Guidelines for Parents of Learning Disabled Children
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Five Top Questions Parents Ask in Regard to their Learning Disabled Child

When a parent has a child who is diagnosed as learning disabled, many issues must be addressed.There are the emotional issues of how to discuss this with the child, issues regarding the child’s learning skill deficiencies, and what parents as well as their teachers can do to help the child.

One of the issues that parents must address is how to talk to their child about the subject of their learning disability. Should they use the term “disability” when talking to their child, and if so, how do they explain it to their child without demoralizing him or her.  What is the best approach to take? What words should be used?

A learning disabled child is a child who innately has an average to superior IQ but with serious learning skill deficiencies. Generally he is working two to two and half years below grade level. A learning disabled child is not a child who is mentally retarded but rather one who is learning deficient. These learning deficiencies can be taught. With the right kind of instruction, a learning disabled child can improve dramatically.  

Parents should understand that there are four main categories of learning skills. They are visual perception, visual memory, auditory perception and auditory memory. Once a learning disabled child develops his learning skills along with his basic reading and mathematics skills, he will be able to work well in school at his true intellectual level.

Parents should explain to the child that he has certain learning and basic skills that are not well developed. He should also be told that there are many other children who have the same problem that he has, but with the proper help, he will be able to overcome these weaknesses and develop these skills. He should be told that this problem does not mean that he is not intelligent, and that his innate ability is good.  It is important for parents to encourage their child to work hard, but at the same to understand that once he has developed his skills, he will be able to learn much more easily. The child needs to understand that this will not happen overnight, that it will take time. However, he also needs to understand that with the right kind of help and his hard work, once he has developed these skills, he will be able to learn just like any other child. 

Consistent reinforcement of the basic and learning skills, and consistent encouragement, are a major part of what goes into helping children to completely overcome their disability.

 A second issue concerning learning disabled children is how to help a child who has a serious visual perception problem; that is, one who frequently reverses the order of letters or substitutes letters when reading or writing. In particular, these children do not notice differences in similar words. For example, a child with a serious visual perception problem may read this as that, was as saw, went as want, small as smile, stood as stoop, kitchen as kitten, and campers as capture.  This weakness can seriously affect the child’s comprehension of the material he is reading or make his writing incomprehensible.  While it is not uncommon for beginning readers to confuse and reverse letters or words that are similar, if the child continues for months to reverse or substitute letters while reading or writing, it is a sign that the child needs special concentrated work to help him or her overcome this deficiency. 

Parents can jot down the words that their child confuses when he is reading orally, point out the differences and then have their child read each word. Parents can then print the words on a flashcard with both words on each side of the card so that the child can compare the difference between the two words. For example, on one side of the card it might say "small    smile" and on the other side "smile   small." They should then have their child read the cards and review them the next day, continually working on the flashcards until they are mastered.

If a child continuously confuses two particular words, parents can try another teaching technique. They can print each word on a piece of paper and then have their child trace each word saying each letter as he traces the word, then read the word. The child should trace the word over and over again until he feels that he truly knows it. The child should then do the same with the word that is similar but not the same.   

Lastly, there are workbooks designed to help students develop visual perception. These workbooks can be very helpful if they are used consistently for ten to fifteen minutes two to three times a week. Workbooks that focus on the most frequently misperceived words are most helpful because they pinpoint the problem areas. 

A third question that parents ask in relation to their learning disabled children is how to help their child when he has been diagnosed with a serious auditory memory problem which basically involves attention, listening and recall. 

 Most learning disabled children and, in particular, those who have been diagnosed with ADD (Attention, Deficit Disorder) or ADHD (Attention, Deficit, Hyperactivity Disorder) have serious auditory memory weaknesses. This learning skill weakness often interferes tremendously with their ability to grasp information that is presented to them orally in school, attend to what has been taught to them orally, form images in their minds of that information and recall what they have heard. Because they often pick up only bits and pieces of what is being said, they find it very hard to comprehend and recall what they have been taught orally. 

Many children simply do not develop the skill of listening automatically when they are young, not because they are not trying to listen but purely because they have not developed the skills involved with listening. Often these children think that they are listening well but when they are tested it is evident that they are  processing and recalling very little of what is being said. 
Parents who have a child with auditory memory problems need to make their child aware of the fact that he needs help to become a good listener, and that he can overcome this weakness. This should be done in a positive encouraging way.  Scolding a child for not being a good listener and demanding that he “listen” only makes the child nervous and apprehensive, causing him to feel badly about himself and therefore producing little or no improvement. The most important approach to use is one of encouragement coupled with concentrated remediation, one that stresses the fact that the child can overcome his deficiency with help. 

 One way that parents can help their child to become a better listener is to read a short paragraph to their child. After the paragraph has been read, the child should be asked to recite the main ideas and supporting details of the passage. If the child cannot state what he has heard, the paragraph should be read again orally to the child. Then he should be asked once again to recite what he has heard.

If after two tries the child still cannot state what he has heard, the parent should break the paragraph down into sentences. First, the parent should read just one sentence at a time asking the child to recite what he has heard. If this is easy for him, then the parent should try reading two sentences, gradually increasing the amount of sentences read until the child can attend, listen and recall an entire paragraph.  

Parents should continue to practice this skill with their child until the parent can read longer and longer paragraphs and the child can recall the main idea and supporting details. This is an excellent technique to use with history and science as well as literature. 

A fourth commonly asked question is one related to mathematics. Children with learning disabilities who are affected in the area of mathematics often have a difficult time memorizing number facts and understanding, for instance, that subtraction is the opposite of addition, and that division is the opposite of multiplication. There is much that parents can do to help their child to understand basic concepts of numbers, memorize facts, and learn essential skills for computation.

If, for example a child has problems understanding the concept of division, the parent might set up a pretend birthday party, asking their child to divide the prizes or food equally. Example: Pretend that there are three people at the birthday party and that you have six cupcakes. (Parents can cut paper in circles to represent the cupcakes.) Put objects such as stuffed animals at the table to represent each person. Ask your child to count all of the cupcakes that you have. Then have him take the paper cupcakes one by one to see how many each person would get if they are divided equally. Then say to him,"Six cupcakes divided by three people would give each person two cupcakes." Write the fact for him to see. 6 ÷ 3 = 2.  Parents can do this kind of exercise with other items until their child gets the concept of division. Put the facts on flashcards with the problem on one side and the problem with the answer on one side.  Example: 6 ÷ 3 =  on one side, and 6 ÷ 3= 2  on the other.  Parents should have their child study the facts and then go through them with the child the next day giving him rewards for every one that he memorizes and can remember the next day. It is important to continue to review the old facts as you add new ones. (Rewards for fact memorize can be stars or stickers
on a chart.) 

 A second technique that helps children understand the relationship between multiplication and division is to teach your child "number families."  The first two are "mother" and "father" and they are the multiplication facts. The next two are "sister" and brother" and they are the division facts. Three numbers  go together to make up a number family. 

Example:  
This is the number family of 3, 2, and 6.

Multiplication:
     mother           3 x 2 = 6   (either the 3 or the 2 can come first but father is the opposite)
     father             2 x 3 = 6 
Division:
      sister             6  ÷ 3 = 2 
     brother           6  ÷ 2 = 3

Parents can use this technique with all other number families. Eventually the child will begin to understand that three numbers that stay together make up the number family, and that once he memorizes the "mother" fact, he already knows the others. Parents can also point out to the child that in multiplication, the largest number comes at the end while in division, the largest number is at the beginning. This technique works well for addition and subtraction as well as multiplication and division.

 The final question that is most frequently asked by parents of children with learning problems involves reading comprehension.  Once a learning disabled child begins to read words and sentences, he often finds it difficult to process what he is reading and make sense out of it. It can be that he reads very slowly word for word and is so concerned about reading each word that he is not able to concentrate on  the message of  the sentence or paragraph.  This can create a situation whereby  the child ends up having to read a passage two or three times before he can grasp the meaning. This can be very frustrating for the child as well as the teacher and parent. 

First, it is essential for the parent to work with the child to help him develop a good sight vocabulary so that he does not need to sound out multiple words in a sentence. Parents can do this by making flashcards of words that their child has to sound out and working with the child on a few at a time, until gradually their child begins to increase his sight vocabulary. This will in turn help him to read faster and more fluently, and, as a result, concentrate more on what he is reading instead of the mechanics of reading word by word. 


Secondly, the parent can help their child, once he reads more fluently, to try to focus on reading for meaning by stopping the child after he reads just one sentence and asking him to tell them what he has read. It is best not to ask specific questions but rather allow the child time to learn how to concentrate on grasping the main idea and supporting details, the meaning as a whole.  If the child can tell the parent what he has read after reading one sentence, the parent can have him read two sentences at a time. Once he gets so that he can focus on reading two sentences at a time, the parent can have the child progress to three sentences. Gradually, the number of sentences that he reads can be increased until he is reading an entire paragraph with good comprehension.

Much can be done to help learning disabled children overcome their deficiencies and begin to learn just like any other child. It takes patience, hard work, and most importantly, stress on the development of learning skills as well as basic skills.  The results are well worth the effort.

 About the Author:

Addie Cusimano, M.Ed., is an educational therapist with more than forty years of experience who has worked as a classroom teacher and reading specialist in public schools, and as diagnostician and clinician for a private learning center that specialized in working with students from learning disabled to gifted.  She is the author of Learning Disabilities: There is a Cure ISBN 9780972776271 in which she shares her findings on the best approach for helping children overcome learning problems in reading, mathematics, learning skills, study skills and writing skills. Recognizing a serious need for teaching materials that help students to develop specific learning skills, Cusimano has also designed Achieve: A Visual Memory Program, Auditory Sequential Memory Instructional Workbook, Auditory Memory in Context Instructional Workbook and Visual Discrimination: Noting Differences in Frequently Misperceived Word. For more information on helping children with learning problems go to www.ldsupport.homestead.com where you will find a Dear Addie tab for asking academic questions. Parents and educators can preview or purchase her book and learning skill materials go to www.achievepublications.com




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