Dr. Storek is a chartered psychologist who has worked closely with children and adolescents struggling with learning difficulties for many years.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Well-meaning relatives, friends, teachers and even partners offer unsolicited advice about your child.
It’s imperative to listen and consider feedback on your child’s behaviour and academic performance. It is also equally important to remember that no one knows your child better than you do. Listen to your ‘little voice’. If you suspect everything is not ‘just fine’, do not suffer in silence, seek professional advice. Prevention is vital, yet few you should know what to look out for.
My own personal frustration is the lack of knowledge out there. Dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, attention deficit, executive dysfunction are neurobiological conditions which cannot improve without appropriate diagnosis and treatment. However, there are many variations on a theme. As attitudes to mental health become more informed, parents and schools should ask questions, seek the root causes, and not just label a child with the first learning difficulty that springs to mind.
Not everyone who can’t spell or write a story has dyslexia. Not everyone who fidgets or can’t concentrate has got ADHD. By the same token, a quiet girl who never gets in trouble but keeps zoning out and struggles to learn, or a boy who reads a page over and over again without remembering what he just read, may be exhibiting signs of learning or behavioural difficulties. When a child can only concentrate when he is allowed to fidget or stand, or inhales books but does not get the bigger picture, you should ask the same question. What is going on here?
It’s also possible that a child may be exhibiting signs of an undiagnosed neurobiological condition outside of the classroom. They may struggle with friendships, experience bullying for being ‘weird’ or become increasingly aggressive. They may have trouble falling or staying asleep at night and struggle to wake up in the morning. Addiction to screens, games or computers may also signal trouble bubbling beneath the surface.
Very bright or gifted children may act out and get into trouble with peers. Excel in one subject but fail in others that don’t interest them. This results in them being regarded as lazy, exhausting or difficult.
Then there are ‘twice exceptional’ children, whose intelligence often borders on giftedness but must cope witht their own learning and behavioural difficulties. They are the hardest to spot but quick to flourish with appropriate support.
The trouble with labels
Often, children behave better away from home, and their academic performance can give out mixed signals. Parents feel betrayed when schools report sudden dips in grades or behavioural issues, despite attempts made to address concerns on earlier occasions. Its also imperative that parents understand that major life events, such as divorce, bereavement, and relocation, can have a significant impact on children, and they should look out for inconsistencies and behavioural differences which may be symptomatic of underlying anxieties.
Work on your instincts too. And be wary of your own labelling. While IQ is important in clinical and research settings, personality traits, such as conscientiousness, grit, resilience and openness are better and more reliable predictors of success than intelligence alone. If there is a genuine concern, don’t waste time in the hope that things will get better, it will need addressing.
So do the research, be thorough, talk to experts, gather data and seek help. Parenting is the hardest job but it doesn’t have to be a lonely, uphill struggle. Each child is unique and there really is no cookie-cutter path to follow. Be smart and seek the support you need to give your child the best shot at life.