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10 tips for supporting your child with learning disabilities

10 tips for supporting your child with learning disabilities
Learning Prep School - Korina Martin

By: Korina Martin, Director of Admissions

As the Director of Admissions, I talk to a lot of parents. Via email, phone and Zoom, many of my hours are spent listening to and talking with concerned mothers, inquisitive fathers, upset grandparents - all trying to understand why their child is struggling. As a parent, sometimes you just feel helpless. You don’t know what you don’t know, and while you may have all the right tools in place, most of the time, sometimes you can’t help but feel like you want to do more. 

As parents, the place we have the most control is usually at home. The Learning Disabilities Association of America is a fantastic resource for families whose children learn differently. They share strategies that can be used at home for children with learning disabilities. They describe trying to find a balance - of providing some, but not too much support. What is that balance? The truth is, it’s likely changing all the time. With time, maturity and new skills being acquired regularly, it’s a moving target. But the LDA has some suggestions you can use to help find that balance: 

  1. Focus on the child’s strengths. Every child is unique; all can contribute to the joys of family life. Find special times and jobs that allow the child to contribute to the group.

  2. Set reasonable expectations. Try not to expect more than the child is capable of doing, but expect the best that he or she can produce, with and then without assistance. The child may need to be taught simple skills, and then complex tasks can be taught step by step, gradually reducing the support as the child makes progress.

  3. Maintain consistent discipline. Give clear, simple explanations, particularly if children have language challenges. They may not understand the vocabulary, lengthy instructions, and complex sentences used.

  4. Foster intellectual curiosity. Try to excite children about the learning process. Parents and teachers who enjoy learning themselves can convey such an attitude to their children. 

  5. Guide the child’s language comprehension. When helping children comprehend new vocabulary, remember that words are concepts, not simple associations. The same object can have more than one name (rug, carpet). Many children with learning disabilities have problems understanding words with multiple meanings, particularly those that change with the context. For example, children probably first learn the word “letter” when it refers to an envelope that is sent or received in the mail. Later, however, the word “letter” will refer to a part of the alphabet. 

  6. Help the child comprehend and remember longer units of language. Some children can comprehend single words or short phrases, but they have difficulty understanding the meaning of sentences and stories. When children have difficulty listening to stories, it is often helpful to speak slowly, to repeat phrases or sentences, and when necessary, use pictures to illustrate the meaning. When disciplining the child, make certain that directions are not too lengthy. Show the child what to do if he or she does not understand verbal instructions.

  7. Do not call attention to expressive language weaknesses. Language is first and foremost a form of communication. Parents and teachers should not interrupt a child’s flow of thought when he or she is communicating. It may be helpful to give a multiple choice question. Make the verbal interactions as pleasant and meaningful as possible. Listen to children. Make certain they have opportunities to contribute to family discussions.

  8. Consider the importance of nonverbal communication for social skills. Certain children with nonverbal learning disabilities have problems interpreting or using appropriate body language including facial expressions and gestures. Others have difficulty interpreting tone of voice. Play games in which you initiate various body movements, facial expressions and intonations.

  9. Teach simple time concepts. Many students with learning disabilities have problems understanding the language of time. During the early childhood years, words such as “early, later, today, tomorrow,” can be emphasized. Mark school days on a calendar with a special color, and perhaps keep simple weather journals illustrating sunny or rainy days with simple drawings of a sun or raindrops.

  10. Provide structure for children with attention problems. Some children with learning disabilities have problems focusing and maintaining attention. In these cases, we recommend structure and quiet, but firm discipline. The goal is not to punish, but to create an environment in which the children can succeed. For example, help them with organization by breaking down complex tasks and giving them an orderly sequence of activities.