Learning disabilities are tough for anyone to deal with, but especially teens. Many times, teens don’t know they have a learning disability until they are nearly out of high school – or even into college. By then, the teen may feel like they are going crazy or maybe they’re “just stupid”. It often takes a kind teacher or medical professional to help a student get diagnosed.
Once a student has a proper diagnosis of a learning disability, there are multiple ways to handle it. Specialists can help students learn how to work with their disability and how to work around it when necessary. But, half the battle is knowing what the problem is. Even if your teen gets the help he or she needs to improve learning, there is something to be said for also adding therapy to the treatment plan.
What are Learning Disabilities
A learning disability is a problem with the brain’s ability to process information. Teens who have a learning disability don’t learn in the same way or as quickly as other students, and they might find aspects of learning, like developing basic skills, to be a challenge.
Learning disabilities cannot be cured, so they can impact a teen’s performance in all aspects of life: academically, at work, and in relationships. Intervention, support, and therapy can help a teen with a learning disability achieve success.
A learning disability is often described as a “hidden disability.” The student is usually of average or above average intelligence, and many can hide the fact that they have had learning trouble for years, leaving these issues unaddressed. This creates a gap between the individual’s potential for achievement and his or her actual ability to achieve.
Learning disabilities are verbal or nonverbal. Verbal learning disabilities affect one’s ability to read, write, or process words. Nonverbal learning challenges make it harder for an individual to process visual information or master abstract concepts. Some learning disabilities can also hamper one’s ability to focus. At least 20% of those with learning disabilities have a condition that impacts their ability to focus.
Parents may become concerned that a learning disability will prevent their child from succeeding in school. However, teachers, mental health professionals, and specialized professionals are able to work with these students. These professionals develop specialized learning plans and strategies, such as an IEP (individualized education program), to adjust learning and education strategies to fit the student’s strengths and adjust for areas of weakness.
By law, the IEP must include certain information about the child and the educational program designed to meet the student’s unique needs:
- how the child is currently doing in school
- how the child’s disability affects his or her involvement and progress in the general curriculum
- goals that the child can reasonably accomplish in a year
- goals are broken down into short-term objectives or benchmark
- goals must be measurable
Special education and related services
- must list the special education and related services to be provided to the child
- supplementary aids and services that the child needs
- modifications (changes) to the program or supports for school personnel
Participation with nondisabled children
- must explain the extent (if any) to which the child will not participate with nondisabled children in the regular class
Participation in state and district-wide tests
- must state what modifications in the administration of these tests the child will need alternative testing based on the child’s needs
Dates and places
- must state when services will begin
- how often they will be provided
- where they will be provided
- how long they will last
Transition service needs
- at 14 (or younger, if appropriate), the IEP must address the courses a student needs to reach his or her post-school goals
- statement of transition services needs must also be included in subsequent IEPs
Needed transition services
- at 16 (or younger, if appropriate), the IEP must state what transition services are needed to help the child prepare for leaving school.
Age of majority
- at least one year before the child reaches the age of majority, the IEP must include a statement that the student has been told of any rights that will transfer to him or her at the age of majority.
- IEP must state how the child’s progress will be measured and how parents will be informed of that progress.
While an IEP or similar program may be incredibly useful as a tool in the classroom, the child’s overall well-being must be considered.
If your child has a learning disability, there are several options beyond academic interventions to help them cope. Students with learning disabilities can experience anger, frustration, anxiety, or stress. They get frustrated when they study hard but get low test scores; they get angry and stressed when it is difficult to understand an assignment. They become anxious at the beginning of each new school year.
These emotional issues can make the issue even worse but seeing a counselor or therapist to talk about these feelings can be of great benefit. A therapist can point out that even if learning disabilities are lifelong, multiple methods of help and support are there for them. Therapy can help the learning disabled child learn effective coping mechanisms to handle the difficulty and any subsequent emotional problems.
It isn’t easy for children when they see themselves falling behind their peers at school. Even if they pretend they don’t care, struggling in school is a demoralizing experience. There are specific signs to look for that show kids are struggling emotionally:
- Lowered self-esteem
- Acting out
- Increased anxiety, particularly with school work
- Reduced motivation
- Increased sadness or irritability
- Physical symptoms like headaches or stomach aches
Obvious signs like crying or worrying need to be addressed immediately. Acting out or reduced motivation can frequently be misunderstood. If your child is showing signs that he or she is struggling, try to understand what the issue is specifically.
The Educational Therapist
Once a child’s learning disability is identified, he or she may benefit from working with an educational therapist, developing missing skills and devising learning strategies to build on the student’s strengths and compensate for the student’s weaknesses. The educational therapist is more focused on the child than para-professionals in the school system or tutors in specialty centers.
An educational therapist takes a more holistic approach, with the goals of improving a student’s school performance and helping the student reach “psycho-educational and social-emotional goals”. To reach these goals, an educational therapist evaluates the child’s academic and emotional strengths and weaknesses, helps the student understand them, develops learning and social-emotional strategies, and teaches the student how to advocate for him or herself.
To support students who have a learning disability in academic, psycho-educational, and social-emotional goals, educational therapists have extensive training in learning disabilities as well as understanding of the psychology of learning disorders, assessment, and intervention strategies that impact learning.
An educational therapist is trained to understand an individual child’s learning disability, and the patterns and behaviors he or she has created to work around learning deficits. The student may choose certain behaviors—acting out, avoidance, or tantrums—that are misinterpreted by parents and teachers who see the child as having a behavioral issue rather than a learning disability.
You will need to find the right educational therapist to work with your student depending on educational needs, as well as personality. The first thing the educational therapist must do is build a positive relationship with the child. An educational therapist cannot be effective if there is a negative vibe between therapist and child. The child must trust the therapist and, more importantly, like the therapist.
When searching for your ET, find someone who uses a lot of positive reinforcement, is nonjudgmental, encourages the child, and can use humor to lighten the mood when things get tense. But, of course, the therapist must also be firm. It’s one thing to have a lighthearted environment, but it is quite another to lose time to goofing off during a therapy session.
A student with a learning disability is likely to be a procrastinator because they find no benefit in doing homework. Often the work of an ET includes helping kids create a routine to get started with their homework without wasting a ton of emotional energy. Parents often misinterpret this procrastination as laziness. A solid ET can help both the parents and the child come to understand each other and make a plan that works for everyone.
Educational therapists also teach skills and strategies that help kids cope with their issues and improve their schoolwork. These professionals can help students with almost any learning disability. While the specific strategies and treatments used by an educational therapist will vary, here are a few examples of what therapists may do:
- Help identify behavior issues that may be caused by underlying learning and thinking differences
- Teach strategies to improve focus and work habits
- Teach time management and organization skills
- Develop an educational plan by giving assessments, tracking progress and adjusting as needed
- Provide a safe environment for your child to talk about school and learn how to self-advocate
- Act as a link between home and school
ETs can also act as case managers being the liaison between tutors, specialists, parents, and teachers. They also review services the school is providing through an IEP to help ensure that what’s happening in educational therapy complements in-school services.
However, remember that educational therapists are not generally found in the school system. Educational therapists usually work in private practice or in tutoring centers. Some therapists may have a day job in a school, but these ETs normally practice therapy part-time. And medical insurance doesn’t usually cover educational therapy, so you’ll probably have to pay out of pocket. Your child could need therapy once a week or more depending on your child’s learning disability. It’s unfortunate, but this can get expensive.
But even with the advantage of having emotional support, learning new skills, and finding new coping mechanisms thanks to an ET, it is still critical for parents to be active in helping the child with a learning disability. Even though parents may feel helpless in the situation, there is much they can do to support the child.
What Parents Can Do
What’s most important is to keep everything in perspective. A learning disability isn’t unbeatable. Remember that everyone faces obstacles. It’s up to the parent to teach a child how to manage obstacles without becoming overwhelmed. Don’t let the tests, school administration, and endless IEP paperwork distract you from what’s really important—showering your child with emotional and moral support.
Do your own research and keep up with new developments in learning disability programs, therapies, and educational methods. Even though experts are extremely helpful, you’re the leading expert on your student, so take charge and find the tools your student needs in order to learn.
Your child will also never have an advocate as fierce as his or her parents. You may have to speak up time and time again to get your child the help he or she is entitled to. Be a proactive parent and work on your communication skills. It may be frustrating at first, but by staying calm and reasonable, yet firm, you can be the difference for your child.
Remember that your influence is far more important to your children than that of other adults in their lives. Your kids will follow your lead. If you approach learning challenges with optimism, hard work, and humor, your child is more likely to embrace your perspective and not be quite so overwhelmed by challenges. Focus your energy on learning what works for your child. Your child will never have anyone support him or her like you do.
Having a learning disability doesn’t have to be the death knell of your child’s educational goals. With proper support from academic leaders, skilled interventions, and productive therapy, your child can learn how to work within the learning disability and cope with the emotions that result from it.
If your child has a learning disability and requires long-term in-patient care at a residential treatment facility like Beachside, consider asking how our education facilities and curriculum can be a useful aid. contacthttps://beachsideteen.com/contact/