Where’s Your Child’s Strength? Bolstering Self Esteem in Children with Learning Disabilities

Having a learning disability is exhausting.  Whether your child has ADHD, or a Nonverbal Learning Disability, or a Language Based Learning Disability, or Asperger Syndrome does not matter.  Learning differently from the way school is taught is hard work.

In order to obtain proper educational services for a child, one must define the difference or deficit.   The child needs to fail to make progress in order to qualify for services.  This is simply how the law is written, but it means that a smart child often has to experience frustration and failure before appropriate services are put into place.  Even if the services are helpful, their delivery distinguishes the child from other learners — the child has to leave the room for support in reading or math, or a special teacher comes in. It is a situation that can grind down self esteem.

What to do?  Where are you child’s strengths?  Perhaps you have some excellent teachers in your school who know where your child has particular talent.  Perhaps you know and can encourage you’re her to take a chance on a non-academic pursuit. These are the parts of life that teachers and parents can encourage so that the child feels competent, even gifted.

I once knew an art teacher who had a depressed teenager with nonverbal learning disability in her class.  She raved about his skill and originality.  His parents had no clue.  The boy had been so down on himself that he denigrated everything he did, including his drawing.  With the teacher’s encouragement he took some drawing classes and produced some fine work.  It helped turn his life around.

Another student I knew who had nonverbal learning disability was on the chunky side.  His parents wanted him to play sports to get exercise and to practice social skills, but his poor coordination made it impossible for him to enjoy any sport with a ball.  His Dad got him involved on a swim team where he excelled.  He was on a team, but he was swimming to beat his own time.  The swimming also helped with his anxiety.

These are just two stories.  There are more.  There are kids who are writing wonderful poems, often about their challenges.  Others I  know are on speech or debate teams.  The precise logic involved in those activities fits their thinking well.  Playing guitar or any other musical instrument can provide calming comfort.  Other children I know excel at archery.

It is as important to find activities in which your child excels as it is to provide tutors and social skills groups.


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7 Responses to “Where’s Your Child’s Strength? Bolstering Self Esteem in Children with Learning Disabilities”
  1. You tweeted this, but the link didn’t work.

    I think this–“It is as important to find activities in which your child excels as it is to provide tutors and social skills groups.”–is fantastic. I think SS groups are a little contrived. It just so happens, if one follows their interests, they meet their own flock…you don’t need contrived skills because the real ones do pretty well.

  2. dr.cstone says:

    Sorry about the link. I’ll have to check that out. Glad you found it anyway!
    I agree social skills group don’t always hit the mark. For the kids who can interact with “their flock” they’re all set. It is hard to generalize the skill learned in social skills groups. I find they work best when integrated into a school setting.

  3. Hi Carolyn – another good post that suggests that parenting is never one size fits all…seeking individuality while using patience is a measured approach, there are no easy solutions

  4. Allison Andrews says:

    I agree with this 100.% It is so hard though when the activity they are engaged in 8hrs of their day is causing distress and is not where they excel. Parents have to work hard to think outside the box and very think holistically and not get pulled into the idea that struggling in school means something horrible for their future. And in fact once the disability is diagnosed these kids often can thrive.
    Great post.

  5. Carolyn,

    I appreciate how your reminder about other activities being possible spaces for children with disabilities to excel also provides a space for parents to hope. Parenting a child with disabilities can be heartbreaking, and this reminder that struggling at school does not equal struggling at life is really important.


  6. dr.cstone says:

    Hi Allison,
    Thanks for your comment. I agree that it’s hard for parents to have hope. I see it all the time. Fortunately, I’ve been in the work long enough that I can honestly say as you did that many kids thrive when they get the right supports and when they find activities where they thrive. And when parents are hopeful, kids are too.

  7. dr.cstone says:

    Long ago a supervisor of mine said that we offer hope in this work. Helping kids find areas of competence and strength is real hope.