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

May 8, 2012 by · 12 Comments 

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

Coping With Road Blocks

February 27, 2012 by · 6 Comments 

Recently a number of families I work with have been stymied by their childen getting stuck.  These are children with Asperger Syndrome, nonverbal learning disability, obsessive compulsive disorder, or some combination of those.  During the course of a normal day, these kids hit road blocks that trigger outbursts. Often the cause is a change in plans that seemed inconsequential to you.  You might say, “On our way home, I’m stopping at the grocery.  Want to come in?”  Child: “Nooooo.  You always do this, etc.”  Or you might say, “Your brother has a friend over.”  Child:  “I won’t go in the house.”  Or on a pleasant family outing to an ice cream store you say, “They’re all out of confetti sprinkles, but they have the chocolate ones.” Child:  “Noooooo.”

Any one of these scenarios can trigger an outburst that could last five to forty minutes or more.

You get the picture, and you have been there.  It is very frustrating for a parent to deal with this behavior.  It can seem as though your child is incredibly self-centered, immature or badly behaved.  When it happens in public, it is embarrassing.

You have a child who is wired to be rigid.  Imagine what it must feel like to have your anxiety peak over a minor change in routine.  Imagine that you are headed down the track on a bobsled run and suddenly the track has new turns.  You skid, you careen, and you might be pretty anxious and angry.  I think that is a little of what these children experience.  The emotional discomfort triggers the outrageous behavior.

So what is a parent to do?

First, consider the last paragraph about what a child experiences.  Try to have some empathy for your child.  It’s a tall order, but it is very helpful.

When your child is out of control, concentrate only on what will help him or her settle down.  This means that you cannot argue or reason with him at this time.  You simply do not have a rationale partner for this. On the other hand, I don’t mean offer him the world so he will quiet down.  Just don’t make it worse by arguing and scolding.  That means that you might be in a fairly awkward situation, but there is nothing to be done about it then—once your child is out of control the “horse has left the barn,”  so to speak.

When your child is calm, you can address the situation again if it is still relevant.  But the passage of time may have changed this.

Punishments are not helpful this type of problem. Your child needs to learn to recognize his or her emotional discomfort and learn coping strategies.  No amount of punishment or reward can teach this.

Using empathy, begin a conversation with your child about how to manage the outbursts.  Consult a psychologist if you need to, to help with this.  Once your child is learning some strategies, incentives can be helpful to motivate him or her to use them.

Good luck.  This is a long process.  Because it has to do with neural networks, it will take some time for your child to learn to cope with it.  The important thing to understand is that you do not have a spoiled child—you have a rigid one with poor coping skills.

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Cliff Notes of Effective Parents

January 27, 2012 by · 4 Comments 

I want to share a “Cliff Notes” version of how to be a more effective parent.  These are the things I find myself advising over and over.  While they sound simple, I know they are not easy in the moment. I’ve been there too.  Here’s the short version.

  1. Be brief.  Kids really do stop listening after a couple of sentences.  It’s good to explain why, but if you’ve done that many times,  don’t say it over and over.  Lectures are not effective.
  2. Be calm. Directions given calmly are much more likely to elicit a good result.  Angry tone is likely to increase anxiety and or defiance.  Calm and firm can go together. 
  3. Be positive.  Tell your child the behavior you want to see, not what you are seeing and don’t like.  For instance, tell him to pick up his shoes rather than complaining about all the times in the past week you have tripped over the shoes.  That leads to the “not listening, fingers in ears, la-la-la” state of mind.  (See #1 above.)
  4. Listen. When a problem presents or persists, find out what your child would suggest.  This is especially true for older elementary school children and up.  You might agree or not.  Perhaps you can incorporate part of a child’s suggestion in your solution.  In any case, if you have listened and responded, your child will feel heard. Very important.
  5. Be respectful. Yes, even when you are not being treated with respect.  Stay to the high ground. Name calling, swearing, shouting — all actually model the behavior you don’t want.  (Not saying this is always easy.)
  6. End fruitless interactions.  This refers to the times you have said no to a second ice cream or a sleep-over.  You’ve even explained why in a respectful way, but your child persists in asking why, etc.  It is perfectly alright to say that you have said all you have to say on the topic and stop talking.  Hard to do with a very persistant child but very worthwhile. I wish you fortitude.

Good Luck in your challenging yet rewarding job of parenting!

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Try a Little Tenderness—for Yourself

November 23, 2011 by · 4 Comments 

Recently I went to a workshop on Mindfulness, and its use in psychotherapy.  I was quite excited as I listened because I could see its usefulness to parents. 

First of all, what is mindfulness?  When people practice mindfulness, they try to change the quality of their awareness so that they are observing and accepting of themselves.  Mark Sorensen, Ph.D., (www.sorensentherapy.com) one of the presenters, teaches his clients to Stop, Observe, Accept, and Refocus.  This shortens very nicely to SOAR.  That’s a good concept isn’t it?

Imagine that your three children are home after school.  They are quarreling, procrasting about homework, and begging you to intervene.  Meanwhile, you are very tired.  This is a recipe for an angry outburst in many families.

 What would SOAR look like here?   Stop means that you stop your action and your thinking.  Just stop with resolve and intention. 

Now, Observe.  Observe your own mind.  What is the story you are telling yourself about the situation?  Here are some possibilities:  “This is a disaster.”  “I’m a terrible mother because Angie is behind in spelling, and I can’t get her to start her homework.”  “This will never stop.”  Wow — thoughts like those would upset anyone.  Try to separate the events from the story you are telling about them.  Imagine that the events are appearing on a radar screen.  Observe your thoughts, your emotions, and your physical feelings.  “I’m thinking this is a disaster; I feel anxious and angry; my shoulders are tight and painful.” 

Next Accept the situation.  (I know this sounds absurd, but stick with me.)  Accept is an attitude.  You stop struggling with the reality.  You are open to it.  “My children are arguing.  My children are asking me to intervene.”  This is a way to relax into the situation. 

Lastly, Refocus.  Try to refocus to good intentions.  Can you feel compassion for yourself?  Patience? 

After this sequence you might be better able to decide how to respond to the situation in a productive way.

I’ve listed the steps, but this is a discipline that is learned with practice.  One participant suggested that people practice “Mindfulness Moments” or M&M’s during the day.  You can tie the M&M’s to specific behaviors, like using the bathroom!  Each time is an opportunity to go through the steps. 

I will be researching some resources on this topic, and I’ll post more next week.  Meanwhile be kind to yourselves as you observe Thanksgiving.

Say Please!

November 8, 2011 by · 6 Comments 

How do you get your children’s respect?  How do you know that they respect you?  Is it that they obey?  That’s a big part of it when they are young. 

 When parents of young children come to me for Parent Coaching, they often ask for help with compliance.  Their children don’t “listen.”  I think that most parents have this problem at one time or another.  I know that I did.  Parents find themselves telling a child over and over to do the same thing.  Often they report, “He doesn’t do it until I yell.  I don’t want to yell all the time, but that’s the only way he’ll listen.” 

I begin by talking to parents about how they tell children what to do.  We talk about the importance of getting your child’s attention, perhaps with a light touch on the shoulder.  I also advise parents to tell a child very clearly what do to. “Pick up your room” is not specific enough for many young children.  They need to hear, “Put the toys in the bin and put your clothes in the drawer.”  In fact, some need to be told only one thing at a time, but that’s for another week.

This all goes fairly well, but some parents, especially Dads, are surprised when I advise them to say “please” and to use a firm but kind tone of voice.  I am sure that these people are telling me how they were raised.  Somehow it hurts their own sense of authority to say “please” to a child.  I hear that children should just do it.  Why do we need to be so polite to kids?

One reason is that you want them to treat you politely.  Children learn best from the behavior we demonstrate.  This produces a wince from many of us.  All parents have their moments. 

Another reason is that harsh commands tend to make people (even young children) angry.  Never mind that you are the parent and you are in charge, if you rely on requests like “Get in here and pick up this room,” your children are quite capable of demonstrating that “you aren’t the boss of me.”  We’ve all been there.

The third reason is that it works.  Be clear. Ask for a specific behavior. Be calm and take the edge out of your voice.  And yes, say please.  See how it works.  And let me know.

What’s Normal?

October 18, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Lately I have noticed that parents I work with need information about normal child development. It’s quite reassuring to hear that a behavior is just what’s expected at that time.  I explain that parents are expecting too much self control from a three year old.  Or that they are expecting too much responsibility from a seven year old.  At times my message is that an eight year old would do better sleeping in his own bed and that he is capable of it.

This led me to look up some books from the 1970’s that you may have seen on your mother’s bookshelf. This is a series of books put out by the Gesell Institute of Human Development at Yale.  The series starts with Your One Year Old and goes year by year up through Your Nine Year Old.  There is also Your Five to Ten Year Old.  Most of the books are by Louise Bates Ames, Ph.D. and Frances Ilg, M.D.

The books in this series are brief with clear chapter titles so you can find what you want.

The series gives you a good idea of normal child development, including the ways that your child might be difficult—just because of the way he or she is developing at that time.  For instance, the authors talk about the six year old wanting to be more independent but having mixed feelings about it.  This leads to some confusing behavior.

Ames and Ilg also include good ideas for managing difficult behaviors.  The ideas are practical and caring — of parent and child.  Think of a kind hearted grandmother helping you out.

There are good ideas for age appropriate ways to interact with your child, to encourage creativity, and good toys to provide for your child.  I especially like that the books were written before video games, computers and smart phones were such a part of our lives. The ideas are low tech.

Some of the suggestions and examples will be quite dated.  You have to give them a break on that.  But overall, child development has not changed in thirty years.  These books have some real gems to offer.   You can find them on Amazon or in your library.