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By Barbara Keogh, Ph.D.
Like all children, a child with LD can have a temperament that is easy, difficult, or slow to warm up. The important thing is to sort out which behaviors are related to temperament and which behaviors are indications of a learning disability or attention problem. Because the reasons for each child's behavior may be different — LD, AD/HD, or temperament — the response to each child's behavior must be different. When a problem with learning is caused by a learning disability such as dyslexia, it requires specialized and intense teaching strategies over time. However, many achievement and adjustment problems in school are the result of a poor fit between a child's temperament and his school situation, and such problems often respond to relatively simple changes in the instructional program and classroom. For example, a slow-to-warm-up child may need extra time and help when beginning a new project. A high-activity child may need a regular routine to help him cool down after recess or lunch break.
Possible confusion can occur when trying to figure out whether problem behavior is a result of temperament or of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD). Characteristic behaviors in AD/HD are high activity, impulsiveness, and distractibility, the same behaviors which can be expressions of temperament. Clearly there can be overlaps between behaviors that reflect a child's temperament and behaviors resulting from AD/HD. If these behaviors are excessive and extreme and relatively unaffected by changes in the environment, then they are likely not temperament-based and may, therefore, need specific, more in-depth interventions. However, not all children with difficult temperaments have AD/HD, and there are differences in temperament among children with AD/HD. Because the implications for treatment differ it is important to recognize the underlying basis of the behavior.
As a parent you are the person who knows your child best. There are a number of ways you can help your child get along in school. Recognizing and helping your child understand his own temperament is a place to start. Over the years you have learned how your child responds to challenges, to new experiences, to routines, and to everyday interactions with others. You have also learned ways to respond to his individual behavioral style. Self-awareness is a first step toward modifying behavior, so use your experience to talk with your child about his temperament in the context of school. Help him see how the expectations for his behavior at school and home are alike and how they are different. Help him understand how his own temperament affects his feelings and behavior, as well as the impact this has on others.
Talk with your intense, active, and distractible child about the situations in school that in the past have led to problems. Did your high-activity child often get into shoving matches with other boys when standing in line to go to recess? Did he have problems settling down to work first thing in the morning or after coming in from the playground? Discuss other ways he could handle stressful or challenging situations. Identifying together when and where problems occur can help your child anticipate and avoid confrontations.
The first weeks of school can be especially stressful for slow-to-warm-up children as they are faced with new people and new demands. You can help your child by making him familiar with the routines and expectations of classroom life. If possible, go with your child to visit the school before the first day in order to meet the teacher and see the classroom. It may help him or her to meet the teacher, see the room, visit the cafeteria, know how to find the restrooms, in other words, to get comfortable in this new situation. Check to see if your child has a friend who will be in the same class. Having a buddy has been shown to be very helpful when children start a new school or class.
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