Learning Disabilities: Notes from Secondary
by Dr. Tom Rocks, The Gazette News, September 2002
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Donít give up. If you have a learning disabled child who is in
middle school or high school, donít give up. If youíre worn
out, frustrated, or think he shouldnít need you any more,
donít give up. Age doesnít cure learning disabilities.
In fact age only leads to increased expectations, from the
school and from the world. These can lead to social,
emotional, and academic turmoil for the child. Just because
your child is just as tall as you are doesnít mean he doesnít
need you anymore.
Letting go is an important part of helping a child to grow up.
But some parents let go too early...when actually the child
needs them just as much and maybe more. Are you familiar with
what is happening to your child developmentally at this stage
of his life? Are you aware of the dramatic impact that
physical and emotional changes are having on your childís
ability to focus on learning?
Middle school brings new social and emotional challenges. When
the parent stays in touch with the childís feelings and needs,
the child becomes more comfortable with communication in other
areas of his life.
Parents need to make a special effort to stay connected with
whatís happening in the childís school life. Attend parent
-teacher functions. Attend to communications from the school.
Keep an eye on the local newspaper for activities that your
child may forget to tell you about.
Most teachers are happy to have parents come to school to talk
over their childís needs and progress. Most are even willing
to have you call them at home for support for your child. Most
are very committed to their studentsí success and will go out
of their way to accommodate your childís needs.
Itís okay for you to take advantage of that. Itís up to you to
facilitate your childís availability for extra help from the
teacher. Ask the teacher what you can do at home to support
her efforts in school. When the LD child reaches high school,
life gets even more complicated. Expectations go up, volume of
work increases, and difficulty of subject is greater. Time
management, organization, and focus become even more
important. Parents need to be aware of the increased demands
on their child and be prepared to continue their encouragement
and support regardless of the childís age.
Donít assume that your LD child knows all the basics. Many of
these children donít absorb all the vocabulary and basic
concepts you might have expected them to have picked up as
Donít embarrass them by being critical of what they donít
know. Just teach them over again and praise them for what they
learn. Teachable moments are still important during the high
school years. For example, a cooking or building project at
home presents a great opportunity to review and to practice
Keep them in the habit of discussing with you what they
learned in school every day. It will give them much needed
practice in paraphrasing and verbalizing concepts, both verbal
and written. They need to practice language manipulation
skills and to work on extending their vocabulary. Be patient
Every learning disabled child is unique. You need to learn
your childís specific needs and parameters. Be conscious of
strengths as well as weaknesses. Pay special attention to
strengths. Because high school is when a student begins to
plan for his lifeís work, he really needs to know and focus on
Life for learning disabled children has been full of
frustrations and failures. Be aware of how very sensitive they
are about their abilities and inabilities. They need a parent
who believes they can learn and who provides opportunities to
help them to overcome their failures.
Those opportunities include encouraging them to continue to
seek help from a teacher to correct their mistakes and improve
their skills. Assume with the teacher that they CAN learn. It
is only a question of what is the best way to learn, and how
long it may take.
In keeping with this assumption, it is important that you hold
the child accountable for making the effort toward success.
Itís a given that he will need to put in more time and effort
than many other children in order to be successful. Itís NOT A
QUESTION OF FAIRNESS. Itís only a question of HOW MUCH HE
NEEDS TO LEARN to get where he wants to go in life.
You must help the child to learn that his success or failure
is based on choices he makes, not on the fairness or
unfairness of his disability. Success depends largely on how
hard he is willing to work for it. I like the approach of the
teacher who said, ďdonít whine and groan about what you canít
do. Tell me what you want to do and weíll work at it until you
With all the distractions and demands of daily living in the
twenty first century, it is very easy to lose track of
priorities. Make the learning process a priority in your
family life. Parents who stay involved, stay supportive, and
stay focused, have more successful students.
Dr. Tom Rocks holds a doctorate in counselor education.
Recently retired as director of pupil services for the
Waynesboro Area School District, he has a private counseling
practice. Comments and suggestions are welcome at email@example.com.