Dec 28, 2010 by Terri Zezula

learning difficulties Today, you are nine years old and in the third grade. You enjoy playing on the monkey bars at recess and drawing pictures of your dog and your fish. You also like watermelon hard candies, mac and cheese, and, to your friends’ bewilderment, you have an affinity for tuna fish sandwiches, especially when your mom has mixed crunchy celery in with the tuna.

But also unlike your friends, you have often felt that school seems harder than it should be. For some inexplicable reason, you tend to make more mistakes than your classmates. You have a hard time grasping math concepts that they seem to get easily. You don’t remember geography facts as well as they do. And because of those difficulties, you feel different and separate from those around you. You feel incapable. You feel like a failure. And because of it, you feel angry, sad and alone.

While this is a simplistic snapshot of the thoughts typical of children with learning difficulties, such an exercise reminds us of two things: the magic of being young, and the loneliness and frustration of a youngster who lives with these challenges.

According to the Child Development Institute, six to ten percent of school-aged kids in the US are learning disabled. The causes of learning disabilities vary from genetics to nutrition to pre-birth and early childhood injury, and the challenges that children with learning difficulties experience tend to fall into five different areas: spoken language, written language, math, reasoning and memory. They may simply work slowly. They may have disorganized thinking. They may have difficulty in sequencing tasks. They may have poor impulse control. They many experience these difficulties in any number of combinations and groupings.

All children have problems. They all experience challenges with school and in social relationships. But when these problems begin to appear in combinations and clusters, or if they persist for long periods, we as educators must take a close look and ask ourselves whether the student’s challenges fall within normal ranges, or whether they should be evaluated in more detail.

If an evaluation comes back with an indication that a student has a learning difficulty, it is absolutely essential for educators and parents to team up and support that student in every way possible. If an IEP (individualized education plan) is in order, everyone needs to be informed and on board to support the student’s new path.

What exactly can we do for these children to boost their self-esteem? Writing for the Learning Disabilities Association of Illinois, clinical psychologist Aoife Lyons offers a number of recommendations:

    1. Help children understand what the label means. This gives them a degree of ownership and control that they did not have before.
    2. Help them recognize their areas of strength as well as their areas of difficulty.
    3. Help them feel special and appreciated.
    4. Help them develop problem-solving and decision-making skills.

The good news is that, for the student who has experienced years of frustration and difficulty and loneliness, a positive diagnosis can be freeing. It gives them a clear explanation for why they have been experiencing all these feelings and difficulties. It allows them to once again be proud of who they are and see their differences in a new light. And, given the research, expertise and research based interventionsavailable, it gives these students a clearer path forward to define--and achieve--their own success.

For further reading:

Self-Esteem and Learning Disabilities, Aofe Lyons, Ph.D.

How Can Parents Foster Self-Esteem in Their Children? Dr. Robert Brooks, Ph.D.

About Learning Disabilities, Child Development Institute