Parenting Children with Learning Disabilities (page 3)
Determining whether your child has a learning disability is a complicated process. After going through all of the assessments and evaluations you may feel overwhelmed if a learning disability is identified. It’s not uncommon to feel relieved that you now have a word for what you’ve known all along. On top of dealing with the emotional issues that are coming up, you have to figure out what you’re going to do about it, and what your options are. The first thing to do is to take a deep breath.
This overview will provide you with important information about the resources at your disposal to help you through this. As you will see, the public school system has a legal responsibility to provide your child with free services. This guide for parents and caretakers includes tips for coping during this stressful time and suggestions on how to work with teachers and school administrators in securing the best education for your child.
Gifted Children Who Have Learning Disabilities
Characteristics of high intellect can mimic other disorders causing misdiagnosis
Many gifted and talented children (and adults) sadly have been misdiagnosed by mental health professionals and other health care providers as having a disorder that they really don’t have. This occurs because there are many characteristics of gifted children, both social and emotional, that are mistaken to be a symptom of different disorders.
Characteristics of Gifted Children Mistakenly diagnosed as having: (followed by possible alternative cause of behaviors)
Borderline hypoglycemic conditions can mimic hyperactivity when combined with a child’s temperament of intensity and sensitivity
Gifted children have intense emotional responses that can look like increased motor activity (hyperactivity) and physical restlessness
Oppositional Defiant Disorder
Gifted children are strong willed, and power struggles with parents and teachers are common, especially when they receive criticism. Sadly they are often criticized for the same characteristics that make them gifted: sensitivity, questioning and doing things differently
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Gifted children get upset with others if their rules aren’t followed. They are perfectionistic, bossy, intense about wanting consistency in their environment, have a sense of urgency, and are intolerant when people make mistakes. They have a drive to understand and question everything
Depressive Disorders and Bi-polar Disorders
Gifted children feel alienated and alone which can cause depression
Their concern for social and moral issues can cause anxiety
Social situations are sometimes awkward for them because their academic development levels are so much more advanced then their social development. Often their judgment lags behind their intellect
Sensory Integration Dysfunction
Gifted children are extremely sensitive to emotions, sounds, touch, and taste
Disorder of Written Expression
Many gifted children have poor handwriting. Their thoughts go so much faster then their little hands can move
Relational problems and giftedness
Parents often lack information about characteristics of gifted children, and as a result the relationship between parent and child can suffer. These children can be both exhilarating and exhausting. Their behaviors can appear extreme, they are impatient, argumentative, and have temper tantrums. It is common for them to engage in sibling rivalry, power struggles within the family or with authority figures, or disengaging by withdrawing or underachieving. The child’s behaviors can be seen as mischievous, impertinent, weird or strong willed. The child is often criticized or punished for behaviors that really represent curiosity, intensity, sensitivity, or the lag of judgment behind intellect. They are easily bored while waiting for the other children in the classroom to keep up with them and as a result can become disruptive because of their frustration and impatience.
Most gifted children show a scatter of abilities
The difference between the highest and lowest scores on individual subscales within intelligence and achievement tests is often quite notable in gifted children. When the child is tested using the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children - III, it is not uncommon to find subscale differences greater than seven scale score points for gifted children, particularly those who are highly gifted. Most psychologists interpret these score discrepancies to indicate a learning disability, and in a functional sense they do represent that but most gifted children show a scatter of abilities ranging from Very Superior to Average level of functioning depending upon the area tested.
Is it a learning disability?
In children with a full scale IQ score of 140 or greater, it is not uncommon to find a difference of 20 or more points between Verbal IQ and Performance IQ. Most psychologists think that such a discrepancy is a serious cause for concern and is an indication of a serious brain dysfunction or learning disability. However, for the highly gifted individual, such a discrepancy is far less likely to be an indication of a pathological brain dysfunction, although it would suggest that the child has an unusual learning style and they may have a learning disability.
Without intervention, self esteem issues are almost certain in the life of a child who is both gifted and has a learning disability. You can help your child have a more appropriate sense of themselves by reassuring them that there are specific reasons for their behaviors and sharing with them what the realities are of their particular and unique abilities.
Tips for how children with learning disabilities can succeed at school
Ways to help a student with a learning disability succeed at school
- Accommodations - these can be as simple as being seated in the front row, having extra time on tests, or can involve electronic equipment and auxiliary personnel
- Compensatory strategies - ways to use their cognitive strengths to offset weaknesses. If they have poor auditory memory but strong visual memory, have them draw or write down the instructions
- Special education - instruction taught by specially trained personnel in smaller classes which focuses on working on specific skills
- Self-advocacy skills - empowering students to ask for what they need in order to learn in the most effective way. Motivate the child to ask questions if they don’t understand the instructions
Working with your child at home
When you work with your child at home on academic and life skills, you help them recognize their own strengths and increase their self-esteem. Examples of activities you can implement at home fall into several categories – accommodations, organization, critical thinking, and emotional support.
Ways to cope
- Take frequent breaks when doing homework
- Know your child’s primary learning style and adjust accordingly. For more information on primary learning styles see Helpguide’s article: Learning Disabilities – Types, Symptoms and Interventions
- Accommodate for the child’s primary learning style by allowing them to pace around, listen to background music, attach visual displays to the walls, or wear earplugs or headphones if distracted by noise
- Provide a computer for written assignments if the child has difficulty writing
- Model and teach them how to make “to do” lists and prioritize their homework
- Set aside a regular time each week for organizing workspace, belongings, schoolwork, and activities; make a game of it or provide a reward
- Give your child a task that requires organization: grocery shopping required for a recipe, planning a birthday party on a budget, using a map to figure out the route from one place to another
- Play games of strategy
- Talk about current events and ideas with multiple points of view
- Encourage all sorts of age-appropriate reading and writing
- Praise your child for the positive qualities they exhibit during the whole process of doing homework not just when they finish their homework
- Engage them in social problem-solving: how to resolve conflicts with friends, teachers, and kids who may be bothering them at school
- Encourage activities that your child enjoys and excels in
- Keep open lines of communication so your child feels comfortable discussing feelings with you
- Regulate your stress and help your children learn to regulate theirs (see Helpguide’s article: Coping with Stress: Management and Reduction Techniques)
- Let your children know that you enjoy their company by playing and talking with them. It’s important not to ignore other children in the family. Many activities geared for learning disabled children can include and benefit children without disabilities as well
The role of schools in accommodating learning disabilities
If you know your rights and are informed, you have a better chance of getting the services you are entitled to under the law. Your child may be eligible for many kinds of accommodations and support services, but the school might not provide them unless you ask for them. You can request that the school district pay for tutors and other service personnel, you can teach your child at home, or even request tuition for a private school (nonpublic school) that specializes in teaching children with learning disabilities. Understanding your rights under certain laws which protect the learning disabled can help you be a better advocate for your child.
Federal law on disabilities: access and accommodation
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and its successor, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), are civil rights laws that prohibit barriers to people with disabilities in a number of institutions, including public schools, which receive federal funding. They define “disability” as a “substantial” and “pervasive” physical or mental impairment that affects one or more basic life activities, including learning.
The ADA and Section 504 are limited: they keep schools from denying education to children with learning disabilities and require “reasonable accommodations … for eligible students with a disability to perform essential functions,” such as extra test time or large-print books. However, they don’t mandate specialized education for children with disabilities and therefore can’t guarantee that the schools will have the environment needed to maximize your child’s learning potential.
Reprinted with the permission of Helpguide. © 2001-2008. All rights reserved.
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