Parents—What Can You Do?
“NOTHING works!” “He just doesn’t get it!” So the frustrated parent says. How can you get through to your learning-disabled child? And what can you do about hyperactivity if that is his problem?
A child with a learning problem needs what all other children need—to be loved, understood and accepted by his parents. But he may require extra time and attention. He may sense that there is “something wrong” with him. He needs to be reassured over and over again that he is intelligent, not mentally retarded. He just needs more time to learn than others do.
In many localities, specialized educational programs are available. It takes special teaching skills to teach a child that does not learn in a normal way. Often this is difficult for parents; emotions get in the way. In some areas there are organizations dedicated to helping the parents of such children.
Besides this, there is much that you, the parent, can do to improve the home situation. To the extent that you make the home environment one that is orderly, filled with love and firmness for what’s right, your child will be secure and happy. At the same time, keep in mind that your child’s behavior problems may be a direct result of his learning disability; he may be acting out his frustrations. A few suggestions are offered here to help control not cure your learning-disabled child.
If the child has auditory perceptual problems, first be sure that when speaking to him you have his attention. Then speak slowly, not giving too many instructions at one time. Ask him to repeat what you said. Remember, he doesn’t always “hear” you. In fact, such children frequently mishear sounds: “Oh, I thought you said horse,” but actually the word was “house.” You might also try writing down instructions and tucking them inside his pocket. He may have to walk around with a pocketful of instructions, but at least he will remember what to do!
Disciplining a child with a learning disability who is perhaps hyperactive is by no means easy. Recalls Marty’s mother: “I decided Marty couldn’t learn right from wrong. I began excusing his behavior. But at the end of that year I had worse problems on my hands, and he had no respect for me.”
So don’t give up! As Proverbs 29:15 wisely recommends: “The rod and reproof are what give wisdom; but a boy let on the loose will be causing his mother shame.” But how can you get through to such a child?
“When it comes to behavior, I strive to know my daughter well enough to distinguish between can’t and won’t reactions,” says Sandra, whose daughter has a learning disability. “Then I know if I need to exercise understanding or firmness in handling the problem.”
Having such insight will demonstrate to the child your fairness and resoluteness for what’s right. This can be extremely effective in getting through to him.
What about punishment? A punishment of long duration, such as no television for a month, is usually ineffective. Why? Because by the middle of the month he will not remember what the punishment was for. But warning him that a trip to the zoo (or something else he is looking forward to) will be canceled if he continues to misbehave is usually more effective. Of course, he must know that you mean what you say. You must be consistent. “Just let your word Yes mean Yes, your No, No,” the Bible recommends. (Matthew 5:37) Does it really work?
Here’s what Marty’s mother reported: “Whenever he misbehaved, he was made to sit in the same isolated spot for four minutes. If he did not carry out directions in a reasonable amount of time, if he grabbed toys away from others or if he had a temper tantrum, out to the spot he went. This was extremely effective.”
Something else is very important: routine and organization. They provide the needed structure for these children. Routine and organization lessen confusion. A regular time for meals, homework, getting up and going to bed, and so forth, will help them to form good habits. And once you have established a schedule, try to stick to it.
A word about your child’s emotional well-being. As noted in the previous article, the learning-disabled child often is given to more frustration and disappointment than are other children. What can you do? Children learn much by example. So if your child sees that you can laugh at your own mistakes, it can help him to do the same with his. Getting him to verbalize his feelings can also help. If you share your feelings with him, it will make it easier for him to share his feelings with you.
What About Controlling Hyperactivity?
While not all youngsters with a learning disability are hyperactive, a significantly high percentage are. This, of course, compounds an already difficult situation. As with learning disability, hyperactivity can range from mild to severe. At times restlessness can be controlled by a change of pace, simply moving to a different activity. Beyond this, how can hyperactivity best be controlled?
Drug Management: In some cases amphetamines (stimulant drugs) are prescribed. Stimulant drugs? Yes. Paradoxically, they tend to have a calming effect on hyperactive children, bringing activity within normal range and improving concentration. Should you consider this form of treatment, you will want to weigh the possible side effects: nervousness, insomnia, hypersensitivity, dizziness, palpitations, loss of appetite and stunted growth. Some authorities recommend careful use of such drugs under a physician’s supervision. Others, however, are even more cautious, indicating that not enough is known about the safety and effectiveness of long-term use of stimulant drugs in treating hyperactivity. So you must decide.
Eliminate Food Additives: Beginning in 1973, Dr. Ben Feingold, pediatric allergist at the Kaiser-Permanente Medical Center in San Francisco, suggested that a diet free of artificial food additives and colorings could dramatically improve the behavior of at least 50 percent of hyperactive children. It was believed that these children have allergic reactions to food additives and colorings, causing adverse effects in behavior.
But since 1973 a controversy has raged, with the experts volleying back and forth over this issue. Summing up the controversy are the comments of Dr. Stanford Miller of the Food and Drug Administration: “Studies suggest there is some kind of link between behavior in some sets of children and food components, but based on the evidence we have, I have to conclude that the jury is still out on the question.”
Megavitamin Therapy: The megavitamin therapy has been used in treating some children with hyperactivity. Treatment consists of large doses of vitamins, the elimination of sugar and the careful maintenance of proper nutrition. In some cases, a significant decrease in hyperactivity has been the result.
But, again, the experts don’t all agree. Some claim that there seems to be no effect of megavitamins upon learning disabilities or hyperactivity, warning that there can be health problems caused by the side effects of high dosages of vitamins. How do they explain the improvement in children who are treated with the megavitamin therapy? Increased attention of the family toward the child’s problems and the determination to help him or her, they claim.
On the other hand, proponents of the megavitamin therapy argue that the side effects that sometimes occur are dose related and subside with decrease of the dosage.
It would be advisable to consult with a physician, especially a pediatrician, in both diagnosing and carrying out any of the above-mentioned therapies.
Clearly, there is no easy remedy. But one thing appears certain. Learning disabilities and hyperactivity are real maladies caused by one or more factors other than a child’s own reluctance to be “still” or his refusal to learn. Such a child needs special help to meet his special needs. Above all, he needs a parent who understands his “difference.” This presents a real challenge for parents, as the following article shows.
What about the future? With proper training, many such children can lead normal, productive lives. Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein are among those who successfully dealt with learning problems.
But there is even greater reason for hope. The fulfillment of Bible prophecy clearly indicates that we are living in “the last days.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5) We are fast nearing the end of this wicked system of things. What will follow? A righteous New Order of God’s making wherein handicaps such as learning disabilities will be done away with. Imagine that! No longer will there be a gap between potential and achievement. No longer will children such as Marty have to feel like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole.—2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1-4.
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“Your child wants to learn! . . . His bad behavior is a normal reaction to frustration. . . . Bad behavior is his way of saying, ‘Look at me! I’ve got a learning problem. I need help!’”—Dr. Robert D. Carpenter
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Try to distinguish between can’t and won’t reactions
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He needs reassurance