Throughout history, as well as in today’s world, we can see wonderful examples of people who have experienced learning difficulties, who have become leaders, creators, inventors, artists and healers.
Historically, the list includes Thomas Edison, Winston Churchill, and Albert Einstein. In today’s society, we can look to Charles Schwab, Danny Glover, and Richard Branson. Like these famous examples, many kids with learning difficulties have the advantage of thinking differently. They may do poorly with rote material, but may do extraordinarily well at visualizing the big picture or engaging in advanced abstract reasoning in their mind.
In our book, “Smart Kids with Learning Difficulties,” we use this example- Ask them to write a research paper on bridges and they may be unable to complete the assignment, but sitting on a table at home may be an elaborate structure that the same student built out of Legos or toothpicks and reflect his understanding of advanced concepts in physics, engineering and architecture.
Yet, is it truly an advantage to have learning difficulties in children? That becomes a question for the parents and the educators. If we focus all our attention on what the child can’t do- their poor reading or writing or math computations, then childhood can be a nightmare of frustration and poor self-esteem. Instead we must first focus on identifying, nurturing, and developing the strengths.
This does not mean we neglect the weaknesses. Some time in the school day should be devoted to work on strategies and skills that will improve the areas of learning difficulty. But this work on the weaknesses must be done in the context of the recognition and attention to the child’s strengths. Providing appropriate adaptations and accommodations are a crucial way of providing access to appropriately challenging education.
A child who has a learning difficulty in reading may not be able to read about an advanced science concept but he can get the same information by listening to it, viewing a film clip, or, best of all, participating in a hands-on demonstration of that concept. A child who has a learning difficulty in writing, may not be able to demonstrate their understanding of the advanced historical concept in an essay, but they may be able to give a speech, present a powerpoint, or creating a dramatic representation of that concept. Each day, there are more solutions to learning difficulties in children through assistive technology.
Finally, school programs must provide comprehensive case management, one person in the school who communicates to all staff about the child’s strengths and needs, who is a mentor to the child , and who forms a strong team with the parents and any private coaches, therapists, or tutors.
Parents should look for public and private school programs that embrace these four best practices for the teaching of smart kids with learning difficulties.
In addition, parents play an extremely important role outside the school day. Parents must help identify their child’s strengths through observation and assessment. This assessment may mean having the child evaluated by a psychologist or neuropsychologist. The result of this observation and assessment should be explained to the child, so that the child can truly understand their own strengths as well as their challenges.
Finally and most importantly, parents should devote time to cultivating their children’s strengths. This cultivation should include classes and teams outside of school. Many parents will spare no expense to bring their children to tutors and therapist to fix “the problems”, but instead, we believe that the priority should be a mentor, tutor or coach who helps the student develop their strengths.
Kids with learning difficulties are capable of great things. It is our duty as educators and parents to provide them with knowledge of their strengths and the opportunity to develop those strengths that will pave the way to their success as adults.