04 Dec How to tell your child about their learning difficulty.
Should I tell my child they have a learning difficulty? This is a question that families ask me daily. It is a great question that is often heavily weighted with emotion, misconception, and concern about not hurting your child.
Reasons to tell your child about their learning difficulty
There is a general misconception that children should not know that they have a learning difficulty. Chances are though that your child already knows. They know that they are struggling at school. They may be able to see that they are not at the same level as their peers. And they may even have started to believe that the reason for their struggles is because they are stupid.
These misperceptions become a problem when they begin to affect your child’s self-esteem, self-concept, and motivation towards their school work. It is much harder to address a learning difficulty when emotional difficulties are compounding it.
When there is a lack of insight and awareness into our difficulties, it impacts on the effectiveness of interventions. This can stop your child from making progress.
Start by focusing on your child’s strengths
A good starting point to the discussion with your child is to highlight their strengths. Children with learning difficulties have as many strengths as they do weaknesses. For example, they may be highly creative, they could be an excellent sportsman, or they might be good at certain subjects.
Reminding your child of these strengths is essential to the development of their understanding of what it means to have a learning difficulty.
Dispel myths and misconceptions about what a learning disability is and what it isn’t
When telling your child about their learning difficulty, it is important to gauge what their understanding is. Many children have misconceptions and misguided information about a learning difficulty. For example, ‘it means I am stupid,’ ‘it goes away in high school’ or ‘I will never be able to read.’
Clarifying these myths and misconceptions is an essential part of the process to assist your child in developing an understanding of the difficulties that they are experiencing.
As a parent, you may need to develop your understanding of your child’s specific learning difficulty so that you can answer any questions that your child has. Growing your knowledge can be achieved by speaking to professionals with experience and expertise within the field, talking to parents whose children have similar challenges, attending courses or workshops and conducting research in the area.
Using a metaphor to create understanding
Using a metaphor can be a handy tool to explain to your child why their learning difficulty is creating barriers for them in the classroom environment. The one I most commonly use is the ‘traffic’ metaphor (adapted from the following article – www.ldonline.org/article/30521/):
- Explain to your child how everyone learns. The brain is like a pretend highway with millions of roads and cars. These cars transport information to different areas of the brain.
- There are many different areas of the brain, and each holds various kinds of information. These areas are the ‘garages’ of the brain.
- There are garages for information on words, numbers, feelings, thoughts, and memories, etc.
- When you learn new things, it is like the information travels inside cars on highways, leading to specific garages. When you want to learn information that you learned a while ago, it is like a car goes back to the particular garage, picks up the information, and drives it on highways to take it to the place you need it.
- These cars travel super-fast because there are no obstacles like traffic lights or stop signs to get in their way. It can take a car less than a second to pick up information from a garage and get the information to where it needs to go.
- When you have a learning difficulty, some of the highways in your brain have traffic jams. Not all the roads in your brain have traffic jams, just the ones affected by your learning difficulty.
- When cars sit in traffic jams, no one knows how long it will take them to get to their destination. Sometimes it can feel like a quick traffic jam and sometimes it can feel like forever.
- If you are someone with a learning difficulty, having a traffic jam on your highways to the reading, writing and mathematics garage can feel very frustrating.
- Traffic jams can cause a lot of problems. For example, a traffic jam going to the reading garage (where the words get stored) could causes problems for a child’s reading speed, reading fluency and the ability to remember words.
- There are tricks that special teachers or tutors can teach you to make learning easier. These are called ‘side roads.’ Using side roads can help you get to where you need to go faster. The thing to remember though is that these side roads are unpredictable – sometimes they will be bumpy, and other times there will be lots of obstacles in the way. But if we use the same side road over and over again, eventually it will become easier.
Discuss and agree on the intervention plan going forward
Once your child has an understanding of their difficulty, it is essential to discuss the intervention plan. This intervention might include remedial intervention, discussions about suitable accommodations and concessions or technological tools that may help them in certain areas. Your child will feel like there is a solution to the difficulties they are experiencing. Involving them will also encourage buy-in.