When it comes to kids and their various issues, it’s very hard for us to get past certain notions. An ongoing one is the notion that the child is just “not paying attention enough,” and that the child just needs to try harder and everything would be ok.
This approach sees things as a motivation deficit.
More often than not there are skill deficits underlying leading to the motivation deficit, things that the kid can’t do very well on a specific task. With learning disabilities there’s so much variability and unevenness of performance (some things the child does great and others far below average), we get seduced into thinking that the child has a motivation problem (like not trying hard enough).. There are times when the light bulb is on which leads to the, “See, you can do it if your tried,”
Take young James, age 6. James seems to be off task a lot in the classroom and at home. Frequently he is reprimanded for not paying attention or “trying his best.”
When James was evaluated it was clear that certain tasks were beyond his capability. Most of these involved specific language skills. For example, when asked “Why” type of questions (like, “Why do we wash our hands before eating?”), James could not respond. He gazed at the wall, seeming to not pay attention.
Also quite challenging for James was his ability to form categories and explain how things were alike (such as a dog and a horse). James just repeated the last word, “horse,” but had no understanding of how to make a similarity or category.
In contrast when given vocabulary tasks that asked to tell the meaning of a given word such as, “What is a bird,” James gave a reasonable response. James was also able to point to pictures of a word when prompted to do so (e.g., “Show me the penguin.”).
James also functioned fairly well when given hands- on type of tasks that had reduced language involvement.
In short, James was variable with particular difficulty with certain functions of language. When those type of tasks were given (i.e., making similarities, forming categories, answering “why”), James looked very disconnected and off task. In all likelihood people were starting to question whether he had ADD and whether he needed medication.
I wasn’t going in that direction with James.
First and foremost, James was struggling with language usage. What did he need beside good language interventions? As a start:
- Adults being patient with him. (This is a lot easier said than done).
- Not over talking James. (Too much talk leads to off task behavior.)
- Not giving James too many steps to follow. (It’s unrealistic.)
- Not assuming he can manage inappropriately difficult academic material like word problems. (James was starting to get word problems in first grade.)
- Not assuming he understands. (There was much that James did not understand.)
- Recognizing that even if James can read the words on the page (which he couldn’t), the likelihood of his having comprehension issues was strong. (Comprehension was being overly emphasized in his class.)
- Understanding that James’ issues with language were not just “academic,” but also starting to affect him socially. (Some of the kids were starting to make fun of James.)
Slowing it down for James and paying attention to a few of these points goes a long way.
Things are not always what they seem.
Sometimes paying attention and trying harder are not the issue.
To consult with Dr. Selznick, you can reach him through email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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