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 Article of Interest - Learning Disabilities

Learning Disabilities: Notes from Secondary Teachers
by Dr. Tom Rocks, The Gazette News, September 2002
For more articles on disabilities and special ed visit

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 general information.

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 working fractions.

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 and listen.

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 his strengths.

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 succeed. ď

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

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