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Midlife Crisis Begins in Kindergarten . . . 

with labels such as ADD, ADHD, slow, dyslexic, learning disabled, just average, and even gifted!

by LearningSuccess(tm) Coaches Mariaemma Willis, M.S. Special Education and Victoria Kindle Hodson, M.A. Psychology

Did you know that midlife crisis begins in kindergarten? Yes, it’s true! It is in kindergarten (and sometimes in preschool!) that our society begins the process of teaching children that they are not smart enough, not quick enough, not working to potential, not high enough on the bell curve, not as good as the next guy...just plain not measuring up!

The majority of our students get this message...yes, even a large percentage of those who are homeschooled get this message. The first five labels listed in the title above are really saying:

1. there is something wrong with you...

2. you’ll never be able to do this or that...

3. you cannot be successful

Then there is the "just average" label. This one says:

1. you’re just okay...

2. you’ll never be able to do this or that...

3. you cannot be very successful

As for the "gifted" label—the few who acquire this one are just as unfortunate. They learn that they are smarter than everybody else and they’d just better do something with all those gifts they’ve been given or they will be wasting their lives.

Kids who are labeled grow up to be adults who are labeled for life—adults who believe they can’t do this or that, they can’t be successful, they can’t do what they love—unless something occurs to change their beliefs about themselves. We often call this event a midlife crisis and almost all adults go through it in one way or another, because almost all adults were labeled in some way as kids.

Learning Disabilities or Learning Success?

This article will focus on the dangers of using learning disability labels—the first five listed in the title above, or any others you have come across. If you have been confused and/or disturbed by articles on learning disabilities, we hope this article will set your mind at ease.

The "Learning Disabled" Approach

Here are just a few learning situations that are typically labeled as learning problems:

1. Not remembering what you just read or not being able to verbalize or write about it

2. Not being able to memorize spelling words listed in a spelling workbook

3. "Taking forever" to do your work or doing things to interrupt, such as getting a drink, going to the bathroom, etc.

4. Having trouble concentrating with noise in the background

5. Difficulty learning to read, or following directions, or taking notes

Typical advice that is given to parents who observe these behaviors:

1. Get your child tested.

2. If learning problems go unidentified your child may not experience the joys of learning.

3. If students struggle all through school they may not be able to get into the college of their choice or get the job of their choice.

Once a child is tested and labeled with a learning problem here are some typical prescriptions:

1. The child should spend most of his time working on the areas of difficulty.

2. If there is not enough time for the child’s interests, that’s okay. Academics are more important.

3. If math is difficult, focus on facts and rote to achieve proficiency

4. If reading is difficult make your child read every day.

5. Review, review, review!

The above advice and prescriptions are a sure recipe for failure. What they are saying is:

1. Focus on what is difficult.

2. Force the child to do it.

3. Spend most, if not all, of the time having the student do things that continually prove his/her inadequacy.

Hard or Easy?

Victor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, said that we spend most of our lives occupied with things that are "hard to learn, hard to do." We ought to be spending most of our time in "easy to learn, easy to do." Why? Because that is when you are collecting the evidence that shows you are intelligent, competent, and valuable. And that is what makes you believe in yourself and what you can do.

With the learning disabilities approach you are focused on what is wrong with your child—hard to learn, hard to do.

With the LearningSuccess approach, you are focused on what is right with your child—easy to learn, easy to do.

Does this mean that if reading is difficult this child doesn’t have to learn to read, or if math is difficult this child does not have to learn to do math, etc.? YES, that is exactly what it means! It means, at this time, this child is not ready to learn this skill.

Will this child ever be ready? YES! Will this child eventually enjoy learning this skill? Not necessarily, but that’s okay. You don’t have to love everything—you just have to be developmentally, emotionally, and mentally ready to learn. You also don’t have to be a champion in everything. For example, if math is not a strength, there is no need to torture a person with Algebra. It’s okay (and healthy!) to decide that something is good enough and stop there!

The LearningSuccess™ Approach

The LearningSuccess approach honors the unique gifts, abilities, and developmental levels of each child by customizing his or her program. Coming from this approach let’s take another look at the five "problem" learning situations listed above:

1. Not remembering what you just read or not being able to verbalize or write about it

2. Not being able to memorize spelling words listed in a spelling workbook

3. "Taking forever" to do your work or doing things to interrupt, such as getting a drink, going to the bathroom, etc.

4. Having trouble concentrating with noise in the background

5. Difficulty learning to read, or sequencing directions, or taking notes

A LearningSuccess Coach looks at these situations like a detective and thinks, hmm, I wonder...

1. whether he’s not yet developmentally ready or whether the reading level is too high and it’s not actually a memory or comprehension issue

2. whether she’s a non-print learner and needs to be taught to spell using picture strategies

3. whether this student needs to be moving in order to learn

4. what the best learning environment is for this student

5. whether we need to back off for awhile and focus on areas of interest

With these possibilities in mind a LearningSuccess Coach might recommend to these parents:

1. Find out all you can about your child’s learning styles, including talents, interests, and best learning environments.

2. Provide positive learning experiences so your child can experience the joys of learning.

3. Focus on strengths, interests, and goals in order to facilitate getting into the college or career of choice.

Once the student’s learning styles are known, the LearningSuccess Coach might prescribe:

1. Spend very little time on the difficult things, or no time at all for awhile.

2. Lead with your children’s talents and interests, NOT academics.

3. A child can be gifted in math but have difficulty with rote basics— do not hold him back because of this— find exciting books about math concepts and give him a calculator for the rote.

4. If a child can’t read, forcing him to read everyday will make it worse. Obviously something isn’t working— don’t keep doing the same thing over and over again!

5. Forget the label "learning disabled"— it serves no useful purpose.

6. Review, review, review doesn’t work. Finding the right technique does.

7. You don’t need labels to help your child. You need to know what works for your child.

8. Become the world’s greatest expert on your child’s learning styles and how to work with them. This is the key to every person’s learning success.

9. Help your child discover how talented and gifted he is in so many areas—and that he won’t have a "problem" with academics when the time is right.

Coach for LearningSuccess™

At this point you might be thinking:

1. Yes—thank you for setting me free!

2. This makes me nervous—I don’t know if I can do it.

3. Forget it—what will my family and friends say?

If you are #2 or #3 and are still concerned about your child’s areas of difficulty, read on for some step-by-step to do’s:

1. Don’t Panic

• It’s okay for someone to have trouble learning something.

• This doesn’t mean there is a disability or dysfunction of some kind.

• Notice and celebrate your child’s strengths.

2. Back Off

• Most kids like to learn and will do so naturally when they are able to—after all, no one forces them to learn to walk or talk—they just do it.

• The student is either not ready for this concept or activity, or needs to learn about it in a different way.

• The more you push and fight, the greater the resistance will be.

• Sometimes, just removing the pressure and anxiety is enough— in a relaxed state, the child will begin doing the very thing that was causing the trouble.

3. Find Out How Your Child Learns

• Each student has different strengths and weaknesses and each one learns differently.

• Knowing about learning styles allows one to choose the most appropriate curriculum and methods so that each student can learn to the best of his/her ability.

• Your own learning style profile as the parent/instructor adds valuable information about the interactions taking place

4. Change the Program

• Use the information about learning styles to teach in different ways.

• Sometimes, simply adapting the curriculum can help a lot.

• Sometimes, the student needs completely different materials.

• Sometimes, non-traditional teaching methods are a must (and better for learning!).

• It can be helpful to re-think our definitions of school, subjects, scope and sequence, testing, grading, etc.

• Relax—it’s okay to make all these changes.

5. Acknowledge by Encouraging Talents & Interests

• Talk to students about their interests and goals.

• Support them by providing activities and learning experiences that match their styles.

• When you reinforce their strengths, they relax—they do better in their weak areas and sometimes become interested in things they never wanted to do before.

Focus On What’s Right With Your Child!

The "experts" in special education will look for everything your child can’t do rather than what he can do. This approach has never made anyone successful. What makes people successful is their belief in themselves. In order for a child to grow up confident and motivated, that child needs to see daily, continuous evidence of his strengths, abilities, and competencies.

We invite you to re-think the concept of "learning disabled" and labeling in general. We are all uniquely different and we all have special needs. Our most famous inventors, scientists, musicians, and artists had great difficulty in school. Some were told they were too stupid to ever learn anything. Don’t allow standardized tests and bell curve interpretations of intelligence to define your child.

The number one predictor of success in life and work is a positive attitude coupled with belief in oneself. How many of us are going through a "mid-life crisis" now because these qualities were not nurtured in us when we were growing up?

Victoria & Mariaemma are the authors of Discover Your Child’s Learning Style, Midlife Crisis Begins in Kindergarten, and LearningSuccess for Writing. They are also the developers of A Self-Portrait Online Learning Style Profile.

Customers of The Link receive a discount on the online profile. For information and to order go to www.homeschoolnewslink.com and scroll down to "Find out how your child learns best"

© 2005 by M.P.Willis & V.K.Hodson

LearningSuccess™ Institute, Ventura, CA, www.learningsuccessinstitute.com

Victoria: 805-653-0261, v@learningsuccesscoach.com

Mariaemma: 805-648-1739, m@learningsuccesscoach.com