Loneliness, Self-Efficacy, and Hope: Often Neglected Dimensions of the Learning Process
I met Matt when he was a young adolescent. He was diagnosed with both learning disabilities and ADHD, was depressed, and was pessimistic about success in the future. His description of school as captured in one of his writings reminds us of the way in which many youngsters with learning problems experience school. Matt wrote:
School has been and still is something I dread profusely. Going to school has been like climbing up a tremendous, rocky mountain with steep cliffs and jagged, slippery rocks. This mountain is very grey and always covered in dark, murky, cold clouds. I step forth to take on this task of climbing this huge mountain. Each step is a battle against strong, howling, icy winds. The winds contain frigid rain that slams against my body, trying to push me down. I keep battling my way up. Sometimes I am knocked down and sometimes I have to stop to regain my strength. My body is numb. My hands shake like leaves in the wind as I claw myself up the mountainside. Not being able to open my eyes, I blindly claw myself up the steep cliff. I stop because I am in such great pain. I look up and see that my struggle has hardly begun. Sometimes I just do not want to go on any further.
In college, Matt, having discovered strategies for dealing more effectively with learning problems and feeling more self-confident, expanded on his story of "The Mountain" and noted that the mountain could become "your grave or your greatest triumph."
Caitlin was seven years old when I first met her. She had reading and attentional problems and was referred by her parents and teacher because of a lack of confidence, frustration and disappointment about not learning to read as quickly as her peers, and headaches. In therapy I invited Caitlin to write a story about her difficulties. I told her, as I do all my patients, that I often read stories written by children at my workshops so that parents, teachers, and doctors can gain a better understanding of how children feel and can be more helpful to them.
Caitlin was motivated to write such a story with my assistance. She decided to use as a main character a dog named Hyper who had difficulty learning and concentrating, an obvious representation of herself. The theme of discouragement and low self-esteem was evident at the beginning of the story when she wrote:
Hyper told herself that she would get over this problem some day, but she wondered if she really would. She was worried that when she grew up and her own puppies asked her something, she would not know the answer and they would wonder why their mother was not very smart. Thinking about this made Hyper feel very upset. She wasn't sure what to do about it.
Caitlin's words poignantly captured not only her low self-esteem, but also a fear expressed by many children and adolescents with learning disabilities, namely, that their condition in life will not improve. In essence, they have lost one of the most important gifts there is, the gift of hope. Fortunately, with much support and encouragement from her parents and teachers and other significant adults in her life, Catilin persevered, eventually earning a master's degree in early education. Today she is a very respected first-grade teacher.
Permission to reprint granted by Dr. Robert Brooks. All rights reserved.
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