Training Learned Helplessness
We’ve all seen the parent that’s still trying to do for their child what the child is beyond ready to start accomplishing independently. I just spent the last two weeks traveling with a grandmother who is currently caring for her healthy, three years old grandson. In these two weeks, the three-year-old never once touched a spoon with his own hand. Not once. Instead, the grandmother hovered over him, convincing him to open his mouth to her, while she barely ever had time to eat herself. Never mind that holding a spoon is very helpful to the appropriate development of hand muscles and coordination, it’s also about the message that we want to send to the child: “You’ve got this. You can do it.”
Parents Have a Tough Job
I think parents of children with disabilities have it particularly hard. We begin to think, maybe they can’t do it, and we feel bad for them, so we coddle. It’s a pretty natural progression actually.
I remember a parent of one of my second grade students in a regular education class coming in to speak to me once. She began to talk about math, and I got excited. I was ready to tell her that her son had the highest grade in the class. Instead, she began to talk about his disability (he has autism). I was so confused, because his autism was entirely irrelevant to his performance in math class. In fact, he was the only student in the class, who consistently answered and explained with accuracy every word problem I threw at him.
Then she told me her son was complaining that the tests were too difficult, and she wondered if I could modify the tests for him. Her son has autism, and he is brilliant. However, due to a range of experiences, he had come to fear challenges, and his mother was unknowingly contributing to this fear by asking that I make a test easier for him. Where his autism was most hindering him was that he could not grasp that he was doing excellently or that a 95% was good news.
It Takes Patience
Both parents and students can fall easily into this same trap. Maybe your child is not getting 95%, and he/she has begun to believe they will never be capable of more than the 68% they received this time. It takes a lot more determination and patience to face a disability, and it never becomes “fair.” It doesn’t make sense why some kids learn to read so easily and others have to work so hard at it.
While parents should absolutely advocate for every appropriate and rightful accommodation for their child to decrease unnecessary frustration and anxiety, it is also invaluable when we teach the lesson of embracing challenges and finishing difficult things. Disability or not, perseverance is one of the most essential skills in life. In that way, perhaps a disability can help a child learn this very important skill.
Andrew Wohl is a fantastic role model to hold up to any child currently in the ruts of a learning disability. Diagnosed as a two-year-old with language deficits and later with dyslexia, the university senior now wears two rubber bands on his wrist to remind himself that he must work twice as hard as others. Apparently, something is working. He’s the co-president of club soccer at the University of Oregon, and has held a variety of internships, which are lining him up for success after university. He puts high expectations on himself, and he works toward them. Apparently, he never thought to let dyslexia cut those expectations.
For parents still in the thick of trying to figure out what’s wrong, don’t give up. Whatever you do, work for your child. Demonstrate that you believe he/she is absolutely capable of facing whatever challenges life hands them. Then provide them the skills and the help they will need to do it. We can help you.
By Kara Skarda
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