Disproving Learning Difficulties – How to Lift the Label

I recently met a child who was behind in his academic learning somewhat. She would become frustrated in school, often with the other children and had been aggressive more than once towards her peers.

As a result of this, the SENCO at school had suggested that perhaps the child had ADHD. The family were referred to CAMHS who had made a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder but had said they were not able to provide any support.

Eventually the family ended up coming to me. When I met the little girl the father reported that she liked to know about everything and that she seemed to ask really mature, deep questions.

I had a talk with the child who showed no signs of being at all anxious. In fact she seemed very confident and capable. I began to wonder if this child had been prematurely labelled and if in fact she might be rather talented instead of having a difficulty. Perhaps in the right environment we might consider her to be a genius instead of someone who was challenged.

My suspicion is that there are many children who need a different way of learning and should they gain access to it, they wouldn’t just catch up, they’d be superstars. Unfortunately, because their way of learning doesn’t ‘fit’ with the conventional model, they rebel and end up being perceived as someone who is struggling. Some may end up with a label of learning difficulties.

With this child, my overall sense was that she processed information very fast and so she constantly needed to be entertained with new information. If her teacher couldn’t meet that need she became distracted and then disruptive. However, there are many contexts where that ability to process information could be of enormous benefit. For example, if she took a particular interest in maths and was able to learn maths skills in a way that would fit her learning style, she could become a human calculator capable of taking in complex sum after complex sum and coming up with the solutions.

Sometimes when we start to consider how we can utilise a behaviour or character trait that we had previously thought of as problematic we get to discover that there is a very powerful skill that can be nurtured and developed.

Just like a superhero, they will at first need some help in taming their power! Think of the X-men films where the children in the school up-root trees and set fire to things by accident because they do not yet know how to manage their skills. This is not too dissimilar, except to help them use their skills in the right context (and not at other times) you are going to heave to help them to shape their behaviour. This is important to do from a social aspect too. Often children with different ways of learning will be seen as the difficult child in class and it can hinder their ability to make friends, especially if they’ve been disruptive in the past.

Shape their behaviour by drawing their attention towards what they are doing that is correct. If you have a hyper child who is calm for 30 seconds, let them know that they’re doing a great job of being calm – even if you know it will only last for 5 seconds more! That way they start to be references for what doing the right thing looks like and not just what it is that you want them to avoid.


By Gemma Bailey


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