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Troubled Teens or Learning Different? (page 2)

Troubled Teens or Learning Different?

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Updated on Mar 5, 2009

The Next Step: Treatment

Start with a professional you trust: a pediatrician, adolescent psychiatrist/psychologist, or school counselor. Then, try not to fixate on labels.

Dr. David Clark, a chiropractic neurologist in Dallas, feels that the labels usually placed on LD kids aren’t specific enough. There are many different types of reading issues, just as there are different types of ADD, ADHD, and dyslexia. There is no one answer that works for every child. His exams and treatments involve different types of auditory and visual stimulation for the right and left-brain.

Some kids with LDs have visual processing problems. Dr. Harold Friedman, chief of Vision Therapy and Rehabilitation Services at SUNY College of Optometry in New York City, explains that children must be evaluated by an experienced optometrist using accepted standardized testing. If it is discovered that their learning difficulty relates to a visual processing dysfunction, an individual therapy program is designed to help the child compensate. Less mainstream options are also worth looking into: behavior modification therapy, chiropractic neurology, the interactive metronome, homeopathic remedies, nutritional changes, biofeedback, and neurofeedback.

With ADD or ADHD, there is always a question as to whether medication is advisable. This is a very controversial issue. While Green agrees that some kids are medicated who don’t need to be, he thinks there are others who would do much better if they were prescribed medications such as  Ritalin, Concerta, Adderall, or Strattera. When LDs or attention disorders are not properly diagnosed and treated, says Green, it can begin to erode the teen’s self-esteem. Medication should never be the sole treatment. Other strategies at school and home must be put into play to help the teen make changes.

The Self-Esteem Battle

Determining exactly what is going on with your teen—and learning how to work with it—is key. If you think your teen is lazy, you will treat her a certain way. But if you think she has a visual processing impairment, your patience and understanding may be greatly extended, as will your child’s.

Margaret K. of Hopewell, N.J., knows these issues well. Her daughter, Rebecca, was classified as special-ed in elementary school. Rebecca had a decoding problem, meaning she couldn’t translate a word from print to speech, and she couldn’t read at grade level. Rebecca got a little quieter in the eighth grade, and started hanging out with different kids. In high school, she still hangs out with people who aren’t a challenge to her academically and isn’t too involved in extracurricular activities at school.

But she’s very involved in her church and baking is her forte. Even though she wrote “collage” in her notes the day she went to the college fair at her high school, she plans to go. She’s considering Johnson & Wales, a culinary university that offers a four-year degree and has classes for LD students.

Rebecca, who tests as highly intelligent, has always considered herself “different,” but over the years, she’s grown into her strengths and, with her parents’ help, tries not to emphasize her limitations.

A few decades ago, kids used the term “retard” to make fun of kids with learning differences. These days, it’s “sped,” which is short for special ed. Teachers and parents add to the problem with something called “spread:” assuming the child will be weak in all areas when he or she has one learning problem (spreading it out).

“It’s simply no fun to be different,” says Dr. Arlyn Roffman, professor of special education at Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass. “Conformity is at its peak in early adolescence. It’s no fun to struggle to work at things others find relatively easy. I’m afraid too often school systems—and often parents—focus on what students cannot do rather than on what they can.”

“I have yet to find a child, in all my years of working with them, that can’t learn,” says Dr. Carole Lampert Barrish, a New York educational psychologist. “We haven’t always unlocked the materials that they have to learn with, but the challenge is really ours.”

Parents of LD teens have a lot of sleuth work to do. Your child’s strengths, weaknesses, struggles, successes, treatments, and labels are all pieces of the puzzle you and your teen are putting together. As more pieces come into place, the big picture becomes easier to see. But it’s those details and your advocacy that bring it all together.

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