Posts

LD Adolescent Independence

Julia Murphy, LMFT

Parents often come to me confused about whether or not assisting their LD child is in fact “enabling” him.  A further complication is that each parent may have a different opinion about this issue. Many 18-year-olds may be driving, holding down jobs or making appointments on their own, while these typical rites of passage may not apply to an LD teen, whose development is following a slower course.  These teens may have the emotional maturity of someone much younger.  Parents sometimes feel a renewed sense of fear and grief during this period that may trigger earlier feelings they had when their son or daughter’s learning difference was first detected. 

This was the case with one of my clients, the mother of a son who was diagnosed with Non Verbal Learning Disability and ADHD at age 5. She felt that over the years of his childhood, she had adjusted to her son’s strengths and limitations after the initial shock of his diagnosis when he was age 5, followed by what felt to her like stages of grief: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. She had expended a lot of energy and effort along the way to support her son, having him evaluated periodically, finding educational therapists, occupational therapists and mentors. She also learned how to navigate the IEP process with an advocate who helped her get funding for a non-public school that could support his academic, social and emotional needs.  By the time he reached high school it seemed like life was fairly stable for her son and the family. He was on an effective medication regimen, was able to work more independently, and had finally found a small, steady group of friends.  She could finally relax a little. Although those high school years weren’t without their turbulence, it felt like nothing to her compared to the early years of acting out and hyperactivity both he and his family endured.

Then, as he began his senior year and friends were applying to college, taking the SATs and even finding part time work, a renewed sense of his being set apart and left behind entered her consciousness, especially when his friends came over to the house and she could sense the disparity between her son’s maturity level, accomplishments and abilities compared to his friends. As much as she resisted the comparison, so many early feelings came rushing back – fear, bitterness, grief, heart ache.  As painful as these feelings are, they are also natural. As parents, we want so much for our children to be happy, successful and fulfilled. On a deeper biological/primal level, we hope to ready them for survival after we are gone.

With therapy, this mother was able to recalibrate her emotions surrounding her son and his well-being and to remind herself to resist comparing him to others. She focused on what she could control – support, love and guidance – and managed, at least most of the time, to let go of expectations connected to comparing her son to other teens his age. Admittedly, this is not an easy task for a parent, but it is an important one to work toward. After all, launching a child is a major transition in the life of an entire family.  It may be a very emotional time even without the added worries that come with parenting an LD child.   

My word of advice is, to the best of your ability, honor your feelings but also resist comparing your teen to the “neurotypical” neighbor.  Talk your feelings out with a sympathetic therapist if need be.  In the end, your peace of mind and your child’s self esteem stands a better chance of remaining intact if you consider where your child’s independence and maturity level actually are, rather than where they “should” be. Also, bear in mind that brain and frontal cortex keep developing into the 20s and even 30s.  Many of these skills will develop over time, and learning disabled teens will reach independence with the right support and training.  In fact my mantra to sooth worried parents is the phrase “time is your ally.”  Remember it if you can.

Helping Your Child Master Skills

The key is collaboration. Academic and social skills do not develop in a vacuum. They are the result of interactions between the child and his/her environment. Your child’s capacity to complete tasks independently occurs when skills have been mastered and external supports are no longer required. For example, complex academic assignments may overwhelm your child’s brain. She needs you to look at the task with her and collaboratively develop a plan for how the assignment or project will be executed. This means breaking the task down into steps, then creating timelines for each step to be accomplished. You might also have to work with your child to actually complete the steps. The idea here is not to do the work for your child but to do it with her. This collaboration will enhance his learning, while also helping her develop the organizational and planning skills necessary to eventually mange the work on her own.

6 Ways to Parent Wisely (Especially with Challenging Kids)

As backed by numerous research studies, your ability to effectively model the following skills for your child will help you strengthen your relationship with him or her:

  1. Manage your difficult emotions. Your ability to identify and reflect on your feelings without acting on them immediately is critical to healthy relationships. When you react impulsively to your negative emotions, you increase the likelihood of saying something to your child that you might later regret. You are also more likely to be punitive, which also ruptures your connection to your child. I’m not suggesting that you absolve your child of responsibility, but I am suggesting that you hold him or her accountable in a thoughtful way.
  2. Appropriately express your emotions. Your capacity to experience, reflect, accurately label and effectively communicate emotions helps your child develop the same capacity. In fact, I think it is accurate to say that one’s ability to process and communicate feelings is fundamental to any healthy relationship.
  3. Listen carefully to your child. Take the time to listen to your child’s feelings and understand his experiences. It is important that you not impose your interpretation of his experience. Try to understand experiences from his perspective. The more time you take to listen to his feelings and help him label these feelings, the better he will become at managing difficult emotions over time.
  4. Problem-solve with your child. When challenging situations arise, it is helpful if you can problem solve with your child about how to address whatever the situation might be. This is how your child develops better problem solving skills. It is particularly helpful when you can anticipate difficult situations and trouble shoot with your child in advance.
  5. Maintain perspective on your child’s development. Brain development and emotional maturity is a process that takes time. While we cannot force the brain to develop any faster than nature will allow, we can remove impediments to brain development and emotional maturation. For example, if your child has poor impulse control, you will not find a punishment that makes him less impulsive. You can, however, identify situations where he is more vulnerable to more impulsive behavior and together come up with strategies for maintaining self control in those situations. In addition, if he does behave impulsively, you can discuss his behavior with him and have him take responsibility for his actions. Keep in mind that the brain’s breaking system responsible for filtering what is said and done will not fully develop until he is between 25 and 30 years of age.
  6. Adjust your expectations of your child and yourself. It is important that you understand your child’s strengths and challenges when setting appropriate expectations. Avoid using, age, grade or comparisons with sibling or peers when deciding on what your child should be able to do. Every child is unique with his own rate of development. There is no formula for setting and maintaining expectations other than listening to your child and trial and error.

 

 

Parenting – React or Reflect?

A “reactive” parenting style focuses on a child’s observable behavior with a tendency to incorrectly assume negative motives for academic problems, behavior issues or social challenges. This is a mindset that is easy to fall into but it reduces your child’s challenges to intentional choices he or she is making, a perspective that will leave you feeling frustrated, angry and confused. In this state, you are more likely to react intensely and/or punitively. When talking with parents and teachers, I frequently hear them use terms like “lazy,” “defiant,” “attention seeking” and “bossy.” By using these terms, they are labeling a child’s observable behavior and making negative assumptions about his motives. Instead, what a child’s problematic behavior usually indicates is an issue with environmental demands (ie: home and school) exceeding their capacity to succeed. So, how do you make a shift in parenting style to help your child? The first step is trusting that children will do well if they can. Remember, children with learning differences, in particular, lack the skills to consistently meet environmental demands. Ask yourself why your child would choose to do poorly if they possessed the skills to do well. The human brain is not hard wired to work that way. Develop some curiosity about why your child is struggling. Is too much being asked of him? As a “reflective” parent, you can help your child feel that their thoughts, emotions and experiences are understood, considered and accepted. You might not agree with a child’s perception of an experience; however, you can still take the time to listen and try to understand. Assisting your child with describing his experience and learning how to name emotions helps him to tolerate and effectively manage challenging feelings. Listening to your child’s feelings without judgement allows him to experience you as a resource for coping with any challenge that arises.

Summer Support

Summer’s a good time to get a little extra support for your learning disabled high schooler. In addition to therapy services, we can pair your teen with a college grad/ mentor who will steer your child toward college readiness. We’ll tailor our program to fit your child’s needs. Some services we offer include:

  • Academic tutoring
  • Help with organization and planning
  • Shoring up life skills and independence
  • Nutrition and exercise regimes

Call or email for more information: Julia@MilestoneMentoring.com  *  Julia Murphy (818) 388-1526

Stress: An Alternative Explanation for Common Learning and Behavioral Challenges

Breakout Session with Dr. Peter Murphy and Dr. Daniel Franklin at the Language and Learning Conference, May 2, 2015 – UCLA Carnesale Commons

Drawing on the latest findings from the fields of social neuroscience, psychology, and education, this presentation will explore the biological mechanisms of stress and identify how stress impacts learning and behavior. In addition, the connection between healthy attachment and stress will be discussed. This presentation will offer specific strategies that parents, teachers, and clinicians can use to mitigate stress-related learning and behavioral challenges.

Conference registration online at www.DyslexiaLA.org/events

 

The ABCs of Learning Challenges (Part 2)

Academic Skill Deficits

1. Dyslexia, or reading difficulties, effects about 80% of children with learning challenges.

  • They may have difficulty decoding words, reading fluently, as well as comprehending text.
  • Writing may also be difficult, which includes organizing thoughts, putting ideas into sequence and using grammar, punctuation and spelling appropriately.

2. Dyscalculia, or difficulty with math, is also common among children with learning challenges.

  • This may include difficulty with mental math, transposing digits, failing to line up numbers properly in an equation or omitting steps in a math problem.

Fortunately, there are strategies and accommodations that will help your child cope with his or her learning challenges, including implementing the right modifications and accommodations at school to help him learn, supporting the development of his interests and strengths, helping him understand his challenges, and providing him with support and understanding.

The ABCs of Learning Challenges (Part 1)

  • Most children with learning differences are affected by multiple challenges.
  • Learning challenges often surface when there is a mismatch between the child’s abilities and the demands of the environment. For example, an academic curriculum may be accelerated beyond the developmental level of the child (or many of the children) in a particular classroom.
  • People with verbal learning disabilities have difficulty with words, both spoken and written
  • People with non-verbal learning disabilities may have difficulty processing abstract concepts, abstract reasoning and conceptualizing concepts.
  • visual processing or perceptual disorder refers to a hindered ability to make sense of information taken in through the eyes.
  • An auditory processing disorder interferes with a person’s ability to make sense of information taken in through the ears.

(To be continued)

10-Week Workshop For Parents of Challenging Children

Starting August 2014. Parents of Elementary and High School Students….Get a Head Start on the School Year!

Parenting children with learning differences is often stressful. We’re here to help. The purpose of this 10-week workshop is to provide parents with new insight into the lives of their children who have been diagnosed with learning differences. New concepts will help parents facilitate their children’s cognitive, emotional and social development. Our relationship-based approach emphasizes the importance of healthy parent/child relationships that evolve out of understanding, empathy, developmentally appropriate expectations, and the modeling of effective emotional-regulation and problem-solving skills. Please contact Julia Murphy, MA 818-388-1526 or Julia@MurphyPsychologyGroup.com                                                                                

Do You Believe All Children Want To Succeed?

I have yet to meet a child who does not want to succeed.  We all possess a natural drive for mastery over appropriate developmental tasks.  There is a robust pleasure for learning built into our brains.  We are driven to create connections between neurons and to master skills under the right conditions.  This concept is well supported by neuroscience research.  It is up to us as parents and other adults working with children to engage our curiosity about why a child sometimes has trouble in school or with friends and at other times seems to function so smoothly.

All adults working with children have a responsibility to communicate confidence in a child’s capacity to learn.  We also have to let children know that we are committed to helping them master whatever challenges stand in their way.  This approach will help these children develop resiliency and self esteem.  With encouragement and support, a child will learn to tolerate feelings or frustration and discouragement that sometimes come with the learning process.

When we observe our children struggling, we sometimes make assumptions about their motives in the form of character labels.  “Lazy,” “manipulative,” “self-centered,” “oppositional,” and “disrespectful” are a few of the common labels used to interpret poor performance.  When bright kids struggle it may seem to be the only way to make sense of their difficulties.  Learning differences can be confusing to observers because they are invisible, unlike physical disabilities.

A typical question I hear from parents is “Why can he play video games for hours but not focus on his homework?”  The truth is, video games activate the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain that enhances focus.  Most homework assignments don’t provide the same kind of stimulation for the brain.  It can be very stressful for an intelligent child to engage in a tedious academic task in the classroom or at home.

When we reduce our child’s struggles to character flaws, we are not considering the demands placed on her in different settings and whether or not she has developed the capacities and skills to meet those expectations.  Also, our understanding as to why she struggles is going to influence the way she understands her own difficulties.  For example, I often ask children with learning differences whey they think they are having problems in school or with homework.  It is not uncommon for them to respond, “It’s because I am lazy.”  Such a response tells me that adults in these children’s lives have fostered this belief in them.  If we are curoius about our child and willing to broaden our understanding of her struggles, we will help her develop a broader understanding of her strengths and challenges.  This mindset allows both parent and  child to work together to consider many more potential solutions to the problem at hand.

Finally, character labels limit our capacity to help.  What are we left to do if we determine that our child is lazy?  This mindset increases the likelihood that we will become more frustrated and possibly punitive about getting your expectations met.  In response, our child may become frustrated, angry and therefore resistant to doing what is asked.  A narrow perspective on our part sets up a negative dynamic with our child.

(Peter Murphy, Ph.D. To Be Continued)