By Jodie Dawson, Psy.D.
While parents invite their kids to share their experiences of having a learning difference, they don't always believe that they're getting the "full story" from their kids.
In the spring of 2000, we set out to capture the experiences of elementary school kids who are struggling in school. We talked to kids with learning disabilities (LD) about their day-to-day lives, hopes, dreams, and fears. Each child interviewed expressed a unique experience with school and life, but some common themes emerged.
If you had to guess what the number one thing kids daydream about, what would you say? Have lots of friends? Look good? The truth is that kids do have an interest in learning and being smart. They want self-satisfaction and recognition from parents and teachers that they are indeed smart. So, it's no wonder that when kids don't do well in school, even when given extra help, they feel dumb. They get embarrassed, frustrated, laughed at, and angry with themselves for not succeeding. "I get disappointed in myself and it makes me not want to go back to school."
It's very clear to kids when they're not told the whole story about their learning struggles. They don't feel included in conversations about their learning difficulties, both at home and school. In a way, they feel like things are being done "to" them and not "with" them. They get pulled out of classes, taken out of familiar schools, and spend extra time on schoolwork instead of participating in fun activities like their siblings and peers.
Once a child is identified with a learning disability (LD), the changes that occur at home and school seem endless. One overarching theme expressed by kids was that they truly didn't understand what was happening to them. "One day, my mom told me that I had to go to another school. I was really mad because I had to leave my friends and all the stuff that I knew. I still don't know why she made me go."
Kids in general feel alone in their experiences, but kids who are struggling to learn feel even more isolated. They feel like no one understands them. Struggling in school is definitely not a topic they would bring up with other people, especially their friends, for fear of being made fun of them. "It would feel good to talk to my family and friends about my learning because then I wouldn't feel out of place anymore. But I know I can't."
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