Several things can turn a child with learning disabilities away from school and studies. A learning disability can be even more of a burden in a classroom setting because a student is more prone to public criticism. As a parent, you can help your child learn to cope with his or her learning disability by establishing good study habits outside of the classroom in a safe space. The key is to make time for your child and personalize his or her education. Teachers often cannot focus as much individual attention on a student as they would like, so your role as a parent becomes more important when assisting a child with a learning disability. If you have no experience with trying to overcome a learning disability, then these are some strategies you can employ.  

1. Turn learning into a fun experience.

One of the easiest strategies to help a child with learning disabilities is to turn learning into a game. The problem with most mass-produced games, however, is that they typically involve bright colors and lights, loud and distracting noises, or extremely busy scenery. These elements can cause an educational game to become an over-stimulating mess. Over-stimulation can be especially problematic with children experiencing problems with attention span. To overcome this problem, you can create or modify a game for your child’s use with minimal elements and a limited, but not too understated, color palette.

An example of a good game to use for vocabulary would be the popular guessing game Taboo. Instead of using the words listed on the cards, you can use an age-appropriate list of vocabulary terms for your child. This game is useful because it teaches children not only how to use synonyms, but also how vocabulary relates to context. For instance, a child struggling with understanding the difference between “allude” and “elude” would be able to deduce from context clues which would be the correct word. At the end of a game, the winner could receive a prize, which brings us to the next strategy.   

2. Offer your child rewards for accomplishments.

One often maligned tactic when trying to teach a child with a learning disability is to reward your child for a high level of achievement. The problem most often encountered when using this approach is when to stop. You don’t want your child to end up spoiled, after all! Usually a parent’s threshold for an accomplishment lowers over time. This is one area where you must remain firm. If your child was supposed to earn an A on a test, but he or she earns a C, there is no room for bargaining. If he or she earns a B+ or an A-, then a slight downgrade of the reward may be appropriate. For instance, if you promised your child an ice cream social for ten friends if he or she earned an A, then an A- warrants a visit to the local ice cream shop with two friends. This way, you’ll remain true to your word, and your child will understand that the outcome of his or her work is directly related to performance in school.  

There are two approaches when using rewards to help encourage your child to study and succeed. The first is by giving them short term rewards. These rewards consist of a small treat if your child has completed all of his or her homework for the night or did a great job on a test during the week. When deciding what treat to give your child, a positive approach would be a healthy but tasty snack. With the abundance of organic and wheat-free alternatives to traditional comfort snacks, it should be no problem to find an appropriate short-term reward.   

The second approach to using a rewards-based system is by offering long-term rewards. Doing so encourages your child not only to see the immediate benefit of working hard, but also to think of the future when working on studies. These types of rewards are crucial for children with learning disabilities. Children in general typically have trouble seeing the benefit of studying hard over a long period of time, but offering them tangible results will lead to a better appreciation for learning. Long-term rewards can be anything from a pizza party for acing the final exam to a savings bond for working hard on a difficult class project. Younger children and older teens will both appreciate vacation plans that are made as a reward for hard work. After all, who wouldn’t want to while away the hours relaxing on a beach after a long semester of hard work?

3. Help your child with drills.

Several providers of the new brain training craze like to use math drills to help people build their mental speed and accuracy. The same concept can be put to use for students with problems in math or reading. Using flash cards, you can drill your child on multiplication, division, subtraction, and addition. For older children, you can also drill them with order of operations problems for math or syllable counting for reading.   

The primary difficulty with drills is determining when to stop. Like the strategy of creating a game, you have to consider the point at which your child would be over-stimulated. Think about it: You don’t concentrate your best when you’ve been working for six hours straight. A child with a learning disability may be experiencing that same level of mental fatigue after a mere forty minutes. Constant drilling is not as helpful as doing a couple of drills and then taking a break. After five minutes, pick up on the drills exactly where you left off.  

4. Take away distractions, but offer breaks.

All too often, you hear about students who sit at a desk for hours at a time to do their homework, but they don’t finish anything. A big reason for this is the endless pile of distractions faced by today’s children. They have cell phones, iPads, music players, and video games all contained in portable devices. Take these distractions away. When your child sits down to study, he or she needs to focus on studying and not splitting attention over five electronic devices.

Taking away your child’s distractions doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t receive breaks, though. Breaking up the work into manageable 20-30 minute chunks helps studying become a more doable task. At fixed intervals, offer a five minute break to go to the bathroom, grab a snack, or just meditate. Doing so will help refocus your child’s concentration on the task at hand, and he or she will return to it with a refreshed and reinvigorated attitude. Just make sure they don’t spend their five minute break texting!

4. Integrate lessons into everyday life.

This strategy is big. Too often, children do not feel a connection to the materials they learn in school because they don’t feel that it is relevant to their daily lives. How often have you heard the phrase, “I’ll never use algebra” in a sitcom or cartoon? The prevailing idea in today’s society is that you don’t need to learn concepts because they aren’t applicable to day-to-day situations. If a child learns from an early age, however, that every lesson is critical to success, then that child will learn to value and retain lessons better.

In the example of algebra, you can encourage your child to use it while you are both out shopping. Ask him or her to calculate how many eggs you’ll need if you plan on having guests visit over the weekend.

Another strategy that can be unique for children with memory-based learning problems is to help them build memory skills by holding mini-tests for them. Before you visit the grocery store or the mall, make a list of all the items you need to pick up. Then offer the list to your child and ask him or her to memorize the items. Bring the list with you, and quiz your child on what the items from the list were. At first, your child may be able to remember only one or two items, but after practicing over the course of a few weeks, you should see a marked improvement in his or her memory.

5. Build your child’s confidence by having them socialize.

Finally, another “real world” situation where a child with a learning disability can benefit is socialization. Oftentimes, students with learning disabilities are nervous in social situations, which can lead to silence in the classroom as well. Consider the way you would feel if you answered a question incorrectly in class. Would you blush and want to hide under your desk for the next ten minutes? You can probably imagine that happening a lot more frequently for a child with a learning disability. And feeling like you’re going to answer a question incorrectly does not associate happiness with hand-raising. If you want to encourage your child to be more confident in their abilities, then help them socialize. Introduce them to people you know or talk to on a regular basis. Over time, children will learn that making mistakes is a common part of socialization. Learning that will help them overcome fear of incorrectly answering questions.

Besides having children talk to people you know, encourage them to socialize with children their own age by setting up play dates. If your child has trouble talking to his or her peers, then try to observe them and figure out why. Is your child having trouble finding children with similar interests, or are they not connecting on a more fundamental level? As someone with substantially more life experience, you can provide light coaching on how to handle either situation.

Ultimately, the goal for integrating lessons into real life is to help your child become more comfortable with learning as a lifelong effort. Students who experience trouble throughout their school years will likely be discouraged from pursuing education on their own. For this reason, it is important to instill the values of self-motivated education from an early age to combat the difficulties that a child may face in the classroom.