We’re getting to know more and more about the relationship between dyslexia—reading disabilities—and the wonderful abilities that children with dyslexia often have in other areas. Bright kids with learning disabilities generally have special talents in one of four areas: Performing arts, visual arts, science, and engineering and architecture. Sadly, these types of subjects are not valued in school the way reading and writing are. School is really a language arts lesson. Even if your child likes science or is good in sports, she will have to write about it.
Everything in school is about reading or writing. This amounts to a kind of educational abuse of students whose talents are in other areas.
Many kids with learning issues feel stupid. They look for ways to avoid academics. They know they’re smart, but if they hand in their work they probably won’t get a good grade. Sometimes it’s just better to get a poor grade for not doing an assignment, than to have their teacher judge their work negatively, which verifies that they’re not smart.
Changing the Pattern
Paying attention to what these children do well is crucial for their success. That’s where you can make a difference. As a participant in the IEP process, make sure that the following conditions become a part of your discussion with your child’s team and, where applicable are incorporated into her educational plan.
1. Nurture Talent
What do you do to recognize your child’s talent? Where is specific attention paid to her gift? It doesn’t have to be in a gifted program. For a young scientist, who is helping him find a mentor to enter that science competition? Is a great cartoonist doing an apprenticeship with a local newspaper cartoonist? Is somebody helping a young poet get her poems published.
2. Offer Extracurricular Opportunities
If her gift is not getting attention in school, then you must take charge. Where do you want her to spend her time? Going to summer school in reading, or going to a camp where she can feel good about her talent in drama? Find a way to value and be excited about what your child does well, because that is how she is going to make it in the world. Her success is not likely going to come down to whether she can do math a little bit better.
3. Modify Learning Tools
Some teachers understand that these bright children need intellectual challenges, and that although they cannot read well, they can still learn sophisticated information via videos, computer apps, books on tape, use of an e-reader, or through the use of text-to-speech software. It is important for your child’s teacher to value making a video or working on a project as much as he values writing a book report.
4. Ensure an Appropriate Environment
Concerning the physical learning environment: Are children allowed to read by lamp light rather than fluorescent light, if it helps them? Is background noise filtered out for some or allowed for others? Are children who need to move around in order to concentrate allowed to do so?
5. Select Compensation Strategies
Learn what strategies work best for your child and then make them part of his IEP or 504 plan. Examples include using a calculator for learning math facts and a word processor to overcome handwriting difficulty; sitting in the front row; befriending another student who takes good notes or having an assigned note-taker.
6. Provide Social and Emotional Support
Perhaps there are other kids like her to give her the confidence that she can succeed. Teachers can offer options for communicating knowledge, pair her with another child to consult with about assignments, directions, etc. or arrange for group projects.
It is extremely important that your child’s gift is not put on hold until she catches up academically. Although she may improve each year, if she has a reading disability she’s never going to become the best reader in the class. She may always have to compensate for reading. But when we help her find and identify her talents, she can do extraordinarily well.
Susan Baum is the Co-Director of the International Center for Talent Development, and the Director of Professional Development at Bridges Academy for students with LD. She is co-author of To Be Gifted & Learning Disabled, and a member of Smart Kids with LD’s Professional Advisory Board