In order to create a real lasting change in their lives, children with learning disabilities need as much reinforcement as they can get. In addition to the training we provide at our center, there are many ways in which parents can help at home.
This article from LD OnLine is a great source of information for those parents who want to do more for their children. Because of its length, I will be posting it in 3 parts.
Helping Young Children with Learning Disabilities at Home
By: Doris J. Johnson (2000)
Many parents of young children with learning disabilities ask what they can do at home to help their youngsters. Generally, the first step is to try to understand the child’s difficulties and to consider how these weaknesses might impact on self help skills, communication, discipline, play and independence; however, above all, we encourage them to focus on the child’s strengths in order to build self esteem and to help them become an integral part of the family. Like all parents, they need to consider the delicate balance between providing too much or too little assistance for the child – a balance between under and over expecting what the child can do independently.
Understanding the child’s needs takes time because needs change with age and with expectations at home, in social settings, and in school. New and unexpected problems may arise as they do with all children. However, youngsters with special needs often require more understanding and support, not only from parents and teachers but also from siblings.
The early childhood years are particularly important because learning typically occurs so rapidly. Children change from almost complete dependence to relative independence in a few short years. Much of the learning during this time occurs without formal instruction; however, most parents teach their children informally as they encourage them to notice things in the environment, as they label objects, and as they guide certain social skills, appropriate behaviors, and manners. Parents teach self-help skills such as dressing, buttoning, and tying. Often they teach their children how to throw a ball and ride a bike. And many parents provide the basis for early reading, writing, and mathematics skills by reading stories, reciting the alphabet, coloring, copying letters, writing simple messages, and playing counting games. Parents engage in these activities so naturally that they do not even think of them as instruction, and yet, this training, social interaction, and stimulation are crucial for learning.
Some children with learning disabilities find these seemingly natural, every day skills difficult to learn, even with good stimulation. They do not profit from the experiences and guidance provided by parents, preschool teachers, and others because they have difficulty processing certain types of information. Yet children with learning disabilities are not delayed in all aspects of development. In fact, many do as well as, or better than their peers in certain areas. They have uneven patterns of development and perform below expectancy in one or more areas of learning such as listening, expressive language, pre-academic skills, nonverbal behavior, and/or perceptual motor skills. It is because of these uneven profiles and unexpected weaknesses that they are somewhat difficult to understand. Their learning and behavior is less predictable than normally achieving children, and perhaps different from children who are delayed in all areas of development.
Symptoms associated with learning disabilities
The symptoms associated with learning disabilities differ. Some children have difficulty processing auditory information while others have problems with visual tasks. Some have difficulty processing language, whereas others have problems with nonverbal skills such as interpreting facial expressions, learning to play, or dress themselves. Some have no problems until they enter school, though indications of pre-academic weaknesses may be evident.
When problems persist, parents may discuss their concerns with physicians, educators, or specialists in fields such as learning disabilities, occupational therapy, or speech/language pathology. A comprehensive evaluation which includes a developmental history, tests for mental ability, oral language, pre-academic achievement, perceptual-motor skills, various cognitive processes and behavior is helpful in order to obtain an overall profile of strengths and weaknesses, and in order to make recommendations.
Help for young children
Some children may be placed in a developmental class where they can receive supplemental help, whereas those with milder problems may be seen individually for assistance. In other instances, a specialist might go into the class or kindergarten to assist the child with those areas of learning which appear to be most difficult. Others will be placed on a watch list and their learning will be monitored. In certain instances, families choose private intervention, particularly if the schools do not provide services in the early childhood years.
Some specialists give parents suggestions for activities at home, depending upon the needs of the child. While we do not recommend formal lessons, parents are encouraged to take advantage of their daily routines to foster the development of certain concepts and skills that appear to be weak. Whatever parents decide to do, however, should be done in the context of a social relationship that is pleasant and non-threatening. Emphasis should be given to the child’s strengths, not just the weaknesses. Parents may find it difficult to help children in the areas of weakness, and some children do not like exposing weaknesses to their parents. Thus, there is a delicate balance to be achieved. Children should feel loved and respected irrespective of any difficulties they may have. Too much emphasis on the weaknesses can destroy that delicate balance. Sally Smith’s book (1994), Different Is Not Bad, includes many examples to highlight individual differences. Similarly, Jill Lauren’s book (1997) contains stories from children and adults with learning disabilities who have achieved success despite their difficulties.
Because children with learning disabilities are unique, and because their strengths and weaknesses vary, parents often need help in understanding their difficulties. Indeed, many parents and teachers need to understand many of the typical behaviors of young children lest they view them as problems. Books such as Don’t Push Your Preschooler by Ames and Chase (1980) and others based on the research of Gesell provide general guidelines and examples of behaviors that one might expect during the early childhood years. Chess and Thomas (1987) also discuss differences in temperament which parents and educators need to consider. They report that most parents can describe their child’s temperament accurately (p. 37), but they often need help in dealing with their behaviors. Among other guidelines, they say that if a child behaves differently than you expect, do not assume you are a bad parent. Nor should you assume that the child is deliberately misbehaving. However, the temperament may require some special handling.
Parents may find it helpful to read books by Osman (1979), Silver (1998), and others, as well as the materials prepared by the LDA Early Childhood Committee. These can be obtained by contacting the national LDA office, 4156 Library Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15234.
(Part 2 will be posted tomorrow. For the full article, please click the link below)