Raising heroes

Throughout the US, students with learning differences face challenges that most students never encounter. They go to school every day knowing that they’re going to struggle with subjects, tasks and situations that their classmates seemingly learn with ease. Day after day they enter their classrooms expecting to master the subjects and lessons presented, then ultimately are unable to grasp what their peers so effortlessly learn.

To make matters worse, all too often the learning regimen is never altered to assist the child. Simple modifications, such as breaking instructions down into individual steps or facilitating a transition from one lesson to the next, could make a world of difference. But if the teacher persists without making needed changes that address the student’s learning difference, the risk for failure is immense.  

When students experiences failure on a regular basis, or are unable to experience success regularly, they’re robbed of their confidence and joy. A learning difference doesn’t mean that a child is disabled or has a disorder. He or she just has a different way of learning; that’s it! It’s the responsibility of the adults in students’ lives to get them from little people to big people with confidence and joy in their hearts. With or without learning differences, all students are entitled to experience happiness and a sense of accomplishment on a regular basis.

The magical ingredient for raising students to be happy and confident is success. But for students with learning differences, this often isn’t the case. Too frequently these beautiful, bright learners are made to feel as if their difference is a disability or a disorder. Their difference sets them apart from their classmates because they struggle with core subjects like reading, spelling and math. Yet, every day they show up and keep trying to do what’s expected of them and what their classmates are able to master.

These students should be considered heroes because of their remarkable courage to be brave, persistent and patient as they struggle to succeed.

The world is full of students and adults who learn differently. Most people with learning differences have average or above average intelligence, and many have superior intelligence. This would suggest that with learning differences there need to be different ways of teaching, right? But for the most part, teaching styles or instruction styles are geared towards teaching large numbers of students. When teaching or instruction methods or styles conflict with a child’s learn style, then learning struggles are the result. Not only will the child struggle, but the parents will, too!

Parents’ hearts break as they watch their once happy and learning-eager child struggle to learn on a daily basis and watch his or her self-esteem and confidence erode and disappear. They feel helpless and don’t know how to turn that big ship around.

Building confidence and joy in students with learning differences is essential to their emotional and overall well-being. Often emphasis is placed on academic achievement or the learning, with little concern for confidence and happiness. It’s assumed that when the learning finally happens, the confidence and happiness will follow. This just isn’t the case for the learning different child because there will always be something new to master, which means something new with which to struggle.

Building confidence and joy in students with learning differences needs to be intentional and strategic! Here are some valuable tips for parents who have students with learning differences to enable them to experience success, confidence and joy despite their academic struggles.

1. Collaborate with your child’s teacher and other education professionals. Determine your child’s learning strengths. Identify any specific skill weaknesses that are interfering with your child’s success. Enlist the counsel of outside professionals whose expertise is with students with learning differences and who can recommend remedial programs, therapies or interventions that can strengthen skill weaknesses.

2. Involve your child in new and engaging activities. Find opportunities that will allow the child to experience success as well as demonstrate his or her natural talents. Create learning experiences that will allow the child to successfully realize not only a natural gift and talent, but also new gifts and talents.

3. Go to bat for your child. Parents are the best advocates for their students. Parents know their students better than anyone else. You know your child’s interests, gifts and natural talents. You know what the effects of learning struggles have on the child’s self-esteem and confidence. You know what makes your child happy and what robs him or her of confidence and joy. You know what makes your child tick! Use all you know to push for the activities, opportunities, resources and people that your child needs in order to succeed.

4. Build communities of support for your child. Involve your child in activities and environments where he or she can be challenged, grow, learn and experience success. Often, students with learning differences will stick with what they’re comfortable and familiar with. Help them move beyond and experience new possibilities. Consider different sports, dance, music, visual arts, service organizations, youth groups and clubs. Not only will this create new learning opportunities, but also a new way to experience success, confidence and happiness.

Every child deserves to experience confidence and joy! Employ these practical tips to develop happy students and happy parents!  

Dr. Deborah Ross-Swain is a licensed speech-language pathologist and CEO of the Swain Center for Listening, Communicating and Learning. Dr. Elaine Fogel Schneider is CEO of TouchTime International and author of "7 Strategies for Raising Calm, Inspired, & Successful Students." Drs. Swain and Schneider’s new book, Confidence & Joy: Success Strategies for Kids with Learning Differences, provides parents and educators with tools to help students with learning differences realize lifelong success. Learn more at confidencejoy.com.

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