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Talking with your teenager about learning difficulties

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

High school

High school-age kids often ignore or even deny the fact they have learning difficulties. This stage of rebelliousness can be the perfect opportunity for your child to build her self-advocacy skills and assert greater control over her life. Possessing knowledge about oneself and the skills to express that knowledge to others is a real asset. Help her understand that she can influence how others treat her when she presents her educational strengths and needs in a respectful and knowledgeable manner. She should also be aware that, if she has an IEP or specific accommodations for learning, federal disability law is also on her side-and will be throughout her life.

Most teachers are open to accommodating the various learning needs of their students if they only know what will help. For example, if her teacher assigns 40 pages of reading along with 20 comprehension questions to be turned in the next day, your teenager has a couple of choices. She can become overwhelmed or angry, or simply ignore the homework assignment and receive a failing grade. Or she can (take three deep breaths and) think of how best to explain her learning difficulty to her teacher, then ask for either a reduction in the amount of homework, or extended time to complete the assignment. She should talk with her teacher either before or after class so that the teacher can focus on what she's saying. With practice, such self-advocacy skills will become more routine. It may never be "easy" for some kids, but it's important to have a goal of becoming vocal and vigilant about their learning needs.

Keep up the good work

By her second or third year of high school, your child should have some understanding of how her strengths, talents, and learning or attention problems may affect her education or career goals. If you've been able to help her develop a realistic picture of her strengths and weaknesses; to use problem-solving approaches that make use of her strengths to overcome weaknesses; to identify and use resources and help; and to approach big goals as a series of small steps; she'll be able to help chart her course into young adulthood.

To a great extent, development of all of these skills relies on ongoing communication between your teenager and the various helpful adults in her life. It's a lot of work, and you may not get much thanks along the way. But, in the end, your child may show her gratitude when you least expect it. She may credit you as the reason for her graduation from high school or tell you what a great role model you were for raising her own kids. Accolades or not, you'll be helping her do her best.

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.