is don't feel sorry for the child and do their work for them. I can't tell you how many times I heard parents of LD children say "oh, it was such a hard job, I didn't think he could do it so I just did it for them". That's no way to teach a child responsibility and the only thing the child learns is he's got a patsy for a parent. We've been through school already; we certainly don't need to go through it again. Now it's your children's turn and they need to know that you can be there to guide them, act as a resource and help them as best you can, but you're not going to do their work for them. Children are far more up for challenges than we give them credit for. The more we show them that every challenge is surmountable, given the time and effort, the more they'll realize that even with an LD, they can and will accomplish what they set out to do.
This brings me child psychology 101 - how to encourage your child. There have been more studies on this than one can count, but they all seem to say the same thing. When you want to encourage your child to do well, you should be praising the work or effort the child puts in, be specific regarding what they did right and don't forget that a physical of affection is always a good thing. Remember, it is more important to motivate your child to do the work than it is to chase the grades. If the child hears that they are on the right track when they work on something, then even if the end result isn't perfect this time, they'll want it to be better next time. It is a proven method that I've only just started actively using myself and found it to work on both my LD son and my very bright daughter - so much so that both their grades at the end of this past school year far surpassed all our expectations. You can't ask for more than that, can you?
In a nutshell, the basic idea is to carefully discover the exact nature of your child's disability, and once you know that, have patience with your child, make sure the school is aware of and appreciates their special needs as well as your methods of dealing with them, and encourage your child to believe they can do what they set their minds to do, without you doing it for them. Sure, an LD child will need a bit more patience and supervision and you'll need to find creative methods to help them cope with their disabilities, but for those children with LDs that don't need special schooling, these basic methods really do work. And as I mentioned above, some will even help you with your non-LD child as well.
Thanks for reading and wishing all your children a great summer vacation!
Davida Chazan © July 2008
(By the way, how do you give stars to something like this? I'll give it three out of five.)