Picking A Course Of Action
The same goes for parents of Children who are suffering from a learning challenge. Waiting too long to start the right program or picking the wrong program risks your child losing self-confidence. They may lose self-confidence to the point of completely giving up on themselves and diving into depression or anti-social activities. Neither of which typically has a good ending.
I spend a lot of time listening to parents. And commonly what I hear is:
"I've spent so much time and money on different programs for my child. I am afraid to risk trying one more thing that might not work"
And I totally understand this sentiment.
Failure seems to be more common than not. There are so many programs that make so many promises and I guarantee that not all of them are a fit for your child. No matter what the promise. Some are. Some are not.
Additionally, there are also three main reasons for the failure of these programs. None of these reasons usually get addressed. Strategies to overcome these problems are often not instituted in a plan. You'll understand those three reasons by the end of this article.
Let's get to reason #1
Which Reading (or math, or writing) Program Should My Child Do?
That is the most common question. And unfortunately, it is the question that is flawed. In most cases, that question will not have a good answer at first. It will later on, but at first, it probably won't.
The reason for this is because language comes before reading. And before language comes interpretation of the world around us. Our sensory input. If our language skills are not fully developed then building good reading skills on top of that will be impossible. If our sensory skills are not developed then building language skills on top of that will be all but impossible.
Yet many programs try to simply find better ways to teach reading. Rather than finding a solution to the underlying problem. That is a case of putting the cart before the horse. It's not going to end well.
And here's the shocking fact. The majority of poor readers have an auditory processing problem of some sort. Additionally, it is very likely that they have a visual processing problem as well. Visual tracking would be an example. And on top of that, the odds are also very high that proprioceptive skills may need further development for their brain to work at it's best.
So trying to build reading skills without developing these underlying skills is going to lead to disaster. And that happens all the time
Instead, the right question is:
What combination of neurodevelopment skills and academic skills should I be doing with my child?
For every child that is going to be different. Every child and every adult should be doing some amount of neurodevelopment skills. We want to have our best brain possible right?
Yet instead, many just pile on more academics thinking that will solve the problem. It won't. and in fact, it will make the problem worse. Why? Because doing academics that the child has not been properly prepared for will destroy every bit of self-confidence that they have. They will assume they are stupid even though they may be extremely intelligent. They will develop avoidance strategies. Strategies such as procrastination, temper tantrums, acting bored, acting lazy, being overly sweet, cute, or accommodating.
All of these are strategies to save face. To avoid looking stupid to others. Especially you.
They May Develop Anxiety
And herein lies the clue that parents should look for. Is my child experiencing anxiety? They may hide it well. So you have to be vigilant.
- The existence of avoidance tactics is a sure sign.
- The existence of physical symptoms is a sure sign.
- Diminished self-esteem is a sure sign
- Not having a strong desire to learn is a sure sign.
If any of these is going on then this is a clue that there should be fewer academics and more neurodevelopment that should be going on.
Additionally, a strategy for developing confidence should be put in place.
Monitoring anxiety and confidence is how you know.
If there are anxiety and low confidence levels then you likely need to back off the academics and do more neurodevelopmental development and more confidence building.
If confidence is soaring then full speed ahead with the academics and fit a little neurodevelopment and confidence building in here and there.
Track it. Log it. Watch for small changes. And when I say small changes I mean really small changes. Tiny clues that tell you which way you are moving. Forget where your child is not. It doesn't matter right now. What matters is where they are and what is the best next step. Keep doing that and eventually, they will thrive.
Eliminate Anxiety with Confidence
Anxiety is fear felt in the body. Children fear looking bad. Especially in front of their parents. There are deep-seated biological reasons for this. So they will avoid it at all cost.
This fear soon turns to anxiety.
At a fundamental level, they fear not being able to do something that is expected of them and then looking bad because of this.
The exact opposite of that is confidence. Self-confidence is the belief that they can do something well. Build enough self-confidence and that turns into grit. Grit is the belief that they will be able to do something well even if they are struggling with it now. It is the life skill that pushes them through.
This is fundamentally important for learning. If they have low confidence they will develop anxiety. The anxiety will shut them down to learning. If you try to push through this you will only be met with more and more resistance as well as more sophisticated avoidance tactics. Your child will also develop more anxiety as a result. Making it more and more difficult to get back in a positive direction.
Confidence is a critical component of learning. Without it, everything will be much harder than it needs to be.
Do academics seem harder than they should be for your child? This is one reason why.
The Brain Takes The Easy Path
Efficiency makes sense. Even for the brain.
The brain will always find the most efficient way to build the skills required of it. This leads to incredible efficiency but it is also an underlying reason why many remediation systems fail.
If a remediation system relies on one strategy then that program has a very small chance of working. This is because the brain will just become very efficient at learning how to do that one strategy well. In other words, it will not generalize the skill.
Generalizing the skill is what makes it available for other cognitive processes. and we need these skills to be generalized. Too far down the path of building one specific skill for one specific purpose and you basically are training the brain to be like an idiot savant. It can do one thing very well but doesn't know how to use that skill elsewhere.
The secret to avoiding this is variety. If the brain develops the underlying learning skills in a variety of ways it will generalize them. It will find other ways to use them. For example, when learning to spell. The brain may try to use auditory memory or it may try to use visual memory but the best strategy is to use both. this will happen if both skills have been generalized.
A lot of brain training programs have this fault. They try to build up cognitive skills in to specific of a way. Often because they are computer based only. In computer only based programs you are not using the kinesthetic, so not a full range of sensory function. It's very difficult, if not impossible with today's technology, to build a solely computer-based neurodevelopment program.
The Right Combination
Success is based upon the right combination. Not finding the perfect reading (or math, or writing) program. If you build up the underlying learning skills in a way that they are generalized, and you build up confidence, then any academic program is far more likely to work. Of course, some are better than others but if your child is more ready to learn then the question of what reading program becomes far less important.
So don't ask, "What is the best reading program?"
- What combination of academics and neurodevelopment does my child need?
- Is my child sufficiently confident to tackle the academic program
- Are my child's confidence and neurodevelopment moving in a positive direction?
- Is my child getting enough variety in their neurodevelopment?
Get those answers even close to right and you are then on the path to seeing your child get fantastic grades, enjoy learning, and enjoy life more. Which will lead to a happier less stressed out you as well.
Why is it so easy to make this mistake?
The answer lies in a discovery made by Dr Robert Cialdini and outlined in his book Pre-Suasion.
Our brains are hard-wired to think that what we focus on is important. Intuitively we think that we decide what is important and then we focus on it. However, the exact opposite is true. We focus on something and that causes us to decide that that thing is important.
Going back to our Doctor analogy. If the patient had say, high blood pressure, a person that knew nothing about health and was trying to fix the problem might come up with all sorts of ideas. They might get lucky and come up with a good fix. Or they might come up with ideas that cause more damage. And maybe even death.
The Doctor, if he is worth his salt (pun intended), will know that there is an underlying cause. He'll know and recommend lifestyle change. Get more exercise. Eat less salt. More potassium-rich foods. Relieve stress. And, if the situation is critical he will prescribe a medicine to keep the patient safe while they are fixing the underlying causes. He may also ask the patient from certain activities if the patient is not well enough to do them. Or to do them in very limited amounts.
The doctor knows that high blood pressure is a symptom. He also knows that that symptom will lead to far greater damage if not addressed. He knows that there is a path to correcting the problem. And he knows that caution must be exercised until the underlying problems are eliminated and the patient has had time to heal.
Underlying Causes, Accommodations, and Taking a Step Back
The same scenario unfolds when a child is struggling in school. The obvious problem may be reading, or math, or writing. So we tend to focus on that. The problem. And because we are focussing on that then we naturally think it is the important thing. So we typically prescribe more reading.
But this might be like deciding that we need to lower our blood pressure and the way to do that would be to release some blood. That probably wouldn't be a good idea.
The reading difficulty is a symptom of something else. Namely, it is a micro-skill that simply needs to be developed further. This would be things like auditory processing or visual tracking. If these have not developed properly they will always cause a problem with reading.
Once that happens the student can then move on to the skills that eventually build up to reading skills. This would be things like phonics and letter recognition. Then build up to sight words. And on and on. Until the skill of reading has been mastered. Just like anything it's a process of building skills on top of skills. If you are trying to develop skills without the necessary prerequisites that will automatically lead to failure.
During this process an accomodation might be necessary. this is like the medicine the doctor would give. It's not a solution. It doesn't get to the underlying cause. But it might be necessary to help the process.
And, if reading is causing a lot of anxiety in the child, it might be important to refrain from reading for a while. Instead, work on other things that will eventually help reading.
The Process of Improvement
So the process of improvement in all academics is much the same when there is a learning challenge.
- There is an underlying cause that must be fixed.
- We might need an accommodation as a temporary tool.
- We may need to actually avoid academics until we are ready. Or do them on a very limited scale.
If the Doctor tells us we have high blood pressure and we need more exercise we don't go out and run a marathon. We do as much exercise as we can do in a healthy manner.
If our child has a reading difficulty we follow a similar path. We do as much reading as we can do without damaging the child's self-esteem. And that might be zero depending on the situation.
A Mother Knows Best
As parents, we need to act like Doctors when figuring out what it is that our child needs. Fortunately, with just a little bit of knowledge (which you just learned) we can combine that knowledge with the amazing skills of observing and intuition that all mothers have. A mother can then know what course of action is best for her child. There is not much more powerful than a mother's understanding of their child if it is backed with just a little knowledge.
A child that is struggling will need a combination of neurodevelopmental activities and academic activities. It's not one or the other. It's both. Deciding how much of each is where Mothers shine.
You know your child. Observe their level of anxiety. This is the biggest indicator of what you need to do. If there's anxiety then backing off of the academics some and increasing the neurodevelopmental exercises as well as confidence building is in order. If there is no anxiety then go full steam with academics and fit neurodevelopment in regularly to help them continue to improve their brain.
Get that mix right and your child will develop into their best self possible.
And don't worry, you don't have to get it perfect. Just getting close is good enough. You can adjust as you go. Trust your gut and your child will thrive.
Do You Need help with a Learning Difficulty?
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Understanding how to help someone with a learning difficulty starts with understanding which micro-skills are affected. When you learn which of the micro-skills is the problem, you will then be on your way to solving it.
You'll also learn how to:
- Build confidence
- Enhance Learning ability
- Eliminate avoidance
- Build grit
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