I had a chance to interview Deborah Ross-Swain and Elaine Fogel Schneider, leading speech-language pathologists, about their new book, Confidence & Joy: Success Strategies for Kids with Learning Differences, which I reviewed on this site. Their book equips parents and educators with winning strategies that allow children who learn differently to gain confidence and succeed.
Why are confidence and joy so important for children with learning differences?
Children with learning differences struggle every day to be successful with academics. These daily struggles to acquire and master such things as reading, spelling and math, despite their very best efforts, erode their confidence in learning. This results in unhappy children. Promoting and building confidence and joy builds a child’s sense of “I can be successful even though I have a different way to learn.”
Oftentimes too much emphasis is placed on academic achievement without concern or attention to a child’s confidence and happiness. Confident and happy kids are kids who delight in learning and excelling.
What’s the difference between a learning difference and a learning disability.
We define a learning difference when a child learns differently than same-aged children. A learning difference is just that — a difference. Children who have learning differences can be smart and often are very smart. A child with a learning difference may receive specific classroom accommodations, or an individualized education program.
We consider a learning disability as one of the 13 disability eligibility classifications under US Federal Law, and that interfere greatly with the academic performance of a child. Some examples of disabling classifications include autism, intellectual disability, deaf or hard of hearing, visually impaired, emotional disturbance, etc. There are several laws to preserve the rights of individuals with disabilities to equal treatment under the law and to access a fair and appropriate education.
What signs should parents and teachers look for that reveal learning differences?
Typically, the first signs of learning differences appear when a child enters formal education. Depending on the type of learning difference, as well as the significance of it on learning, the signs or “red flags” will vary. Typically, these children will struggle with reading, spelling and math beyond what their peers experience when learning new concepts or skills.
Red flags can include difficulty with attention and focus, following directions, and understanding verbal directions. Other red flags are daydreaming, not being able to get work done without help, difficulty listening, “not getting it,” difficulty regulating emotions and difficulty making and keeping friends. Any of these behaviors can happen occasionally with all children, but when they happen on a regular basis the child is likely to have a learning difference.
How can parents and professionals provide opportunities for instilling confidence and joy in a child?
Parents and professionals can provide opportunities for instilling confidence and joy in a child using three key concepts: Detect, Encourage and Repeat! (DEAR!)
1. Detect – Discover your child’s learning style(s) and interests, and the areas your child naturally excels in.
2. Encourage – Sign up for activities that encourage the use of your child’s innate skills and interests, such as soccer, gymnastics, music, science club, or helping the needy. Create learning experiences that allow your child to utilize individual learning style(s) — Kinesthetic? Visual? Auditory? A combination? — that create opportunities for success. Set up play dates to practice success strategies with friends.
3. Repeat – Repetition creates mastery, a sense of well-being, and feelings of success. Confidence and joy are natural byproducts of success.
What can be joy and confidence robbers?
When kids constantly experience unhappy and defeating situations or tasks, they’ll ultimately be robbed of confidence and joy. No one intends to rob a child of confidence and joy; they just don’t realize that their daily behaviors can be doing just that. The overuse of clichés such as: “You need to try harder,” “I’ve told you a hundred times,” or “You just don’t want to learn” affect a child’s joy and confidence.
Another huge robber is lack of success. Kids need to be successful. Feedback that’s intended to be constructive criticism is a huge robber. Excessive negative consequences, such as having to do work during recess, sitting outside the classroom, and being assigned extra homework are confidence and joy robbers. Probably the biggest is demanding a child do the same task over and over and never being able to master it.
What strategies can parents use to successfully advocate for their child with a learning difference?
As a parent, you know your child better than anyone else, but you may not know where or how to advocate for your child with a learning difference. Remember these sayings: “There is strength in numbers” and “Knowledge is King.” Here are some strategies to use to successfully advocate for your child:
- Find people in your community, i.e., caring professionals, or parents who have experience advocating for their own children. They can become your mentors or coaches to assist with navigating the complexities of educational or healthcare systems.
- Build a team of support for you and your child.
- Develop your own positive relationship-building skills, i.e., be patient, be receptive to hearing others’ perspectives, be flexible, ask questions, etc.
- Learn about your rights and your child’s rights.
- Develop your power to achieve the goals for your child.
- Keep yourself and your family healthy and happy, too!
Advocacy is not for wimps!
Learn more at The book’s website.