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5 Ways to Help Your Special Needs Child Overcome Learning Fears

09/25/2015 12:14 EDT | Updated 09/25/2016 05:12 EDT
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portrait of young boy sitting alone in classroom

My son is one of those kids that doesn't like learning in school. Yes, I know. No kids like learning over playing, but my kid REALLY does not like to learn.

He told me this morning over breakfast that his favorite two subjects are art and recess. His anxiety is way up about reading and math, and he wanted to stay home from school the other day. He is very smart, and when challenged in a fun way or in a way that engages him one-on-one, he will sit and learn. But it's hard to find that combination when teaching him in a classroom with other children.

Does this sound familiar to any of you out there, with or without special needs kids? While I want to encourage his athleticism, his love of art and music, I also want to help him learn reading and math in a group environment. This is something very difficult to do, but they are vital skills for all kids to possess. So, I wondered, how can I do that? Late one evening, when the house was quiet, I was able to finally think. Here are the results of that personal strategy session.

1) Figure out what your child's dominant issue with learning is.

Our kids have a lot of them, from expressive and receptive language delays, to sensory issues and other discomforts, but there is a probably a dominant one. In my son's case, it is the fact that it takes longer for him to absorb incoming information, receptive language is slower than expressive. And when he is lost, he tunes you out. Hence, frustration for my son and his teacher.

2) Speak to the teacher and support staff at their school about the problem.

I emailed my son's teacher and will be speaking to his occupational therapist just in case there are sensory issues involved as well. This also shows them how you want to work with them to fix the problem. Remember, you are all on the same team -- Team _____ (insert child's name).

3) Think of how best they learn at home and, if the teacher is on board, see if these suggestions can somehow be incorporated into the curriculum.

Alternately, ask the teacher what system she uses, and see if you could practice the same system with your child at home during homework or, if there is no homework, doing similar types of exercises to practice.

4) Depending on what your child understands, explain that we all need to learn the basics of reading, writing and math to get on in the world and become independent.

This works really well with my son, as he constantly talks about what he will be when he grows up -- a doctor, a writer, or, my favorite, a car driver! You need to learn to read, write and do math first, I tell him.

5) If you're able to do it, consider outside tutoring at a learning centre or at home.

The advantages of this are that you can experiment with different learning styles at home, and it can help a child grow more confident about his abilities one-on-one. This can help make focusing in the classroom a little easier.

Regardless of how your child does at school, you also need to remember to encourage their efforts at trying. My son is slowly learning to read with me, at his tutor's and also at school, and I encourage each effort and step forward he takes. I tell him at home how proud I am of him, and I tell him that the teacher is also proud of him when he tries his hardest. Good luck with these techniques. As your child gets more confident, their learning skills will bloom.

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