Seeing your child struggle to learn can be a painful experience. This is especially the case if you as a parent struggled in school. All the memories come flashing back. Even if you did not struggle, then observing your own child frustrated when trying to read a book, or attempting to get a story on paper with tears in their ideas because their thoughts don’t seem to get translated from their mind through to their fingers, can be puzzling and leave yourself wondering what is going on.
One begins to ask themselves, “What do I do?” Yes, sometimes effort and good instructional practice pays off and the child starts to read, or begins to get ideas on paper fluently. Attention and effort are critical for overcoming learning obstacles. Though, at times, attention and effort is not working either, nor is the internal feelings of frustration and attempts at getting angry at your child. Believe it or not, this happens frequently for many parents. We are all human and thus repeat the behaviours of our parents, and some teachers, who got so frustrated with us that their need for your success drove them to express feelings of frustration and anger.
At some point it is clear that nothing is working. The child is left in tears and you are wondering if you are a bad parent, or your spouse has bad genes. The idea of testing comes to mind to find out the cause of your child’s learning difficulties. There are several steps I would highly recommend taking.
First, if you are at a public school, and haven’t done so already, chat with the teacher. Set up a meeting to go over your experiences and see if the teacher(s) see the same issues. This can often lead to various forms of assessments that could determine what might be going on. For example, after trying various classroom-based interventions a psychoeducational assessment may be initiated to better understand the causes for your child’s learning difficulties. If you are in the private system, do the same. This could lead to recommendations made by the teachers, administrators and psychologist that could lead to solutions for the learning difficulties.
Second, with both public and private school environments make sure your child’s sensory systems are assessed. Thus, getting your child’s hearing and vision checked is critical. Over the years, I have seen many cases where hearing or vision is impaired for some reason. This can then lead to methods for either correcting or improving auditory and visual functioning. There are audiologist and ophthalmologist that could assess your child and make sure these sensory systems are operating efficiently.
In a relatively short article I cannot begin to outline all the interventions that are available for children with learning difficulties. There are specific intervention programs for reading difficulties, such as Orton-Gillingham, Reading Foundation, Phono-Graphix and Lindamood-Bell, to name a view. You could look these up on the web for specific groups or individuals that offer these programs in your area. Of course, there are issues related to mathematics, written expression and attention that often require some form of intervention as well. At times, schools are set up to provide the correct amount of support to improve your child’s learning difficulties and at others times additional support is required outside of school hours. This is just the reality of brain functioning with some learning difficulties being more severe than others. In some cases parents look to private schools for children with learning difficulties such as Eaton Arrowsmith School, Fraser Academy, Kenneth Gordon Maplewood School and James Cameron School.
Finally, there are now cognitive intervention programs that improve brain functioning or the underlying cause of your child’s learning difficulties. These programs are especially good to consider when all other educational interventions for your child’s learning difficulties have not worked. There are comprehensive cognitive intervention programs such as the Arrowsmith Program that is offered in schools across Canada. There are also software-based cognitive intervention programs that can be purchased by parents and teachers that work on specific brain functions such as CogMed and FastForWord.
Parents often know when their child is struggling to learn. It is best not to wait, and consider the problem a developmental issue. This can cause a great deal of complications later not just in learning but also social-emotional wellness. I highly recommend talking to your child’s teachers. If you are a homeschooler talk to a few educational experts or psychologists to gather more knowledge on learning difficulties. Do not see testing or assessment as a negative for your child. I say this with some awareness of the negative consequences of testing, such as labeling a child without provide proper or effective educational supports. Rather testing or assessment should be conducted in order to provide information that then drives specific treatment intervention ideas. Thus, if you decide to test your child make sure you tell the assessor that this is your goal and expectation.
Howard Eaton, Ed.M., is the Research Director for the Arrowsmith Program and also the Founder/Director of Eaton Educational Group. Howard has started seven schools in either Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada and Redmond, Washington, USA that use the Arrowsmith Program to improve cognitive functioning in children with learning differences. These include the Eaton Arrowsmith Schools and the Eaton Cognitive Improvement Centres in British Columbia, Canada. He is responsible for creating research opportunities for the Arrowsmith Program and has set up several current projects with both the University of British Columbia and Southern Illinois University that includes brain imaging and behavioural assessments with both experimental and control groups. Howard has spoken throughout North America on issues pertaining to learning differences. He is also the author of Brain School: Stories of Children with Learning Disabilities and Attention Disorders Who Changes Their Lives by Improving Their Cognitive Functioning. Howard was diagnosed with Dyslexia at the age of six, and has been a lifelong advocate for those with learning differences.