Children with learning disabilities need to be given a healthy dose of praise and constructive criticism to develop into forward-looking, confident adults, writes Bhakti Bapat Mathew.
The way to build confidence in your learning-disabled child is much the same as building confidence in any other child, with a few more specifics. Being responsive to your child’s needs, and fostering a loving bond, whether or not she is learning-disabled, is the best way of ensuring she feels secure, and hence confident.
Says experienced child psychologist, Dr Sulata Shenoy, “While you may not always be able to drop everything and attend to the child, it is important to develop a dominant pattern of being loving and accept the child as worthy of your love. Even if you have been there most of the time but not always, the child will pick up the feeling of being loved and cherished, and will also learn to adjust.”
Learning disability is an umbrella term to cover a range of skills that may be affected in the child. The skills that may be affected include reading, writing, listening, speaking, reasoning and/or doing math.
Every child needs to be given a chance at small and big victories combined with a healthy dose of praise and constructive criticism to develop into a forward-looking, confident adult.
This is no less true for children who go through a learning disability. A student with learning disabilities is prone to undergo more stress and frustration than the average child. A lot of mainstream educational institutes today are not yet fully equipped to meet some of the challenges faced by learning-impaired students.
Some schools do ensure practices like reading-and-writing aides to students during exams. However, the biggest responsibility falls on parents. Adds Dr Shenoy, “The first two years of a child’s life are the most crucial in fostering attachment and trust. However, children are resilient, and even if the first two years have not been very smooth, they can recover with future responsive parenting.”
How you can help your child
Dr Shenoy relates of a heartening incident, “Many parents are guided by their instinct and do many right things without having been instructed. I know of a mother who hung up a collage of photographs of all the best moments of success and happiness in her learning-disabled teenager’s life on the wall in his room for him to see and feel good every day. This kind of loving encouragement goes a long way in fostering self-belief.” Dr Shenoy also recommends the following measures:
*Knowledge is power. Read and research more about the disability. Be practical at the same time and do not get carried away by the excess of irrelevant information that is freely available, especially on the Internet. Make sure that the sources of information are authentic. Not only will it be easier for you to think of solutions for various situations, it will also help you empathise more.
*Take charge of inculcating confidence in your child. You will need to make committed and conscious efforts and use strategies that will ensure success. Fortunately, most of these activities are part of any good parenting style and are also a lot of fun. Besides, these activities will help in creating a healthy and loving bond with your child too.
*Help the child find his or her areas of strength. Reinforce these strengths by talking and explaining their significance and by offering a chance at activities where the child gets to put his or her strengths to use.
*Praise small as well as big victories. If the child seems to be finding certain important tasks difficult to accomplish, try and find alternative ways that are easier for the child to do. If the task is unavoidable, help the child deal with it patiently and do not rush the child. In time, when they accomplish it, the child will understand the value of persistence and will also come to understand that certain areas or tasks need to be worked upon patiently, just like it is for every other child.
*Encourage the child to help around the house. Keep chores simple, especially at the beginning. This will inculcate self-reliance and foster responsibility.
nTalk to your child often, and about various aspects of his or her life, including school, homework, friends, teachers etc.
*Reach out to other parents of learning disabled kids. Having a warm and encouraging support group can take some of the stress off your shoulders.
*Talk to, and take and give feedback, to the teachers at school. Comparing notes on where your child excels and what she finds challenging can help you reach out to your child faster.
*Finally, a lot of your own self-confidence, or the lack of it, can rub off on your own child. Try to improve your own self-confidence. This may mean discussing problem areas with a therapist or someone you trust and respect.
How you can help your student
Teachers can help by making the learning environment more relaxed and fun for learning-disabled students.
*Be flexible in your approach. You may have to tweak regular lessons to be more inclusive
*Foster team spirit in the class wherein no child feels left out
*Give simple but detailed instructions for an activity
*Break the activity into smaller chunks
*Verbal as well as written instructions help
*Ensure the child gets enough time to complete the task
*Ensure you have the right resources. This may include a tape recorder, a word processor that spell-checks and grammar-checks, software that recognises speech etc.
*Keep an on-going, open communication with concerned parents
*Teach perseverance, organising skills and patience. These habits are useful for all children
*Children have different ways of learning — visual, auditory, kinaesthetic and tactile. Find out which method works best while dealing with a child and use it, or use a combination of all these in the classroom with a group
*Be responsive as a parent. Ensure loving encouragement
*Find and reinforce your child’s natural strengths
*Praise small and big victories
*Teach patience and perseverance with difficult tasks
*Encourage your child to help around the house to build self-reliance
*Discuss the various aspects of your child’s life with her: school, friends, homework, teachers etc.
*Attain a healthy level of self-confidence yourself
*Find other parents in similar situations and maintain contact
*Speak regularly with the teachers
*Turning Point, Bangalore (Website: turningpointcentre.com).
*Delhi Learning Disabilities Association. (Website: DLDA.co.in).
*National Institute of Public Cooperation and Child Development (NIPCCD), Delhi. (Website: NIPCCD.nic.in): Has regional centres across India.
*ORKIDS Multidisciplinary Clinics (Delhi, Bangalore, NOIDA) (Website: Orkidsped.com)
*Association for Learning Disabilities of India (ALDI), an NGO in, Kerala.