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Discovering and Supporting Learning Differences

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Q: I noticed over the elementary school years, that my son struggled with reading. As he seemed to be getting worse, his pediatrician did a trial on some ADD medications. It helped; in fact my son said the letters quit moving all over the page. However, it didn’t turn things around. He gets along well at home and school, but schoolwork still is hard for him. What else can I do?

A: Your first step is to find out more about how your son learns. Since many of us learn visually while others process information better through sound, realize there might be more solutions to your son’s problems. Many kids with ADD or ADHD also can have additional learning differences that need attention. This includes a full learning assessment. Many parents use their school system to complete one; others prefer to us psychologists with specialties in working with learning disabilities, also referred to as learning differences, either through a clinic or individual learning specialist. 

Part of any assessment includes the full participation of teachers, parents and the student. Do not be surprised if there are many people who need to complete survey instruments as part of the assessment. This may also include checking vision, writing, reading, mathematic reasoning, social interactions and problem-solving skills.

You may learn that your son has verbal or non-verbal learning differences. The verbal ones may relate to his speaking and reading abilities while the non-verbal ones will relate to interpreting the meaning of signs and cues. Understand that through this process you will learn how best to communicate with your son’s teachers, coaches, friends, siblings as well as other family members.

Other family members within your family or your son’s father’s family may have had the same issues. Just as we learn men and women have different ways of processing information and feelings, you may notice more similarities between your son and some of your family members. Our feelings can be hurt if we think someone is being intentionally hurtful. Understanding that your son may miss some non-verbal cues might help you and others not take things the wrong way and get upset by what he has said. 

A 20-year study by the Frostig Center points a direction for all parents of children with learning disabilities (differences). The study supports additional research showing that having a close, supportive relationship with family is a critical component to your son’s success. He needs you to become knowledgeable about him and his learning style as well as to be an active ally for him to have the best opportunity for lifelong success. Be aware of the six lifelong attributes that your son needs to incorporate into his life.  We all need to be self-aware, proactive, and diligent, focused on our goals, connected to our family and community, and actively use coping skills.

First, you want your son to be self-aware. This means not only aware of what he needs, but also how he interacts with others and their response to him. This is a basic element not only to interacting with peers, being able to get jobs in the future, but being able to understand what others need from him, whether it is schoolwork or being part of your family at home. Model the behavior yourself, but also make sure that you point out when he is doing an excellent job. We always do better by seeing ourselves as capable and competent rather than missing the mark.

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