Nurturing Children with Learning Differences

by | Feb 6, 2023 | Family

When you imagine having a child, you likely conjure up ideas of reading them your favorite books and sharing your favorite hobbies and sports. However, that image might start to blur upon discovering that your child has learning differences. Because of all the unknowns a learning difference diagnosis introduces, you might become overwhelmed and unsure of what to do next.  

But don’t worry; we’re here for you! With a few extra tools in your belt and a perspective check, you’ll feel more confident in your ability to raise your very special child. 

“We are a Box of Crayons 
each of us unique, 
but when we get together 
the picture is complete” 

– Unknown 

Create Structure 

For the most part, you’ll be teaching your child the same social and cognitive skills you would work on with children without learning differences. You just might need some different strategies and to operate on a slightly longer timeline. They key is to stay the course and to provide structure in your little one’s life. Through consistent routines and clear messaging, you can establish a smooth structure for your child.  

Charts & Graphics 

Use a simple chart, magnet board or checklist to display the day’s routine. For example, your child might check off a box every time they complete the items on their morning schedule. They’ll get a check mark after completing each task: wake up, brush their teeth, comb their hair, get dressed, eat breakfast, wash hands, pack up for school. It can be especially helpful to display these to-dos both in writing and visually with simple graphics.  

Recognize Your Child’s Unique Traits 

Invest in a simple notebook where you can track your child’s emotional responses. Pay attention to what triggers your child to feel agitated and think about ways to eliminate that stressor. If picking out clothes in the morning leaves your little one frustrated and overwhelmed, brainstorm ways to make this process easier. For instance, you might work with them to select an outfit the night before. They can hang it up outside their closet, so it’s ready to go in the morning. If your child is easily upset by sensory overload, try keeping the lights dim and avoid running the garbage disposal or making loud noises until after they’ve left for school.  

Keep it Simple 

In general, do your best to keep things straightforward and clear to set your child up for success. If you want your child to clean up their room, label each bin with a picture of the toys that need to go in there. This is the same for dishes you want put away, bathroom essentials that you want to keep organized, etc. Teaching responsibility is such an important skill—so get used to labeling everything.  

Along the same lines, keep all of your communication clear and direct so that your meaning is not lost. Rather than asking your child to “finish your homework and then take a bath and get ready for bed.” Break down each task one at a time. Start with “finish your math problems first,” before stating the next task once one has been completed. Your child with learning differences will appreciate the extra clarity.  

A child wearing a yellow shirt with white polka dots is coloring a butterfly picture using a green crayon, while an adult’s hand steadies the paper for the child.

Incorporate Role Play 

Children with learning differences sometimes have social differences, as well. They might have a harder time processing their emotions and interacting appropriately in social situations. One strategy for avoiding tricky social moments is to role play what to expect, first. For instance, if your child has been invited to a friend’s house to play, act out some of the scenarios they might encounter. You can practice sharing toys, waiting patiently for a snack, and thanking their friend for inviting them over. If they’re headed to school, have them practice sitting at a desk or table with their belongings organized around them.

You could also set up a mock recess setting by going to the local park and taking turns on various playground equipment. Use your child’s favorite stuffed animal to join in on the role play. Everyday interactions like introducing yourself to a new friend or saying goodbye when leaving can be acted out to ensure that your child knows what to expect. 

Advocate for Your Child with Learning Differences

One of the hardest challenges of having a child who needs a little extra help is knowing that other people (and society at large) tend to treat them differently. One of your main roles is to speak up for your child and to ask for help when needed. This might mean working with your child’s school to get them into a mainstream classroom for part of the day. Or you may need to call your insurance company to get necessary equipment or home adaptations to make your house better equipped to serve your child. Getting your child’s needs met is critical—so be bold, be brave, and be vocal. You know your kiddo best, you get to be their most informed advocate! 

Make Time for You 

Providing extra structure, being an outspoken advocate, and consistently worrying about your little one can take a toll on your mental (and physical!) health. Make sure you’re dedicating time in your day and week for you. The only way you can be your absolute best for your little one is by ensuring you’re getting enough rest, nutrition, and time to process. If your child has a teacher they relate with well at school, ask them if they might consider coming over for a few hours a week to help watch your child at home, too. You could call upon a trusted neighbor or family member to help out. Just make sure you’re able to clear your mind, relax your body, and head into parent-mode feeling ready to take on anything!  

You’ll notice that many of these suggestions apply to all children, not just those with special learning differences. That’s because at the end of the day, kids are kids. They need to feel safe, supported, and to know that you’ve got their back—always. Celebrate their accomplishments, boost their self-confidence, and provide them with never-ending encouragement and love. And that’s exactly what they’ll give you in return.  

Ready to put yourself in a parenting time-out to focus on you? Read our suggestions on how to create life balance