Don’t Make Low Self-Esteem a Learning Disability

You have been told that your son or daughter has a learning disability. Whether you have been dealing with this news for three weeks or three years now, you may be feeling anxious, confused, or overwhelmed. Confronting you are a myriad of sincere suggestions and opinions from the experts, your mother-in-law and the next door neighbor.

The most important comment is perhaps the one that you may not hear very often:

     Your son or daughter is not a walking learning disability. He is a wonderfully curious, bright and creative individual who is learning in a different way. She has strengths and gifts in much greater number than she has weaknesses. She is not a learning disabled student, but a student who happens to have a learning disability.

All too often a student’s most serious learning disability becomes a growing deficit in feelings of self-worth, self-esteem and confidence. None of the choices you make to increase your child’s learning success will be as important as addressing this issue on a daily basis and it is never too late to start.

For just a moment, picture yourself at a business social gathering. You hear your supervisor say to another employee, within earshot of your co-workers, “Oh yes, Carol is our working-disabled employee. She needs extra help, you know, in order to learn new job skills and to finish her work on time. We learned about her disability last year and now we know what has been the problem all along.”

Granted this is a totally unlikely scenario. However, substitute the words “learning” and “academic” in the right slots and you can quickly grasp the negative consequences of such an experience on a student of any age. Amazingly, many students with learning disabilities hear such destructive comments on a regular basis made by the very adults who want to help them succeed.

Simply adopt a policy that includes open, friendly and positive chats with your student and excludes public chats with others about him or her.  Equally important is to avoid comparisons of your child’s academic achievement with siblings, cousins or friends. Make it clear to teachers, grandparents, family friends and others that it is harmful to kids who experience any kind of learning problem to hear others talking about them.

There are many habits easily incorporated into daily interactions that contribute to the growth of positive feelings for all young people, not just those who experience learning disabilities. Your son has brought home his weekly spelling test and out of 20 words he has missed 5. Let’s look again with different eyes. He also spelled 15 words correctly! How often would this student hear, “How many did you get WRONG this time?” rather than, “Wow, look at this….you got all of these RIGHT…especially this really hard one. Good for you!” Such a shift in perspective by those to whom this struggling student looks for approval can be the very thing that gives him the courage to do his best every day.

Developing outside interests is beneficial for all students, but is most critical for lifting the self-confidence of those whose school experiences are often discouraging. Without overwhelming your daughter with an exhausting after-school schedule, do give her the opportunity to try new things. With activities at community centers, after-school programs, public libraries, and youth groups of all kinds, such involvement need not be a financial burden. Girls and boys may enjoy camping, cooking, ceramics, swimming, painting, Tae Kwon Do, sewing, guitar, horseback riding, drama, soccer or creative writing. There is nothing more uplifting than feeling needed and appreciated and volunteer work at the community food bank, library, animal rescue or nature center may be just the ticket for your middle or high school student.

Building a solid foundation for future learning is vital for all young people to feel at home in the world. Find time to experience museums, aquariums, planetariums, nature preserves, historical parks and community fairs which will broaden your young person’s understanding of how things work. The result is greater self-confidence and better understanding of social studies, science, literature and a stronger working vocabulary.

Last, but not least, just enjoy your children for the wonders that they are. Give them lots of chances for their gifts to shine through. Praise them ten times for each time you must make a critical remark. Let them know that you love them without strings attached to their math grades or book reports. At those frustrating and discouraging moments, remember that sooner than we can imagine, the spelling tests and math papers will be years behind us. Remembering which words take “i before e” will probably not change anyone’s life. Believing that they are capable, likable and gifted with many strengths, as well as feeling comfortable and confident in the world, will contribute to their personal success and happiness for a lifetime.