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Talking with your teenager about learning difficulties

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By Brian Inglesby, M.A., L.E.P.

Sort through your feelings

By middle school, if your child has experienced years of academic struggles, she may have become very discouraged about school and have low self-esteem. When these feelings result in her losing motivation, becoming depressed, or acting out, it can be a challenge for you to remain hopeful and optimistic about her achievement at school.

When you watch your child struggle in school, it can bring back painful memories of your own negative school experiences. Or, if you were a confident, successful student, it may be hard to empathize with your child's learning challenges. You may also feel angry toward the school or individual teachers. Whatever difficult feelings you may experience, it's a good idea to get some support from other sympathetic adults - friends and family, a support group of parents of kids with learning problems, or a counselor - so that you can bring a positive outlook to the task of supporting your child.

Choose your words

By middle school and high school, your child will have been exposed to a variety of terms for her learning struggles - some of which are very negative and disrespectful. Continue to talk openly and honestly with your adolescent about her learning difficulties to counter the myths and misinformation she may hear at school, in the media, or elsewhere. Use facts about learning disabilities and the achievements of people with these disabilities, as evidence to counter her negative and self-defeating beliefs about her intelligence or ability. Many teenagers express a sense of relief and can cope better when parents and teachers offer them accurate information about their learning problems and realistic, step-by-step strategies for addressing them.

Use correct terms for support services

If your child receives special education assistance or has an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) or 504 plan, you and your teenager's teachers should use appropriate terms to describe the type of support she receives. In many schools, the special education classroom is routinely called a resource room, and the special education teacher is called a resource teacher. It may help break down the stigma of the "special education" label that some kids experience if you use the term interchangeably with "resource room" or "resource teacher." Likewise, a 504 plan may legitimately be called a "support plan." If you don't use the correct terms and your child hears them from other sources, you may unintentionally increase the stigma and shame she attaches to the labels.

Brian Inglesby, M.A., is a licensed educational psychologist who enjoys the challenges of working with students with a broad spectrum of learning issues. Of special interest to him is the opportunity to provide teachers, parents, and students with the ability to better understand and manage a student's unique learning profile.