The sweeping effects of virtual learning during the peak of the pandemic — students’ complaints of falling behind, struggling to concentrate and focus, not engaging on a personal level with teachers or receiving special instruction, missing peer interactions — are not new to parents of students with learning differences. Pandemic-induced school disruptions, which deprived many kids of accessing a fair and appropriate public education, resemble the challenges that students with learning differences have faced for decades.
How Learning Disorders Breed Shame
We, as parents, know all too well the stress, anxiety, and physical and emotional symptoms associated with learning challenges. We understand the frustration of trying to turn around woeful school engagement in our kids and their educators, too. When my children are denied the accommodations they need, this quickly leads to anger, battles about going to school, and self-talk that includes “stupid” and “I know I have to try harder.”
I have seen how difficult it is to enlighten school district personnel and explain that a student’s poor behavior and negative self-talk are the direct result of not receiving the accommodations that are appropriate and necessary for academic success. When I asked for support and a 504 Plan, school administrators said to me: “Suzy knows what she needs to do.” As if my daughter chooses not to do it. As if any child chooses ADHD, dyslexia, or any other learning challenges.
[Download: What Learning Disabilities Look Like in the Classroom]
In another 504 Plan meeting, I asked the teacher if my child, who had just received a good grade for an assignment, had used any accommodations. The teacher’s response: “No, she did not cheat.” How can my child feel good about using the services she needs if this is the prevailing opinion of her teacher?
It’s a devastating blow when teachers and administrators fail to provide adequate assessments and resources — whether due to budget issues, staffing shortages, ignorance about ADHD, or the pandemic — to support a child’s academic success. As parents, we watch as these interactions project shame and blame onto our children, who suffer through years of negative experiences in school. More awareness and an investment in teacher training would go a long way toward improving academic success in students with learning differences.
The Social-Emotional Impact of Learning Disorders
After living through three academic years impacted by the pandemic, all parents understand the heartbreak of witnessing their students’ social-emotional struggles, learning loss, and mental health conflicts. Let this experience be a window through which parents and educators gain insight into the too-often unmet needs of kids with learning differences.
Most students with learning challenges have long struggled with the emotional and social toll resulting not from the disability directly, but from a school system that limits or creates barriers to accessing the full suite of accommodations kids need to engage fully in learning. We must all speak up to help our local educators and policy makers see this important connection.
Learning Disorders and ADHD: Next Steps
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