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What Parents Can Do to Help Children with a Learning Disability

If your child is performing below grade level, is failing or struggling to maintain barely passing grades, or is not achieving to the degree to which you think she is capable, here are some suggestions for beginning to get her the help she needs:

  • Try not to focus on grades. Adolescents understand that how you do in school matters, but try not to make their value as a person be based on how they do in school.
  • Advocate for the right environment for your child’s learning style. A school where sitting still and being quiet is the rule, with no hands-on learning, may not be right for your adolescent.
  • Make sure to focus on what your adolescent is good at because if they are not doing well in school (where they spend most of their time), they are likely feeling bad about themselves. Even though it may seem that they don’t, adolescents thrive on adult approval and need to feel that they are valued.
  • Words like “lazy” and “stupid” should not be part of your or your adolescent’s vocabulary. Poor performance and a bad attitude are symptoms of a learning difference, not its cause. When adolescents understand why they are having trouble in school and how they can get help in the areas they need support, they can believe again in their potential for success.
  • Know when to strengthen and when to avoid a weakness. If an adolescent has dysgraphia (poor handwriting) and his school requires written exams, then it may help to get him occupational therapy to improve his hand-eye coordination. If his school allows him to take notes on a laptop and he types well, encourage him to do so. Sometimes a combination of approaches is the way to go.
  • Praise the process instead of the outcome. Praising a young person for his effort (“I can tell you really thought that through.”) rather than the outcome (“You are good at math!”) can lead to more confidence.
  • Help kids use their strengths to find confidence and to help compensate for their weaknesses. Figuring out an adolescent’s talent can help to drive her sense of self-worth.
  • Understand the dangers of perfectionism. Expecting perfection can only lead to eventual disappointment. Learning to put up with mistakes and even failure helps adolescents deal with the realities of the world, where things don’t always turn out as planned, even if we try really hard.
  • Use the right interventions for the right reasons. The goal of interventions should not be to change grades, but to support healthy growth and development.
Edited by Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MS Ed, FAAP, FSAHM and Sara B. Kinsman, MD, PhD
Last Updated
Reaching Teens: Strength-based Communication Strategies to Build Resilience and Support Healthy Adolescent Development (Copyright © 2014 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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