For kids with learning disabilities, being forced into a strict academic protocol often stifles motivation; in contrast encouraging them to follow their interests is likely to have the opposite effect, and can help them to become active learners. The student who barely pays attention in a traditional classroom may work for eight hours straight on a project of his liking at home. This is to be nurtured, not deterred.
It’s important for parents not to discourage any area of interest, regardless of how far afield it may seem. Teachers and tutors, too should meet a child at the point where his curiosity is already active, and use that to spur further learning. For example, If your child is interested in video games, connecting him to a course on video game design, 3D modeling, or computer science will provide high-level learning opportunities in an area that he has a natural affinity for. Even a passion for skateboarding can be tapped for learning about physics and mechanical engineering.
Building A Portfolio of Experience
An area of interest can be pursued individually, or encouraged with mentoring from a parent, teacher, or tutor. You can help your child find peers who share his interest in a school club, or he may find like-minded pals on the internet. He may even want to start his own online community. Seeking volunteer opportunities locally can also provide experience and may have the added benefit of hooking him up with a mentor in the field. However it’s done, the process and products of the work he engages in can be tracked, documented and compiled into a portfolio that can be submitted to a college or future employer.
Once the interest has been identified and you’ve established a path to pursue it, you can then help your child improve the skills needed to succeed. If he doesn’t have good organizational skills, you (or his mentor) can teach those skills within the context of developing his interests. Good organizational skills require key competencies such as seeing the big picture, prioritizing, breaking down tasks into manageable parts, etc. Often, a student that struggles with organization at school will find it necessary and beneficial to learn those skills in the context of an independent project.
Sometimes, parents feel that only purely academic skills should be supported, with the purpose of getting good grades, high test scores and acceptance to college. While those are certainly important, those reasons don’t necessarily motivate a student with LD to become engaged. If the parent or teacher can be encouraging, do a little bit of detective work, and set up the right support structures, your child’s attitude towards learning can change dramatically.
Ari Kalinowski is the Director of the tutoring and mentoring company Unconventional Minds. He works with students with ADHD, AS, NLD and processing disorders not otherwise specified, ages 13-23, via teleconference.