Teaching isn't easy; it's a challenge for every educator, administrator, and parent out there. The usual difficulties are only compounded when trying to teach a child with a learning disability, or a learning difference. Learning differences not only require us to think about reframing our approach in the classroom, but also to rethink how parents and school systems play into supporting these children, holistically. When considering the best way to help educate a child with a learning disability, we should consider our schools, teachers, and home environment.
Schools for Learning Differences
For parents who have a child with a learning disability or learning difference, schools that specialize in educating children with learning differences have a few major advantages over conventional or "traditional" schools.
They Are Tailored
Schools that are entirely dedicated to educating a spectrum of different students have committed themselves to creating a customized curriculum and programs tailored to fit each student's need. Because these schools are built around this philosophy, they are well equipped to do this, whereas other schools simply cannot adopt this level of customization.
A Better Environment
Boarding schools for learning differences offer a stable and nurturing environment in which students can grow. These schools allow students to pursue a wide variety of interests and study what makes sense for them in a way that makes sense to them. Traditional schools and boarding schools often don't foster an environment that allows children with learning disabilities to flourish in their own time. Schools such as Eagle Hill School have dedicated enormous amounts of time to cultivating an environment in which every student feels welcome and encouraged.
The Same Page
So much of the angst of having a learning disability comes from constantly being compared to "everyone else." When everyone is going through a similar experience, however, it creates camaraderie and mutual understanding and compassion. A boarding school for students with learning differences offers a unique space where students don't have to worry about being different, since everyone is different.
To be successful in teaching students with learning differences, educators must be familiar not only with a large variety of methods and best practices, but also with a vast amount of knowledge that relates to learning disabilities as a whole. That's why schools such as Eagle Hill and many others seek to hire teachers with experience and practice and to continue to foster professional development.
Educating children with learning disabilities requires true understanding and passion for the rich diversity of learning styles. Educators at Eagle Hill and the like are constantly looking for opportunities to become more involved in both the academic and personal development of their students.
Learning at Home
A lot of learning takes place within the classroom...there's no doubt about that, but when thinking about teaching a child with a learning disability we have to consider the home environment as well.
Even students who attend boarding school need parents who are an extension of the school's philosophy and method. Parents of students with learning disabilities should understand that their child's trajectory may look very different than someone else's, and that's okay. The biggest at-home wins come from three areas, and they are closely related to many of the primary goals of schools that specialize in learning disabilities.
Many children with learning disabilities have difficulties with self-esteem from very early on in their lives—they have constantly battled with being behind and general comprehension. Parents, along with educators, can help reinforce self-esteem by commenting on specific accomplishments and milestones, instead of just general praise. By focusing on the positive advances that their children make, parents can help nurture their child's confidence, ultimately enabling them for repeated success. This type of behavior builds upon itself, but it is important to continue to point out concrete examples of "wins" and accomplishments so that a child is able to refer back to these and remember the steps they took to get there.
Having a learning disability or learning difference can be discouraging, and often even depressing, both for children and parents. It's vital to remember that as a parent, even if you aren't feeling 100%, you must maintain optimism in front of your child and lead by example. One effective strategy is showing your child that many brilliant and innovative people have overcome enormous odds and obstacles, including having a learning disability. By focusing on narratives where people have struggled to overcome hardship, you are arming your child with a relatable story they can find strength and motivation in.
Perhaps the most important aspect of parenting a child with a learning disability is having patience. This one sounds obvious, but it's often difficult to put into practice when situations or setbacks arise, which they always do (both for people with learning disabilities and without). As a parent of a child with a learning disability, you also need support and care. Remember that you will be better able to get through to your child if you are calm and understanding. It's tough to play so many different roles: parent, teacher, tutor, organizer, and interpreter. Remember that your needs can't go unmet either. Ensuring that you have the proper support will ensure that your child does as well.
Teaching a child with a learning disability requires that we be open-minded and compassionate, patient and encouraging. It requires that we broadly continue to examine our school systems and educational models. Most of all, it asks us to challenge ourselves to rise to the occasion of understanding and educating so many unique and wonderful individuals. If we are able to do this as parents and teachers, creating a web of support at school and at home, we'll continue to break through.