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Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Learning "Disabilities"
Experts estimate that between 4-10% of our youth are now diagnosed as having Attention Deficit Disorder. It can be frustrating and discouraging to deal with symptoms of ADD. Here’s the great news: there is nothing "wrong" with your child or with you as the parent; there is nothing that needs to be “fixed”. You and your child have ALL of the resources within you to experience success in school, at home and in the world. If your child is not succeeding in school or at home, it simply means that she doesn't have effective tools for doing so. Once we teach her world-class skills for succeeding at home and in school, she will no doubt be successful.
A diagnosis can be helpful in giving us a framework for understanding what the reason is behind the challenging behaviors or the poor school performance. You can understand the behavior better when you understand where it is coming from. When you understand that it’s not a matter of whether or not your child is trying hard enough, rather that it is simply a matter of her not having the tools to be successful in learning, then you can respond differently to it. ADD, Dyslexia and other learning “differences” are a way of describing how a person’s brain is wired or the way in which they process information. It doesn’t mean that they don't process or learn information; it simply means that they do it better using certain strategies or processes than with others, as we all do.
In order to help you understand your child's experience of the world, you need to understand exactly what goes on in the mind of a young person with ADD. Here’s a way in which you can begin to understand the experience of a child with ADD. I want you to imagine that you’re driving in a rainstorm without the windshield wipers on. Pretty frustrating, isn't it? Imagine the effort it would require to keep your mind focused on the road ahead just in order to keep yourself and others feeling safe and protected. Yet, that is precisely what goes on in the mind of a young person with ADD. The screen simply becomes blurred without the ability to use the wipers to get rid of unnecessary cloudiness. She is trying as hard as she can to process all of the information coming into her experience. Of course, what often happens is that the conscious mind becomes overwhelmed and she may simply shut down, stop paying attention, and give up or it might be played out physically in the body which might be seen as anxious, aggressive or hyperactive behavior.
The first step in helping your child to learn effectively is to help her determine what her particular strategy is for learning and then to teach her very precise, effective strategies for learning information most effectively. A visual learning strategy is the most effective strategy for learning academic tasks like spelling words, math facts and vocabulary words; learning visually makes learning fun, interesting and much less time-consuming.
In order to teach a young person a visual learning strategy, she must first believe that she CAN learn by making pictures in her mind. Often, young people who are diagnosed as having ADD or some other "learning difference" feel that they can't control their own mind, but rather that their mind controls them. In order to begin to teach effective learning strategies, we need to begin with helping the child to see that indeed she CAN control her own mind and the pictures that she makes in her mind.
The first step is to assist the child in slowing down the pictures in her own mind and slowing her body down so that she can learn and implement simple, effective learning strategies and begin to experience more success at school as well as at home. In addition, we want to provide her with the kind of environment that will best support her and her particular needs; for most kids, and especially for kids with ADD, the environment that is most supportive of their needs is one that is unconditional, structured and consistent while providing them enough freedom to learn to negotiate the world on their own.
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