6 Ways You Can Help Your Learning Disabled Child

Claudia Stack

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If your child has a learning disability, then navigating remote learning and/or changing school routines has probably been stressful. Here a few tips from three decades of experience teaching at every level (Kindergarten through graduate school).

  1. Ask for simplicity and clarity in schoolwork: If your child has an IEP, you have more influence than you may realize. Under federal law, you have the right to call an IEP meeting at any time. If your child has been struggling due to complicated assignments given with too little guidance, you can ask for a change. You know your own child best, and you witness how s/he is coping with schoolwork. During an IEP meeting, you can share this information, and ask for accommodations that help your child. For example, depending on your child’s disability, you might ask that your child get written AND verbal directions, or assignments that are “chunked” (broken down step by step), or extended time. Click here for more information about parents’ rights and IEPs.
  2. Provide a sensory focus or “fidget”: Many children who have learning disabilities of various kinds intuitively seek repetitive sensations that calm them. They may develop habits such as tapping, twirling their hair, or rocking. Often, teachers and parents tell children to stop these behaviors because they seem distracting. However, this can lead to needless struggle with the child. Instead, I suggest providing the child with an acceptable alternative. Easter Seals lists five safe and fun “fidget” devices here. Or, you can just stick one side of a Velcro fastener to the table so your child can rub his/her fingers on it, or give him/her a foam ball or other squishy toy to squeeze. Establish expectations first, for example, no throwing the fidget.
  3. Use music for teaching, calming, and fun: This is a strategy I use every day in my special needs classroom. We use Disney sing along videos to practice reading and lift everyone’s mood. Singing relieves stress and triggers the Vagus nerve, which calms us down. For younger students, sight word songs work well and are more fun than plain repetition with flashcards. In addition, a growing body of research suggests that music builds neural (brain) pathways and that music helps children succeed in other subjects .
  4. Read to him or her as much as possible: Read to your child from infancy, there are so many benefits.This article Why Reading Aloud to Kids Helps Them Thrive has good advice for reading to young children and lists emotional and academic benefits that have been validated by research.A 2015 study published in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics demonstrated that: "In preschool children listening to stories, greater home reading exposure is positively associated with activation of brain areas supporting mental imagery and narrative comprehension..."
  5. Take plenty of “movement breaks”: Even older children benefit from moving throughout the day, and for younger children it is essential. This excerpt of Teaching with the Brain in Mind by Eric Jensen explains why both structured and unstructured physical activity is critical for learning. Try to spend time outdoors, but if weather makes that impossible, you can still dance, skip rope, stretch, jog in place, and many other things.
  6. Help your child track his/her own progress: When I was teaching struggling readers who were in middle school, they were very aware that they were behind their peers, but they didn’t want to do “baby” work. Their motivation improved when I had them track their own progress. Every week, they worked in pairs to find out how many words they could read correctly per minute. Then they put that result in their personal charts. It was astonishing how much more motivated they became, even asking for more practice. Think of a simple way your child can chart or check off his/her own progress. Here is a link to some free, printable charts. Depending on what skill(s) you are tracking you might use a daily checklist, a simple graph, or a sticker chart. The key is, your child has to be the one to check the box/ add to the graph/ place the sticker. You can tie this to some other daily or weekly reward, but you don’t necessarily have to. Success is often its own reward. It’s up to you to decide what will work best for your child, after all, you know your child the best!

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I am an educator and filmmaker. My documentary films on historic African American schools have screened at film festivals, colleges, libraries, and other venues. In Fall, 2017 I completed SHARECROP and SHARECROP: DELTA COTTON, documentaries that showcase oral history of the South’s “forgotten farmers.” These films have screened at festivals in major cities including London, Atlanta, Detroit.

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