Learning Disabilities and Family Life: Four Ways Learning Disabilities Affect Home Life and Ways You Can Help Your Child

If you have a child with a learning disability, you are probably learning that your child learns and reacts differently at home as well as in school.  You will likely have to adapt your parenting strategies to your child’s neurology.   If you have a diagnosis, then it is likely that you also have a neuropsychological testing report.  These reports and the IEP (individual education plan) include recommendations for instruction.  Good test reports will also have recommendations for home. You can look at these recommendations and adapt them for home use.  Here are a few that I run into in families I work with.

Slow Processing Speed

Your child is bright enough to do the work, but she thinks things through slowly.  Think of having a computer with an old CPU. Often the IEP will recommend that a teacher provide “wait time” after asking a question.  Parents need to do the same.  If you patiently wait for your child’s response after a question, you can include her in family dinnertime conversations that she might otherwise be left out of.  Processing speed can especially be a problem in tense situations.  For instance, suppose you are asking about a missed homework assignment.  Give her a minute to remember and give her response, instead of filling in for her.

Nonverbal Learning Disability

This is a disability that affects children’s ability to read social cues and to understand metaphor and sarcasm .  They can be very sensitive to tone of voice, and their own modulation of tone of voice is poor.  However, they can be taught these skills over time.  It helps to understand that if your child responds angrily to a request, it might be because he thought you were angry.  It is important to keep your voice neutral.  Joking with this child is a tricky business.  You will need to explain teasing because he won’t pick up from your tone of voice that you actually mean the opposite of what you are saying.  Adding, “Just kidding,” can be essential.

Poor Working Memory

This is a problem that affects a person’s ability to keep a few ideas in mind in order to manipulate them or use them for problem solving.  This could come up if you give your child complicated instructions.  For instance you might say, “When you go upstairs to start your homework, check on the hamster food, and if we don’t have enough for the week, tell me so I can buy more.”  This is a lot to keep in mind — go do homework; check on hamster food; and then what?  You can have more success, and your child will feel more successful, if you break down the requests.  Start with “Go check to see whether we have enough hamster food for a week, and tell me what you learn.”  Then say, “Ok, now start your homework.”

Adjustments like these avoid misunderstandings that frustrate everyone.

Executive Function Deficits

This seems to be the diagnosis dejour in my caseload.  If executive function is a problem for your child, you are probably already well aware of it.  Your child loses and misplaces things related to school and everything else in life.  It’s really frustrating for all.  But scolding and shaming her for being disorganized doesn’t teach her strategies.  I find it helpful to give kids like this lists for different situations.  For instance, before going out the door in the morning, she could check off backpack, lunch bag, instrument for band, gym shoes.  For going to soccer practice:  cleats, socks, shin guards, ball.  The same list applies for leaving soccer.  Some kids are visual learners, and for them, a picture or drawing of themselves labeled with all the right equipment would be more useful.

These are just a few of the ways that learning difficulties affect home life.  Learning about how your child thinks and learning strategies for managing life with a person with this brain will save you and your child a great deal of aggravation.  Using accommodations at home can actually teach your child coping strategies for life.  I know young adults who have learned to make their own lists so that they don’t travel without essentials.

My website, www.drcarolynstone.com has a number of resources listed that can be helpful for parents in learning what they need to know about living with learning disabilities.


Click here to sign up for my newsletter, Parents’ Corner, and receive my free report on how to improve morning routine with children who have ADHD, Asperger Syndrome, or other executive function deficits:  Smoothing Out Your Morning.

Photo Credit:  Steve Webel on Flickr


12 Responses to “Learning Disabilities and Family Life: Four Ways Learning Disabilities Affect Home Life and Ways You Can Help Your Child”
  1. Very nice, concise descriptions of terms that are very frequently used but very infrequently explained. I’ve been wondering about working memory in relation to social skills issues that can be grouped under the heading “central coherence.” It seems likely to me that when kids lose sight of issues such as context and nuance, it’s often because there’s “not enough room” in working memory to consider so many variables.

    Thanks for the article. I’m going to share it with my clients.

  2. dr.cstone says:

    Hi Bruce,
    Thanks very much for your comment. You raise an interesting point about the connection between working memory and social skills problems. Makes sense to me. There’s a lot to keep track of in conversations, so there’s that and being able to interpret nonverbal information. No wonder some kids get overwhelmed and avoidant.
    Kind regards,

  3. JoAnn Jordan says:

    I would think these thoughts might be of assistance to parents of typical children. It is easy to get in a hurry and not allow our children opportunities to succeed (and to fail) in the safety of our homes.

  4. Carolyn, I love that you are breaking down these categories and giving concrete suggestions for each diagnosis to use at home. With so much focus on school and achievement at school parents can lose sight of the simple things they can do at home to make life easier and allow their children to shine. Best, Allison

  5. dr.cstone says:

    Hi Allison,
    Thanks for your comment. It does seem that parents could use an “IEP” with recommended strategies for home. AFter all, the child has the same brain in school and at home.

  6. Carolyn,

    I think that, all too often, when a child is diagnosed with a learning disorder, parents get a lot of information thrown at them without adequate explanation. They are expected to become experts on their kids condition and experts at advocating within the school system. Posts like this one can be a huge help. You did such a nice job of explaining these terms in clear, plain English–and then providing helpful suggestions for coping. What a helpful post.


  7. dr.cstone says:

    Thanks so much for your comment. It is very satisfying work to help parents understand how their children think and then help them develop strategies for co-existence. Often along the way the parents recognize themselves in their child’s profile.

  8. Carolyn,

    You did such a great job of breaking down each “mystery term” and providing concrete explanations for day-to-day family functioning. Very helpful!

  9. dr.cstone says:

    Thanks, Rachelle. I can remember when these terms meant nothing to me, yet they really affect everyday interactions.

  10. Arlene says:

    Carolyn, This is so important. Some learning disabilities go undiagnosed or the child functions well enough that they don’t get into the system. So important for parents to think of different ways of helping all children cope.

  11. dr.cstone says:

    Hi Arlene,
    Thanks for your comment. It’s helpful for parents to understand that because we are all wired a little differently, we might need to interact and solve everyday problems a little differently.

  12. You did a great job of explaining these categories, which are often mystifiying …nice information!