Following my last post, it seems fitting to have one post for parents of youths with special needs, similar to the one on ADHD. A lot of times, parents who learn about their child being at risk of a specific learning difficulty will either be in denial or be sent into a panic; only a small fraction will calmly grab the proverbial bull by its horns.
This is where I hope to come in and offer some assurance from a therapist’s point-of-view. In my line of work, I’ve had many kids (of older age groups) with different learning difficulties, with dyslexia or ADHD being the most common. These conditions are rarely singular, however, and are in many cases accompanied by multiple co-morbidities like dysgraphia, dyspraxia, ASD, and/or GDD. In some scenarios, it is possible for a child to have three or more co-morbidities. Nevertheless, one must know that when panic is lain by the wayside, there is a solution out there for almost every issue, as can be testified by myself and parents whom I know of, who had dealt with these issues so well that the paths they had taken could tell inspiring stories in and of themselves.
I’ve therefore compiled three potential difficulties that may arise with learners, and the strategies which one can use to deal with them, although do note that these are best adapted to youths and young people of ages ten and above.
1) Your child demonstrates willful behaviour.
Examples include: refusal to do something, task avoidance or running away in the midst of the task itself.
The most common reaction to this would be to scold the child. While such a disciplinary action has its time and place and may in fact work here, repeated attempts at doing it may diminish its effectiveness in the long run. At best, the child turns a deaf ear to your words; in the worst case scenario, the child’s willfulness turns into outright defiance.
Like many behavioural anomalies, willfulness is a symptom or a sign; curbing it is only surface-level. Willfulness, in my experience, is often a child or youth’s way of saying that a task or an activity makes him/her feel uncomfortable, which often is due to a lack in expertise. This is most prevalent in youths with ADHD and ASD.
Possible solution: Encourage, encourage, encourage. Scold if you must, but make sure it’s a one-off thing (perhaps because you want to get their attention). More importantly, you’ll want to divert the bulk of your energy towards encouraging your child, since this has a longer-lasting effect. A simple statement of “I’m sure you did your best. Let’s take a short rest, play some Jenga, then let’s go back to it.” may go a long way towards instilling positive thinking in the child.
2) Your child constantly makes little mistakes that seemingly could have been avoided.
Examples include: spelling errors, omitting certain trigger words like ‘as’ or ‘and’, missing punctuations.
Often, the littlest mistakes that recur are ones that are associated with the child’s learning difficulty. The mistakes may, for instance, be associated with dyslexia, but are exacerbated by the child’s ADHD when the lack of attention to detail causes him/her to be especially careless when checking through completed work.
Possible solution: The worst thing that you can do at this point is to dampen the child’s confidence by making him/her feel stupid. If your child’s already receiving intervention, highlight and bring up these mistakes to the specialists; they should know what to do. If your child’s not receiving intervention, seek out the appropriate help channels beginning with a psychological assessment. If you’re a Singaporean, you can get one done at the Dyslexia Association of Singapore, KK Hospital or James Cook University (to name a few places).
3) Your child is perceived by others as being anti-social.
Examples include: explicit rudeness to others, shying away from crowds.
As with willful behaviour, these are often signs that your child is trying to communicate something. There is also the scenario that the child demonstrates anti-social behaviour without knowing that it is socially unacceptable. Many times this occurs with children on the autism spectrum.
Possible solution: If the child is trying to communicate something, try to find out what the message is and direct his/her attention to an appropriate behavioural response; for younger children, this may take some coaxing. If the behaviour is a result of the child not knowing how to respond in a way that is socially acceptable, perhaps due to a triggering incident, get them to calm down first, then explain the ramifications and appropriate ways in which they can respond.
One thing I tell my older students, especially those with ADHD, is this: respond, not react. Responding is to think something through and consider your options—this is something we want to inculcate in youths. Reacting often involves acting on a reflex without thoroughly mulling over consequences. It is imperative to encourage responsive behaviour rather than reactive behaviour, if we want to establish a society of thinking young people.
On a final note, as adults, we want to be models of positive behaviour for the younger generation. There is no better way to instill discipline and positive behaviour in them, than to start with ourselves first.
Behavioural anomalies are symptoms of an underlying problem
I cannot emphasise this enough: if your child demonstrates behavioural anomalies, it is a good thing. It affirms that there is a deeper issue at hand; it allows you to trace back to the underlying problem. The Chinese have an idiom—“以柔克刚”—which means “to use a soft approach to deal with a hard target”. There is a solution to every problem, and often this solution is less complex than the unreality that we like to scare ourselves into thinking. If your child has been demonstrating any of the above patterns, see if the aforementioned solutions work, and if you have any ideas of your own, do share them below.