How to help a child with learning disabilities?

Every child enters the world with aspects of their personality which are out of the ordinary, we all have little things about ourselves which are different from the other, however, this doesn’t mean we should categorize ourselves as ‘outcasts’, rather look at ourselves as unique beings who have a different purpose than everyone else. Children with learning disabilities are no less than children without learning disabilities. They struggle with academics more often than other children but this does not imply that they are less capable to finish an academic assignment well or acquire a good score in examinations. The only aspect which applies here is how they may need extra help to reach the milestone they desperately strive to achieve.

They hold passions and pursuits as everyone else, they are talented in various aspects of lives as everyone else and the truth is, each one of us have struggled with our academics at some point so what is so different in needing just a little more help than usual? 

Children with learning disabilities struggle to read, write, listen, speak and understand various mathematical concepts and academic ideas – however, these things can be worked upon through more awareness, understanding and reflection based on the minute things the child needs to focus more on, with the help of the children’s parents and school teachers. 

  1. It is important to 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. This helps the child be more accepting of himself rather than look at himself in a resentful and less accepting manner. A child shouldn’t feel different, he should feel understood. 
  2. Praise the effort the child makes rather than the 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 such as sports, music, dance etc. (“I am impressed with how attentive you are when it comes to catching the ball”).
  3. 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.
  4. 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 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.
  5. 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. Comparisons often lead the child to feel less capable and lowers their self-esteem drastically. They may already feel different but our focus should be on helping them distance themselves from the thought they are different and rather become more accepting of themselves. 
  6. Teach children to express negative emotions in a safe way. Children with 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, or even end up comparing themselves to other children who are easily able to solve mathematical problems and read comprehensions.
  7. Acknowledge that it is okay to feel this way and provide outlets for expressing these emotions safely. The most important thing for children with learning disabilities is to help them feel held and accepted. We need to empathise with them by trying to deeply understand their private world and treat them the way we would feel if we were in their position. It’s not an easy place to be in.

These are some of the things we can inculcate and practice with children who struggle to feel like themselves every single day. We need to help them feel like they’re not different, that it’s okay to struggle and be vulnerable in what they’re feeling – they need to know that they are as special as anyone else is. 

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