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By Brian Inglesby, M.A., L.E.P.
Below is some general information about kids' needs for information about LD at various ages. You are the best judge of what your child is ready to hear, and his preferred ways of getting the information.
Even young children worry about their performance in school. In the primary grades (K through 3), most kids begin to identify what they do well and what they have trouble with. Whether it's school work or athletic ability, kids begin the process of self-assessment and peer comparison. When you address your child's learning struggles, assure him that you and his teachers are working together to help him do well in school, that he doesn't have to do it all alone! If you feel it's appropriate, have him participate in informal meetings about learning challenges and goals with you and the teacher. If he's directly involved in the solution, it's more likely he'll be committed to improving.
By the upper elementary grades (4 and 5), kids should have a good sense of their academic strengths and weaknesses. If your child identifies himself as a "poor" or "slow" student, help him understand the difference between a specific learning difficulty and a general lack of intelligence or ability. By legal definition, kids with LD have average to above average intelligence, so they're smart enough to learn. Let him know that, for some academic subjects, he just needs some very specific strategies to help him learn. Be honest about his difficulties, but provide factual information about his intelligence and the things he does well. Help him understand that his learning problems are just one part of who he is. ("Yes, you have trouble reading; but you're an amazing soccer player, a really great older brother, and a champion at Pictionary®. Reading problems are just one part of you.") This will help him to stay motivated and develop resilience for the long haul.
Fourth- and fifth-graders are experts at the "yeah, but" statements that can undermine success: "Yeah, but I got an 'F' on this spelling test, so I'm never gonna go to fifth grade." If you hear something like that, refocus him on the smaller picture - "Seems like you had a really hard time with that spelling test. Let's see how we can make next week's test better." Talk about what he could do differently and identify ways you can help him. And remember, it's essential to follow through on any promises of assistance.
When you can talk to your child about his specific learning difficulties in a knowledgeable and caring manner, there's a greater likelihood that he'll maintain his self-esteem, develop effective coping strategies, and learn to appreciate the diversity of his talents, both in and out of school. Ultimately, self-awareness, self-advocacy, self-respect, and hard work will be the keys to his success.
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