Special Education: A Parent’s Guide for Children’s Success

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Keep the focus. The school system is dealing with a large number of children; you are only concerned with your child. Help the meeting stay focused on your child. Stay calm, collected and positive. Go into the meeting assuming that everyone wants to help. If you say something you regret, simply apologize and try to get back on track. It is better to recognize that the school situation for your child will probably never be perfect.

Too many regulations and limited funding mean that the services and accommodations your child receives may not be exactly what you envision for them, and this will probably cause you frustration, anger and stress. Try to recognize that the school will be only one part of the solution for your child and leave some of the stress behind.

Your attitude of support, encouragement and optimism will have the most lasting impact on your child. Everyone—learning disability or not—has their own unique learning style. Some people learn best by seeing or reading, others by listening, and still others by doing. You can help a child with a learning disability by identifying their primary learning style.

Is your child a visual learner, an auditory learner, or a kinesthetic learner?

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The following lists will help you determine what type of learner your child is. Success means different things to different people, but your hopes and dreams for your child probably extend beyond good report cards. By focusing on these broad skills, you can help give your child a huge leg up in life. For children with learning disabilities, self-awareness knowledge about strengths, weaknesses, and special talents and self-confidence are very important. Struggles in the classroom can cause children to doubt their abilities and question their strengths. A proactive person is able to make decisions and take action to resolve problems or achieve goals.

For people with learning disabilities, being proactive also involves self-advocacy for example, asking for a seat at the front of the classroom and the willingness to take responsibility for choices. Children or adults with learning disabilities may need to work harder and longer because of their disability.

The ability to set realistic and attainable goals is a vital skill for life success. It also involves the flexibility to adapt and adjust goals according to changing circumstances, limitations, or challenges. Strong support systems are key for people with learning disabilities. Successful people are able to ask for help when they need it and reach out to others for support. If children with learning disabilities learn how to regulate stress and calm themselves , they will be much better equipped to overcome challenges.

Your child may behave very differently than you do when they are under stress. But some people—children included—shut down, space out, and withdraw when stressed.

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If children with learning disabilities are eating right and getting enough sleep and exercise, they will be better able to focus, concentrate, and work hard. Regular physical activity makes a huge difference in mood, energy, and mental clarity. Encourage your learning disabled child to get outside, move, and play. Rather than tiring out your child and taking away from schoolwork, regular exercise will actually help them stay alert and attentive throughout the day. Exercise is also a great antidote to stress and frustration. Sleep — Learning disability or not, your child is going to have trouble learning if they are not well rested.

Kids need more sleep than adults do.

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You can help make sure your child is getting the sleep they need by enforcing a set bedtime. The type of light emitted by electronic screens computers, televisions, iPods and iPads, portable video players, etc. So you can also help by powering off all electronics at least an hour or two before lights out. A diet full of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean protein will help boost mental focus. This will help keep their energy levels stable. In addition to healthy physical habits, you can also encourage children to have healthy emotional habits.

Like you, they may be frustrated by the challenges presented by their learning disability. Try to give them outlets for expressing their anger, frustration, or feelings of discouragement. Listen when they want to talk and create an environment open to expression. Doing so will help them connect with their feelings and, eventually, learn how to calm themselves and regulate their emotions.

Sometimes the hardest part of parenting is remembering to take care of you. Your spouse, friends, and family members can be helpful teammates if you can find a way to include them and learn to ask for help when you need it. Keep the lines of communication open with your spouse, family, and friends. Ask for help when you need it. Join a learning disorder support group. Enlist teachers, therapists, and tutors whenever possible to share some responsibility for day-to-day academic responsibilities.

Learn how to manage stress in your own life. Make daily time for yourself to relax and decompress. Within the family, siblings may feel that their brother or sister with a learning disability is getting more attention, less discipline and preferential treatment. Even if your other children understand that the learning disability creates special challenges, they can easily feel jealous or neglected.

Parents can help curb these feelings by reassuring all of their children that they are loved, providing homework help, and by including family members in any special routines for the child with a learning disability. Parent Tips — The best ways to teach a child with a learning disability. Additionally, the authors would like to thank the Albert and Elaine Borchard Foundation for funding the research that led to the identification of the success attributes. We hope that this guide will help parents as they work with their children to reach their full potential and become competent, content, and independent adults who live satisfying lives.

But look at me now. I didn't do too bad, did I? This comment was made by Vanessa, a year-old family therapist with a learning disability. As an adult, Vanessa has a satisfying career, enjoys a network of caring friends, and is proud of her accomplishments. One might say that Vanessa is "successful. As a result of her learning disability, the road to adulthood was paved with years of academic difficulties, problems with social relations, and low self-esteem.

Vanessa's parents also struggled with her learning disability ever since she was first diagnosed in the second grade. They were devastated to discover that their daughter might encounter considerable difficulties learning to read and write, and develop the social and emotional problems often associated with learning disabilities in childhood and adolescence. They navigated through the pain of Vanessa's school failure, the search for the right professionals to conduct assessments and provide instructional and psychological support, endless school meetings to clarify services, and the most difficult task of all -- helping Vanessa grow up with a positive self-image in spite of her learning disability.

In this process, like the millions of other parents raising children with learning disabilities, Vanessa's parents became acutely aware that her learning disability would not go away, but was a life-long condition that would continue to affect many spheres of her life. Even as an adult, Vanessa faces challenges in reading and writing, maintaining friendships, and, at times, feeling good about herself.

Yet despite these struggles, she has managed to achieve outward success and lives a personally satisfying and rewarding life. How did this happen? Why do some people with learning disabilities succeed like Vanessa, while others find little reward personally, socially, or financially? Why do some individuals find success, while it eludes others?

The purpose of this guide is to provide answers to these and related questions for parents raising children with learning disabilities. The information presented here is based upon a year study tracing the lives of individuals with learning disabilities from childhood into adulthood in an attempt to identify individual characteristics and life experiences that lead to successful life outcomes.

The guide also draws upon the work of other researchers 1 who have identified factors that contribute to success. We hope that the following pages will help parents as they work with their children to reach their full potential and become competent, content, and independent adults who live satisfying lives. But first, it is important to define what we mean by "success. Success is not easy to define.

It means different things to different people. In addition, it may mean something different at different times in a person's life. However, although views of success may differ, there appear to be a number of things that most people include when they think of success. These include good friends, positive family relations, being loved, self-approval, job satisfaction, physical and mental health, financial comfort, spiritual contentment, and an overall sense of meaning in one's life. Of course, different individuals may place lesser or greater emphasis on these various components of success.

Children with learning disabilities grow up to be adults with learning disabilities. That is, many of the difficulties experienced in childhood continue into and through adulthood.

Special Education: A Parent’s Guide for Children’s Success

Nevertheless, some individuals with learning disabilities follow a life path that leads them to success, becoming productive members of society and living satisfying and rewarding lives. Others find little more than continued "failure," and are barely able to "keep their heads above water" emotionally, socially, or financially. Why, despite similar backgrounds and learning problems, does one individual end up with a rewarding career, long-term friendships, and financial stability, yet another, a life of loneliness, isolation, and financial stress?

Learning disabilities research has provided some answers to this question. Our research at the Frostig Center, 2 as well as several major studies by others, 3 has focused on identifying which factors contribute to success for individuals with learning disabilities. Results from these projects point to the importance of a set of personal characteristics, attitudes, and behaviors that can help lead persons with learning disabilities to successful life outcomes. By tracing the lives of individuals with learning disabilities throughout the lifespan, these studies have revealed a number of "success attributes" that guide an individual to either positive or negative adult outcomes.

Our year study, in particular, highlighted the importance of six success attributes for individuals with learning disabilities. These success attributes included: self-awareness, proactivity, perseverance, goal-setting, the presence and use of effective support systems, and emotional coping strategies. It is important to emphasize that not every successful individual possesses each of these attributes, and some attributes may be present to a greater or lesser degree. Similarly, persons who might be considered "unsuccessful" may nevertheless possess some of the success attributes, again, to a lesser or greater degree.

What it does mean is that successful persons with learning disabilities are much more likely to have these characteristics than unsuccessful individuals. It is our hope that, by helping parents understand these success attributes, they will be better prepared to work with and guide their children toward satisfying and rewarding lives. It is also important to keep in mind that having these attributes does not guarantee success.

Rather, it increases the chances of achieving a fulfilling and successful life. It is interesting to note that our research indicates that these characteristics may have a greater influence on success than even such factors as academic achievement, gender, socio-economic status, ethnicity, and even intelligence quotient IQ.


Each of the success attributes is discussed in the following pages. Quotes from successful adults with learning disabilities are used to help explain each attribute from the viewpoint of individuals who live with learning disabilities. I have never not had dyslexia, so it always has, and always will, affect my life.

I don't know what it's like not to have dyslexia. I don't know that I want to do life over again without it. It's part of me. It will hinder me, as it has, and it will push me into places where I never would have gone. They are open and specific about their difficulties and understand how they affect their lives.

Most important, these individuals have the ability to compartmentalize their disability. That is, they are able to see their learning difficulties as only one aspect of themselves. Although they are well aware of their learning limitations, they are not overly defined by them.

As one successful individual states:.

And yeah, there are things that I am good at and things that I am not so good at. Some of my limitations are reading and writing. Successful individuals with learning disabilities recognize their talents along with accepting their limitations. This idea is expressed particularly well by one adult who stresses, "We all learn differently; we all have strengths and weaknesses.

Some people are not conscious at all. In addition to recognizing their strengths, weaknesses, and special talents, successful adults with learning disabilities are also able to find jobs that provide the best fit or "match" with their abilities. For example, an individual with severe reading problems, but exceptional skills in woodworking might find a successful career in cabinet making rather than as a copy editor.

A person with math deficits, but excellent writing abilities might shy away from a career in accounting, yet find success in journalism. And, the individual with poor reading and writing, but strong oral language skills might pursue sales and avoid jobs requiring substantial written language abilities.

Unsuccessful people with learning disabilities, on the other hand, often fail to recognize both their strengths and limitations, accept their difficulties, compartmentalize their learning disability, and find employment that provides the best fit for their abilities. Successful adults with learning disabilities are generally actively engaged in the world around them -- politically, economically, and socially.

They participate in community activities and take an active role in their families, neighborhoods, and friendship groups. Additionally, they often step into leadership roles at work, in the community, and in social and family settings. Not surprisingly, therefore, successful persons with learning disabilities also believe that they have the power to control their own destiny and affect the outcome of their lives.

In talking about how he took charge of his college experience, one successful adult remarks:. The way I got through college was I looked at the classes I was interested in and I was over at the professors' office times telling them I'm going to need extra time; give me the ability to take the written exam orally. There are a bunch of exceptions and I just listed them out for these people. This quote demonstrates the kind of creative self-advocacy and initiative we frequently observed in successful adults. In contrast, unsuccessful individuals tend merely to respond to events and are passive.

Successful persons with learning disabilities also show the ability to make decisions and act upon those decisions. Additionally, they assume responsibility for their actions and resulting outcomes. In talking about how his shyness interfered with trying to meet a girl, one successful adult shares:. What are you going to do? How are you going to overcome that situation?

When things don't work out, successful individuals generally take responsibility for the outcome and do not blame others. Commenting on his career, the same individual expresses commitment to action, "Anything I'm going to do, I'm going to give it my all. Otherwise I'm not going to touch it. A willingness to consult with others while making decisions is also characteristic of successful people with learning disabilities.

In that connection, they also appear to be flexible in considering and weighing options. For instance, when faced with a career-ending knee surgery, one successful athlete was able to smoothly shift her career focus to a pottery business. Another individual whose learning disability prevented him from passing required college courses, researched and transferred to a university that did not require those courses for graduation.

In contrast, unsuccessful individuals often do not recognize that situations can be altered, or that multiple solutions may exist. Instead, they are either passive, making no decision, or conversely, stick rigidly to a simplistic, rule-based decision even if it ultimately fails.

Successful individuals, on the other hand, take responsibility for both the positive and negative outcomes of their decisions and actions. For example, one former student commenting on his success stated:. I mean stuff that I haven't actively gone and taken care of are the only things that I'm not as satisfied with. The stuff that I've gone and taken care of, I'm very happy with. Many persons with learning disabilities show great perseverance and keep pursuing their chosen path despite difficulties. They often describe themselves in such terms as "I am not a quitter," and "I never give up.

Although they rarely give up on a general goal, depending on the situation, they may change the way they go about achieving it, thereby improving their chances for success. In other words, after repeated failure, these individuals are able to see and pursue alternative strategies for reaching their goal, or know when the goal itself might have to be modified.

Often they try several strategies until they find one that works. One successful adult states, "Once I have a failure, I can't just dwell on that failure and restrict myself for the rest of my life. I'll do something else. Successful persons with learning disabilities appear to learn from their hardships making statements such as "I have failed many times, but I am not a failure. I have learned to succeed from my failures. In comparison, unsuccessful individuals with learning disabilities are often overwhelmed by adversity, back away from challenges, and give up much more easily and quickly than successful peers.

Successful individuals set goals that are specific, yet flexible so that they can be changed to adjust to specific circumstances and situations. These goals cover a number of areas including education, employment, family, spiritual and personal development. In addition, the goals of successful persons with learning disabilities include a strategy to reach their goals.

That is, they have an understanding of the step-by-step process for obtaining goals. One successful adult pursuing a career in the entertainment field states:. That's how I'm looking at it. As I said, the area I really want to move into is, I want to direct. I'm very realistic in terms of what I know I can do, what I possibly can do, and what I cannot do. That's why I knew right off the bat that I was not going to be a doctor. Many successful people with learning disabilities set at least tentative goals in adolescence, which provide direction and meaning to their lives.

A successful adult trained as a social worker says:. I was given the opportunity to babysit and in the twelfth grade I worked at a day camp. I just discovered that I was interested in children and that this may turn out to be a profession. So there was kind of a break and something to shoot for; some sort of self-direction. While successful individuals with learning disabilities have concrete, realistic, and attainable goals, unsuccessful individuals often have vague, unrealistic, or grandiose goals that are not in line with their strengths, weaknesses, or special abilities.

For example, one individual having extreme problems with eye-hand coordination and spatial relations aspired to be an airline pilot, while another with severe reading, writing, and organization difficulties wanted to become an executive secretary. Not surprisingly, both were unsuccessful at their attempts to reach these goals and experienced frustration and stress as a result.

Both successful and unsuccessful individuals with learning disabilities receive some form of support and assistance from others over the course of their lives. Guidance, support, and encouragement come from family members, friends, mentors, teachers, therapists, and co-workers. However, as successful individuals move into adulthood, they attempt to reduce their dependence on others. In fact, in many instances they are able to switch roles with people who had provided them with support in the past, finding themselves assisting and encouraging those who once helped them.

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In contrast, unsuccessful persons with learning disabilities frequently are unable to "cut the cord" as they transition into adulthood and end up remaining highly dependent on others. The people who have provided support to successful individuals with learning disabilities generally held clear and realistic expectations regarding life goals and outcomes, guiding them to identify and achieve realistic goals without being harsh or critical. They were also able to help them change directions in attempting to achieve goals, or modify the goals, if necessary.

They were consistent and steadfast in their functioning as sounding boards for reality testing. A successful adult with learning disabilities describes the support from a workplace mentor:. I was working at this place and going nowhere. Probably getting canned and I only had a couple of more months of work and he was able to take me out of the division I was in and put me back working on minicomputers. That made me very happy. He taught me a new programming language to work in and really helped me out.

He's one of the reasons I own this place. Successful individuals with learning disabilities also actively seek the support of others. They don't simply wait for someone to come to their aid when they need assistance. Rather, they take the initiative to get help. Furthermore, they are willing to accept help when it is offered. By contrast, unsuccessful individuals are not as likely to actively seek support or accept it when offered.

All people with learning disabilities experience stress in their lives as a result of living with learning problems. Such stress can be experienced in a variety of settings -- school, work, home, and social life. In some cases, the stress can be so significant that it leads to psychological difficulties such as anxiety and depression. However, although all persons with learning disabilities may experience disability-related stress, successful individuals appear to have developed effective means of reducing and coping with stress, frustration, and the emotional aspects of their learning disabilities.

In particular, there appear to be three components of successful emotional coping:. For example, a successful adult with learning disabilities in our study manages her anxiety attacks by recognizing that reading aloud in a group triggers anxiety, physical symptoms such as rapid breathing are signs of stress, and slow deep breathing reduces her anxiety. Successful individuals have developed strategies for reducing stress and avoiding resulting psychological difficulties.

Such strategies include seeking counseling, asking others to do unmanageable tasks on the job, changing activities periodically so stress does not build up, expressing feelings, asserting oneself, utilizing peer support and encouragement, learning to ask for help, planning ahead for difficult situations, keeping away from negative or critical persons, obtaining medication if necessary, working out differences with friends and family, and sharing with sympathetic family members.

Whereas recognizing triggers and using coping strategies helps successful individuals with learning disabilities cope, unsuccessful persons with learning disabilities report being blindsided by events that cause stress. When overly stressed or emotionally wrought, they have great difficulty thinking of potential resources -- both internal and external -- to help them reduce stress and regain stability. Research has shown that self-awareness, proactivity, perseverance, goal-setting, the presence and use of effective support systems, and emotional coping strategies help lead persons with learning disabilities to success.

However, to date no research tells us exactly how to teach these attributes. Yet, research does suggest a number of key components and areas that need to be considered in fostering success attributes in children with learning disabilities. The following section discusses these components and areas, and offers recommendations for how to develop success attributes.

In reading the following pages, please keep in mind that the specific approach to developing success attributes is dependent upon the age, abilities, experience, interests, and living environment of a given child. Before reading the following recommendations for how to develop the success attributes, you may want to take a moment and think about whether your child "possesses" them.

Although there are no specific tests or scientific procedures for determining the presence of the attributes in your child, your response to the statements in the boxes below may give a general indication.

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You may also want to consider information from other people who know your child teachers, family members, counselors, etc. Research suggests that self-awareness is made up of a number of components.

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