Building Self-Esteem in the Learning Disabled
Twenty-seven years have passed since one of my fourth graders asked, "Are we all stupid, Mr. Kendrick?"
Retards. Dummies. Underachievers. That's what my fourth graders were called. I was teaching all subjects to a self-contained class of 19 children that nobody else wanted to teach. Their former teachers had labeled them "underachievers" -- in 1970, that was the popular label used to classify all children who were not "learning up to their potential." Other labels included brain dysfunction, educationally handicapped, performance disabled, and invisibly crippled. With labels as destructive and degrading as these, is it any wonder I found these children to be in desperate need of self-esteem?Young, Labeled, and Medicated
Today, far too many children suffer the shattering of their self-worth by being labeled learning disabled. Pediatricians prescribe Ritalin for preschoolers who have been "officially diagnosed" with ADD by their kindergarten teachers. A mom introduces her son to me at our first therapy session by saying, "He's an ADD." (I'm waiting for the day a parent introduces a child to me as "a cystic fibrosis.")
Frighteningly, the field of academic learning disabilities has become a medical model categorization system in which children with "learning diseases" are identified at young ages -- and medicated for life.Building Your Child's Self-Esteem
What can you do to bolster the damaged self-esteem of your children who have been categorized as learning disabled? Plenty!
First, make it clear to your child that he is not stupid, abnormal, retarded, or diseased. His brain is fine. Make sure you tell him and show him that he is bright, creative, capable, and special. Explain that when his teachers talk about a learning disability, it is their way of saying that a child needs to be taught things in a different way.
Frame your explanation of his needing academic help with a recounting of some of his strengths and assets: "You know how good you are at painting pictures, making people laugh, and playing soccer? Well, reading right now is harder for you than doing those things and we are going to help you in your reading so you can learn better and feel happier about school. All of us learn some things more easily and some things take a little more work before we understand."Expect the Most
Here are some additional tips on maintaining and increasing your child's self-esteem:
- Offer encouragement when any progress is made in learning disability areas. Praise effort, not just results.
- Explore and encourage participation in any activities that may offer your child a chance to feel good about herself -- music, sports, scouting, volunteerism.
- Don't expect less effort from your child in any pursuit because of her learning disability. If you do, she will learn to expect less from herself and may use her learning disability as an excuse not to try or as a justification for quitting.
- Be certain that it is your child who has a true learning disability and not her teachers who have a teaching disability.
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