Young People Ask . . .
Why Can’t I Learn?
“I did not want to come home,” recalls Jessica, “and face my parents. Once again I had failed several courses.”* At 15, Jessica is bright and beautiful. But like many youths, she has a terrible time with her grades.
POOR performance at school is often the result of a poor attitude toward education or toward one’s teacher. But that is not the case with Jessica. She simply finds it overwhelmingly difficult to grasp abstract ideas. Naturally, this made it hard for Jessica to succeed in math. And difficulty in reading made it hard for her to do well in other subjects.
Maria, on the other hand, cannot spell correctly. She always hides the notes she takes at Christian meetings because she is ashamed of her spelling errors. Neither Jessica nor Maria is unintelligent, however. Jessica is so good with people that she serves as a school-appointed mediator, or problem solver, when trouble arises between her schoolmates. And scholastically Maria is in the top 10 percent of her class.
The problem: Jessica and Maria have learning disorders. Experts believe that some 3 to 10 percent of all children may have similar difficulties in learning. Tania, who is now in her early 20’s, is suffering from what is called Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).* She says: “I have a hard time with Christian meetings, personal study, and prayers because of my inability to pay attention or even to sit still. My ministry is affected because I jump from subject to subject too fast for anyone to keep up.”
When not accompanied with hyperactivity, the disorder is called Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). People with this disorder are often described as daydreamers. Regarding those with ADD, neurologist Dr. Bruce Roseman said: “They sit in front of a book and for 45 minutes, nothing happens.” For some reason they have a hard time concentrating.
Medical researchers believe that they have recently begun to understand what causes these problems. Yet, much is still unknown. And boundaries between various disorders and disabilities that interfere with learning are not always clear. Regardless of the exact cause or the label given to a particular disorder—whether a problem with reading, remembering, paying attention, or being hyperactive—the disorder can interfere with a person’s education and can cause no small amount of suffering. If you have a learning disability, how can you cope with it?
The Challenge of Coping
Consider Jessica, who was mentioned in the introduction. Determined to overcome her reading disability, she kept trying to read different books. The turning point came when she found a book of poems that was absorbing to her. She obtained a similar book, which she also enjoyed reading. Later she became interested in a series of story books, and reading gradually became less of a problem. The lesson to be learned is that perseverance pays off. You too can overcome a learning disability or can at least make great strides in that direction by not giving up.—Compare Galatians 6:9.
What about dealing with a short-term memory problem? An important key to solving the problem lies in the adage: “Repetition is the mother of retention.” Nicky found that verbally repeating to himself what he heard and read helped him to remember things. Try it. It may help you too. Significantly, in Bible times people used to mouth the words, even when reading to themselves. Thus, Jehovah commanded the Bible writer Joshua: “You must in an undertone read [God’s Law] day and night.” (Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1:2) Why was mouthing the words so important? Because doing so engaged two senses—auditory and visual—and helped to leave a deeper impression on the mind of the reader.
For Jessica, learning math was also a monumental task. However, she tried learning math rules by repeating them—at times spending as much as half an hour per rule. Her efforts eventually paid off. So repeat, repeat, repeat! A wise practice is to keep paper and a pencil handy when listening in class or reading so that you can take notes.
It is vital that you commit yourself to learning. Make it a practice to stay after school and to talk to your teachers. Get to know them. Tell them that you have a learning problem but that you are determined to overcome it. Most teachers will be eager to assist. So enlist their help. Jessica did that and received much-needed support from a sympathetic teacher.
Learn to Concentrate
It also helps to set a goal and reward system for yourself. Setting a specific goal—say of finishing a portion of a homework assignment—before turning on the television or your favorite music can motivate you to concentrate. Be sure that the goals you set are reasonable.—Compare Philippians 4:5.
Sometimes making constructive changes in your environment can help. Nicky arranged to sit up front in class near the teacher in order to concentrate better. Jessica found it beneficial to do homework along with a studious friend. You may find it helpful simply to make your room cozy and comfortable.
If you tend to be hyperactive, learning can be a painful ordeal. However, some experts say that hyperactivity can be channeled into physical exercise. “The evidence is mounting,” notes U.S.News & World Report, “that each person’s capacity to master new and remember old information is improved by biologic changes in the brain brought on by aerobic conditioning.” Thus, moderate amounts of exercise—swimming, running, playing ball, riding a bicycle, skating, and so forth—can be good for both body and mind.—1 Timothy 4:8.
Medication is routinely prescribed for learning disorders. It is claimed that some 70 percent of the youngsters afflicted with ADHD who have been given stimulant drugs have responded. Whether you accept drug treatment is a matter for you and your parents to decide after taking into consideration the severity of the problem, possible side effects, and other factors.
Maintain Your Self-Respect
While difficulty in learning is not considered an emotional problem, it can have emotional consequences. The combination of constant disapproval and criticism from parents and teachers, poor or mediocre school results, and lack of close friends can easily produce low self-esteem. Some youths hide this feeling behind an angry and threatening front.
But you do not have to lose self-esteem because of learning problems.* “My aim,” says one professional working with youths having learning problems, “is to change their attitude toward life—from ‘I’m stupid, and I can’t do anything right’ . . . to ‘I’m overcoming a problem, and I can do a lot more than I ever thought I could.’”
Although you cannot do much about others’ attitudes, you can influence your own. Jessica did that. She says: “When I judged myself based on what the kids at school said and their name-calling, I wanted to run away from school. But now I try to ignore what they say and keep doing my best. It’s hard, and I have to keep reminding myself, but it works.”
Jessica had to contend with another reality. Her older brother was a straight A student. “That used to destroy my self-esteem,” says Jessica, “until I stopped comparing myself with him.” So do not compare yourself with your siblings.—Compare Galatians 6:4.
Talking to a trusted friend will also help you put things in the proper perspective. A true friend will loyally stick by you as you try to improve. (Proverbs 17:17) A false friend, on the other hand, will either tear you down or give you an improper exalted view of yourself. Therefore choose your friends carefully.
If you have a learning problem, you likely receive more correction than other youths. But do not allow that to give you a negative view of yourself. Look at discipline in a godly way, as something of great value. Remember, the discipline given by your parents is evidence that they love you and want the best for you.—Proverbs 1:8, 9; 3:11, 12; Hebrews 12:5-9.
No, your learning problems do not have to drag you down. You can do something about them and live a productive life. But there is even greater reason for hope. God has promised to bring in a new world of righteousness in which knowledge will be abundant and in which every disorder of mind and body will be corrected. (Isaiah 11:9; Revelation 21:1-4) So be determined to learn more about Jehovah God and his purposes, and act in harmony with that knowledge.—John 17:3.
Some of the names have been changed.
Please see the series “Understanding Difficult Children” in the November 22, 1994, issue of Awake! and the article “Does Your Child Have Learning Problems?” in the May 8, 1983, issue.
See the article “Young People Ask . . . How Can I Build My Self-Respect?” in the April 8, 1983, issue of Awake!
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Be committed to learning