Learning to drive is harder for Shea Kelly than for others her age. “I was doing it all wrong. I was supposed to be parking, and I was putting it in drive,” she says.
She gets confused between the ‘D’ for ‘Drive’ and the ‘P’ for ‘Park’ because Shea has dyslexia.
“In sixth grade she was at a third grade reading level,” explains her mother, Debra Kelly.
Reading, writing and spelling are all very hard for Shea, but she says the hardest part of having a learning disability is dealing with the things other people say. “They would just be like, oh you’re stupid, you’re dyslexic, you don’t know how to read,” she explains.
Experts worry that disabled kids will start to believe what they hear. “And when you’re seven years old and you start believing that about yourself and there’s nobody out there to explain it to you or fight for you, life looks pretty dismal,” explains Susan Barton, an educational consultant and dyslexia expert.
Emotional damage can start early: A drop in self-confidence, self-esteem, even a belief that he or she is stupid. Explain to your LD child that he or she was born with a different kind of brain. Reading may be hard, but it will get easier, and meanwhile there will be other things that he or she can do very well.
“Find the child’s islands of strength, and make that just as important as what you are focusing on improving,” Barton says.
Shea is good at cheerleading. Through that sport, and through improvements in reading, her self-esteem is coming back. “She still has problems,” Kelly says, “but she’s getting confidence now.”
Learning disabilities are often difficult to recognize because children often exhibit a variety of different symptoms. The primary characteristic of a disability is a significant difference between a child’s achievement in some areas and his overall intelligence. The Child Development Institute lists the following symptoms that are common among children with learning disabilities:
- poor performance on group tests
- difficulty discriminating size, shape or color
- difficulty with temporal (time) concepts
- distorted concept of body image
- reversals in writing and reading
- general awkwardness
- poor visual-motor coordination
- slowness in completing work
- poor organizational skills
- easily confused by instructions
- difficulty with abstract reasoning and/or problem solving
- disorganized thinking
- obsession with one topic or idea
- poor short-term or long-term memory
- impulsive behavior; lack of reflective thought prior to action
- excessive movement during sleep
- poor peer relationships
- overly excitable during group play
- poor social judgment
It is important to remember that not every child or teen will exhibit all of the symptoms of a learning disability. Some symptoms may be more common than others, and young people will have varying degrees of the symptoms.
If you suspect that your child has a learning disability, you should contact his school to arrange for testing and evaluation. Federal law requires that public schools accommodate and provide special services for children with learning disabilities.
- Child Development Institute
- National Center for Learning Disabilities
- National Institute of Mental Health
- U.S. Department of Education
About the Program
More than 2.8 million school-aged children receive special education services as students with learning disabilities. The U.S. Department of Education estimates that more than one in six children (17.5%) will encounter a problem learning to read during the first three years of school. Lots of our children say the worst part of having a learning disability is not the challenge of reading and writing … instead, it’s hearing other people say you’re stupid and believing them. What can parents do to help boost confidence, even as struggles continue?