Excerpted from Jump-Starting Boys: Help Your Reluctant Learner Find Success in School and Life, by Pam Withers and Cynthia Gill (Viva Editions). All references (footnotes) contained in the book.
by Samantha Turner
(Reprinted, with permission, from the Smart Kids with LD website at www.SmartKidswithLD.org; copyright by Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities®.)

One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that some parents are reluctant to set tough academic standards for their children with learning disabilities (LD). They fear that setting the bar high will cause their kids to become overwhelmed and filled with anxiety.

In reality, that attitude does more harm than good. Their insecurity comes across as a lack of confidence in their child’s ability to do well in school. Truthfully, many students with LD want to be challenged!

Every day, students with LD are reminded that they learn differently. From the support they receive to the accommodations they’re given, the message is loud and clear: “You don’t learn like everyone else, and because of that you need special treatment.”

Parents have an opportunity to counter the message kids get at school. By maintaining high academic standards and holding their children accountable for their schoolwork, they telegraph their belief that their kids can achieve at levels equal to if not better than their peers.

For students with LD, school is often not a safe zone. They may spend a large part of the day feeling out of place and discouraged. Home, on the other hand, is a safe haven. It’s an environment where the pressure is off, and they’re free to explore who they are and gain self-awareness along the way.

Parents should take advantage of that comfort level and push their child academically, helping her to gain confidence and develop the determination to succeed. With consistent encouragement and accountability, students will internalize the belief that they can meet any academic challenge that comes their way.

I learned that lesson early on, and it’s one I’ve never forgotten. When I was in fifth grade, one unit of my history class was dedicated to the Colonial era. My father, a history major, helped me through this class, explaining topics I didn’t understand. But as a student with LD, tests were hard for me! On the first test my grade was thirty-two percent. I was pretty disappointed and nervous about
showing my father, even though I was sure he would tell me it was okay. Instead he responded with the most motivating words I have ever heard: “I don’t ever want to see a grade like that again.”

Harsh, yes for a ten-year-old, but empowering! I knew exactly what he meant: He had confidence in me, knowing full well I could do better. On the next exam I studied with what holds smart kids back?
determination and got a 100 percent! I couldn’t have been prouder to show him that grade!”


Counter opinion:
 “I disagree with recommending pushing one’s child academically,” says Philippa Slater, director of the Learning Disabilities Association of British Columbia, Canada. “Each child, according to their make-up, reacts differently to their LD. Some are far more resilient than others. Some are very fragile. Any pressure has to come with a great deal of homework support and informed sensitivity to how much harder these kids have to study. As LD expert Richard Lavoie says, ‘They have to work twice as hard to get half as far.’” (www.ricklavoie.com)