11 Things Parents Can Do to Help Their Kids with Learning Disabilities
- Celebrate the fact that all people have different things that they are good at and things that are harder for them. It is important to recognize and appreciate everyone’s strengths and weaknesses.
- Praise effort rather than outcome. It is important to recognize when a child is trying his or her best rather than focusing on the right or wrong answer. For example, you can say, “I really like how hard you are trying to figure out this math problem” or “I am so proud of how you are sticking with this math.” This same strategy can be used for other activities (e.g., “I really like how hard you worked to catch the ball during baseball practice”).
- Provide breaks while doing school work to allow the child to relax and re-focus.
- Sandwich difficult tasks between easier tasks. For example, if your child prefers math to reading, start with a few math problems, complete the reading assignment, and then complete the preferred math task. The easy task will “get the child going” and finishing with a preferred task will help to end the homework session on a positive note.
- Ask the child with the learning disability if he or she would like help with a daily task that involves academic skills before jumping in to help. The child might want to figure it out by himself or herself.
- Model that it is okay to get things wrong. For example, if you make a mistake while writing a letter, say, “Oops! I spelled that word wrong. Oh well! I will mark it out and start over.”
- Teach children to express negative emotions in a safe way. Children with NF1 and a learning disability will experience a lot of frustration about school work and may be angry that they have a learning disability while a sibling does not. Acknowledge that it is okay to feel this way and provide outlets for expressing these emotions safely.
- Treat each child as an individual and do not compare abilities across children or compare how one child was at the other child’s age (e.g. “Suzie was reading when she was your age”).
- Make time for the child’s preferred activity. Children with a learning disability often require a lot of time to complete academic work. While time consuming for the family, it is important that there is time scheduled regularly for the child with NF1 and a learning disability to engage in a task that he or she prefers and at which he or she excels. this activity will help your child feel capable and promote self-esteem.
- Find a “hook” that keeps your child interested in school. Children with NF1 and a learning disability may dislike school due to frustration about school work. It is important to find something about school that the child enjoys and finds motivating to keep the child “hooked” into attending school. This might involve getting your child involved in an activity at school (e.g. choir, band, student council, sports team, art club, science club, etc.), finding a way for your child to volunteer in a way that is meaningful to them (e.g. participating in school fundraisers, serving as a library aid, etc.), or ensuring that your child has a good relationship with a peer or educator at school.
- Finding a role model who also has learning problems can show children that success is achievable. Celebrities such as Whoopi Goldberg and Jay Leno have dealt with learning disabilities while achieving a high degree of professional success. The role model does not have to be famous, however. A child might relate to a friend, neighbor or religious leader who is willing to talk with the child about his or her learning problems. This may help inspire a child to work towards achieving a lofty goal despite having learning difficulties.
*Special thanks to Dr. Jill Isenberg, Pediatric Neuropsychologist, for her assistance in creating this list.