A father of a special-needs child once said, “When you buy a new cell phone or lawn mower, you are given an instruction booklet to prevent and solve problems. It’s too bad kids don’t come with instructions.”
Well, maybe they should. If you are the parent of a child with learning problems, there are many adults who pass through your child’s life. Most of them are unfamiliar with learning disorders, and certainly not aware of your child’s unique pattern of strengths, affinities, needs, and limitations.
It is in the best interest of your child to provide these adults, and especially teachers, with some basic information that will help them better understand your child and his behavior.
A very effective way to provide this information is to develop and distribute a dossier. This brief (one to three pages) document provides data on the child’s disorder and offers suggestions that can be used to enhance the child’s progress.
I have written a dossier for a fictitious child here. Use it as template when writing one for your child.
Good day! Drew is a 10-year-old who has recently enrolled in your program. Although I am obviously biased, I feel that you will find him to be quite cooperative and eager to please. He is a diligent worker and is always willing to assist others whenever possible. His family and I greatly appreciate your working with him, and are particularly grateful for your willingness to read this letter.
Drew has been diagnosed with nonverbal learning disabilities and auditory processing deficits. Although neither of these disorders affects his outward physical appearance, they will affect his ability to participate in class, follow oral directions, and interact with others. In order to better understand and interpret Drew’s behavior, it is important that you have some knowledge of these disorders.
A nonverbal learning disability can be a puzzling and complex disorder. The label is, as you will see when you meet Drew, a misnomer. Drew is highly verbal with a wide, expansive vocabulary. The disorder does not affect his ability to communicate verbally, but it will have a marked effect on his ability to function in your class. His ability to converse and discuss with adults often masks his confusion in social and academic settings. He has difficulty with situations involving spatial skills and has a poor sense of direction.
The auditory processing disorder will also serve to complicate and compromise his involvement. It is important to recognize that Drew does not suffer from a hearing loss, per se. Rather, the message that enters his ears gets scrambled in some way, and as a result, there are subtle differences between what is said and what he hears. He might hear the sentence “Matt and Drew went to town” as “Matt, Andrew went down.” This makes it difficult for him to understand and follow verbal directions.
The disorder makes it difficult for Drew to process verbal language. An analogy might be useful. Have you ever gone into a restaurant or store where the waiter or clerk has a heavy foreign accent? As you attempt to converse with him, you miss words that he says, and must interpret his meaning. You find this difficult, frustrating, and exhausting. This is very similar to the experience that Drew has with every conversation with his peers, family, and teachers.
> Moderate difficulty with balance and coordination
> Difficulty reading facial expressions, body language, and moods of others
> Very naïve and gullible; easily manipulated by peers
> Works slowly and deliberately
> Easily distracted by background noise
> May have high startle response to loud or unexpected noise
> Excellent reader (but may not comprehend all that he reads)
> Excellent rote memory (may have difficulty understanding the material)
> Rich, expansive vocabulary and verbal skills
> Very kind and empathetic; generous
> Eager to please adults
> Major League Baseball (the Red Sox, in particular)
> Board games involving trivia and strategy
> Music (his uncle plays keyboards in a ’70s nostalgia band, and Drew has a particular interest in music from that era)
> Collects sports memorabilia
More Personal Information
> Drew was bullied and rejected at his previous school and is easily intimidated by others. He becomes quiet and withdrawn when he is fearful.
> His grandfather died suddenly last month. They were very close, and Drew has difficulty dealing with this. He may try to engage you in conversation about his grandfather.
> Drew recently began horseback riding lessons, and he is very proud of his progress in this area.
> Drew is the youngest of three brothers. His siblings are very athletic and accomplished in sports. Drew feels inferior in this area.
Drew responds well to a signal or a gesture as a cue to modify or adjust his behavior. For example, when he needs to lower the volume of his voice, I get his attention and wink at him. This signal tells him to lower his voice, but is not embarrassing for him in front of others. You may want to arrange some signals to use with him.
Drew has difficulty making transitions from one location to another, or even from one activity to another. He handles these transitions more effectively if he is provided with a heads-up a few minutes before the transition occurs. (“Drew, you have about five minutes to work on your project, and then we are going outside for a demonstration.”)
Because of past negative relationships with teachers, Drew is sensitive to scolding or reprimanding, and often shuts down when scolded in public. We find it helpful to emphasize that we are upset with his behavior — not with him.
Drew has become adept at acting like he understands directions or instructions when he does not. He may make eye contact with you and nod knowingly. We find it useful to have Drew repeat the instructions back to us before he begins the task.
Drew’s verbal responses to others are often curt and can be interpreted as rude or dismissive. When he does this, please intervene and provide him with a more appropriate response.
Again, many thanks for your help. We greatly appreciate your assistance. Best, Drew’s dad.
From The Motivation Breakthrough: 6 Secrets to Turning On the Tuned-Out Child, by RICHARD LAVOIE. Copyright 2007. Reprinted by permission of Touchstone, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.