Thursday, January 17, 2019

Enriching Education: Learning Differences

Different doesn’t have to be negative for children with learning differences. They’re capable of learning everything their peers learn. They just learn in a different way. Yet children with learning differences are often robbed of their confidence and joy.

In order to ward off feelings of frustration and failure, parents and teachers must know how the child learns best and allow the child to experience success, both academically and socially. From success, confidence and joy will grow and lead to more success.

Drs. Deborah Ross-Swain and Elaine Fogel Schneider are speech-language pathologist. Their new book, Confidence & Joy: Success Strategies for Kids with Learning Differences (Crescendo Publishing, Nov. 1, 2018), provides parents and educators with tools to help children with learning differences realize lifelong success.

I had a chance to interview them to learn more.

  1. What are learning differences?
How do you learn? Are you a visual, auditory, kinesthetic, or tactile learner? Or do you combine more than one learning style? A preschooler may engage well playing in the sandbox, sliding down a slide,  or making mud pies. The signs that your child has a learning difference may not show up until your child enters school and is supposed to read, write and spell. The child with learning differences, may have difficulty focusing, following directions, holding a pencil, and/or making and keeping friends. He may be the kid you see in the principal’s office doing work, while his classmates are having fun outside at recess.  He’s not a “bad kid.” He is trying hard each and every day to jumpstart his learning. He is wired differently from others. He can get the information, just in his own way. Having a learning difference is just that, it is not a disability, it is not a disorder, it is – a difference.
  1. What are some common misconceptions about learning differences?
Following are 5 common misconceptions about learning differences:
  1. Children with learning differences lack intelligence. No, many of these struggling children have average and above average intelligence. Some have superior intelligence! These children may not be in Special Education but may have reading support, or are getting outside tutoring. These kids may not have a diagnosis beyond “struggling” or “learning issues.”
  1. Children with learning differences cannot learn. No, children with learning differences have their own way of learning. Trying to teach the child with learning differences the same way every child is taught can be ineffective. It’s like trying to fit a “square peg into a round hole.” Children with learning differences can learn, just in a different way!
  1. Children who cannot read, like other children their age, will never be able to read. No, many children who cannot comprehend may have accommodations made in school, to help increase success. Others may have tutors or therapists to assist them.
  1. Children with learning differences need our pity. No, children with learning differences, need our compassion, support, and guidance. They need to be honored and valued for their own talents and skills.
  1. Children with learning differences like being failures. No, children innately want to succeed and be happy. Children with learning differences want to belong, and  experience confidence and happiness just like other children.
  1. Why is confidence and joy so important?
The idea of being confident learners and joyful children takes “backstage” to meeting academic standards. For most children this is not a problem.  But for children with learning differences, who struggle every day, it is a problem. Major anxiety can set in. Feelings of “I am not good enough” and ”I’m stupid”  can surface. Major frustrations, occur when the child finds himself stuck in the principal’s office finishing the class assignment, because he couldn’t finish it in class.  Daily struggles chip away at confidence and overall joy. This results in unhappy, or anxious children, reducing the child’s willingness to attempt new things, or wanting to go to school. Without success the child may feel and say, “I  never get things right”, “I am so stupid”, “Why would anyone want to be my friend?”
Success synergistically brings confidence and joy.  A joyful child loves to learn. A confident child knows that “even if I mess up one time, there will be more times to get it right.” With this attitude, successful children become successful adults who are happy and confident.
  1. How can parents build an advocacy team to help their children succeed?
You can build an advocacy team by being proactive so your child’s needs are met within the family, at school, in social and recreational activities, and ultimately in the community.

8 Steps to Help You Build Your Stellar Advocacy Team:

  1. Find people in your community who can provide you with information and support. This person can be a physician, a counselor, speech-language pathologist,  occupational therapist;, a tutor, etc. A parent of a child with a learning difference can serve as a mentor on the team who can listen to you and offer you support and guidance to “navigate the terrain.”
  1. Invite these members to join your team. Remember you are doing this for your child. Don’t feel intimidated by the degrees that someone has after their name. If they’re in the “helping profession” they likely will want to assist.
  1. Establish the team leader, so one person can “take charge” and organize the team meetings, and decide where, when and how  to communicate. Many times the team leader is the parent, who knows their child best.
  1. Build positive and mutually beneficial relationships with all the people with whom you will be coming in contact  Be polite, kind and respectful of others.
  1. Ask questions that are not threatening but seek information. By being nonconfrontational, you can gain the listening of others which can lead to a beneficial conversation, and ultimately positive outcomes for your child.
  1. Be flexible. You may have to change meeting dates, times or locations. Keep a positive attitude.
  1. Find out about resources in the community and places that may be available to your child, away from school. Your advocacy team may have knowledge about activities, i.e., outdoor activities, art, dance, sports, music clubs, religious clubs, and Kids clubs.  See how your child can fit into those activities that he or she has chosen interest in, and be prepared to enroll your child in activities that interest him, building confidence and joy in activities in which he finds pleasure.
  1. Remember to keep yourself healthy, and do things that bring you happiness, and relaxation. You can’t be effective for your child if you are exhausted.  All children want to succeed. Struggling bright children want to be successful students. Every child wants and deserves to feel confident and joyful, and so do you!

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 the best-selling 7 Strategies for Raising Calm, Inspired, & Successful Children. Learn more at

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