How to help children or youth with learning disabilities

We have an 18-year-old son who at age 5 was diagnosed as severely learning disabled. This June he will graduate from high school; he is in the National Honor Society and has been accepted to college. It has been worth every minute of effort that has been put forth. Here are our suggestions we have used and found to be helpful:

Have learning disabled children evaluated by professionals. This will help identify the exact disability.- Swallow your pride. Get and accept help, such as tutoring, parent skill seminars and classes about learning disabled children.

Teach coping and compensation skills. Use any and all learning aids and educational helps, such as calculators and computers.

Be their advocate. Work closely with their teachers, then teach the children to become advocates for themselves.

Build self-esteem. Treat them with respect and recognition.

Have patience and pride in small accomplishments.

Make home a safe place of relief, where they are loved and accepted.

Realize most learning disabled children have high IQs. Find things they enjoy and can excel at. Spend time and energy in those areas.

Support and encourage them. When peers and others tease them - because they will - comfort them and use those experiences as learning experiences, instead of reacting.

Study the gospel and read the scriptures to them and with them. Pray for them and with them. Give special priesthood blessings and, when appropriate, help them get their patriarchal blessings. - Liz Hansen, Salt Lake City, Utah

Additional Information:

Keep it simple

As a special education teacher, I suggest the following:

Realize that most children with learning disabilities are visual learners. Pictures, graphs, maps, drawings and models are much easier for them to grasp and remember.

Break instructions or concepts down into steps, and only give them one step at a time.

Be direct, and keep it simple. Use key words.

Remember that repetition is important. Like most children, even those without disabilities, they won't remember something if you say it only once.

Have children repeat instructions or concepts back to you; ask comprehension questions to make sure they understand.

Use real-life examples to illustrate. Find out what their interests are, and tie those interests into a concept being taught.

Have patience. Learning is a long process even for people without learning disabilities. - Kari Whitesell, Ann Arbor, Mich.

Positive self-worth

Our son Chris was identified at age 6 as having very severe learning difficulties. While schooling has proven to be difficult and at times frustrating for him, he has grown into an adult who is able to cope very well in society and is due home from his mission soon.

The most important thing our family did to assist him was to help him develop his talents and to ensure that he has a positive sense of his self-worth. Although reading and writing were and still can be difficult for him, his artistic and his oral story-telling skills and his engaging personality have more than compensated for any difficulties with learning.

But we could not have done it without the help of dedicated professionals such as the occupational therapists at our children's hospital, an educational psychologist from a support group and a dedicated student teacher who taught our son to read. The main keys we found helpful in helping our son with his learning difficulties were family and community support, love, prayer and faith. - Maureen and Alan Roberts, Girrawheen, Australia

Don't compare

Do not let children compare themselves to others or their accomplishments to others. It seems at some time or another one has the tendency to compare himself or herself to another's abilities and accomplishments. This is very important to steer away from when helping children to deal with learning disabilities. - Janene Lunt, Honolulu, Hawaii

Make school your partner

At least one in 10 students has a learning disability. As an attorney and a former special education teacher, I am often asked how one can help a child with learning disabilities. My number one suggestion is to make the school your partner. There are two primary ways to accomplish this:

Help write the child's individual education plan. This is prepared by school personnel along with the parents and consultants. The plan addresses modifications to assist the child.

Involve yourself on the school district level. Volunteer to serve on your school district's advisory panel for special education.

As chairman of our district's Special Education Parent Advisory Committee, I have worked with district personnel to implement many goals, including allowing children to do the following:

Attend regular education classes with modifications.

Receive special education as a service, not a placement. - Barbara Walker Murdock, Austin, Texas

Build on strengths

Help them find their strengths and build on them. If they have reversals in letters, words or numbers, they cannot depend on what they see, so they would do better using their auditory sense. Appeal to their teachers to give them tests orally before school, check mark right answers instead of "red-lettering" wrong ones, require of the children no more at a time than is reasonable, accentuate and praise good qualities and abilities, never point out or criticize for failures. - Jeneal M. Petersen, Caguas, Puerto Rico

Don't label

Seek guidance from the Lord through daily prayer and scripture study.

Don't label your child as being stupid. Give praise for effort shown and a job well done. - Mary Smith, Perryton, Texas

Plan for future

Plan for the future. Many conferences on learning disabilities now have sessions on "Estate Planning for the Learning Disabled Child." We all hope our children will overcome their disabilities and be able to hold good jobs, but we should prepare in case this doesn't happen. - Kathleen Hansen, Clemmons, N.C.

How to checklist:

1 Be supportive as a family; seek Lord's guidance.

2 Don't label child; identify strengths; build self-esteem.

3 Seek professional help; be aware of available resources.

4 Work with teachers, schools; be active in child's education.

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