Behaving Badly or Learning Differently?

By June 1, 2013 February 13th, 2017 Children, Education, General

When I get up each morning to go to work, it is not the aggravating sound of the alarm clock that prompts me to get out of bed, nor is it the pay I will receive for fulfilling my duties. Instead, I am motivated to go to work because, as a school psychologist (candidate register), I have the opportunity to help students learn to their fullest potential. Naturally, I do not aim to do this alone; it takes collaboration and teamwork, generally involving parents, teachers and, of course, the student. We have some wonderful teachers working in our schools – teachers who are motivated to help students with learning disabilities attain academic success. Consequently, my role involves not only assessment and diagnosis of learning disabilities, but also (perhaps more importantly) recommendations that are both helpful and realistic for the mainstream classroom.

Prior to entering the area of school psychology, I provided literacy instruction to students with learning disabilities – an experience for which I am truly grateful. During this time, parents often noted a decrease in behavioural problems after participating in lessons tailored to students’ learning strengths and areas of difficulty. Some of the students who were new to the program felt angry, as opposed to relieved, after receiving a diagnosis of a learning disability. After meeting with these students on several occasions, I think they began to realize that we truly wanted to help. Some later told me that they could never compete academically with younger siblings or that they had repeatedly been told that they were not trying hard enough at school. Thus, to avoid feeling unintelligent, many began to act up or clown around, which, in their words, really helped the situation – indeed, it was better to be known as bad, rather than stupid have a peek here. This, of course, is the biggest misconception with regard to learning disabilities. To be diagnosed with a learning disability, students must present with average or above average overall cognitive skills. Hence, students with learning disabilities are far from unintelligent – in fact, I recall being corrected many times by my students when teaching!

Difficulties with learning can also trigger feelings of sadness and/or anxiety…and sadness in children sometimes manifests as irritability (a vicious cycle, so to speak). Students with learning disabilities may feel like they are “just not getting it” in the same way as their classmates. Imagine you and a friend are driving to the same coffee shop. Your friend makes a right turn, drives for about one minute, and then arrives at the shop. You approach the same right turn, but a road block has emerged – frustrating! You will, however, arrive at the coffee shop eventually… you will just need to take a different route. I realize that this is just an analogy, but, in a way, this is how it may feel for some students with learning disabilities; they may feel like they are just not progressing at the same rate as other students their age. Yet, with appropriate instruction, and an understanding of learning disabilities, students can thrive both emotionally and academically. In the same way that you will have to take a different route to get to that coffee shop, they will likely need to take a different approach to learning. Thus, monitoring for feelings of anxiety and/or sadness is beneficial, and alleviating such negative feelings is crucial. Most importantly, it is essential that students with learning disabilities understand that they are smart – they just learn differently.

As a school psychologist (candidate register), I aim to share my knowledge and experiences, and also learn from the knowledge and experiences of others, in an attempt to help create learning environments that are secure, dynamic, and open to positive change. An amazing job – worth getting up for each day!

Author Natasha Buchanan

Natasha has extensive experience in the administration, scoring, and interpretation of psychological and psychoeducational assessments with children and youth. One of her greatest strengths in the area of assessment relates to the development of effective instructional strategies and learner-based accommodations to enhance not only learning, but also social and emotional well-being. Owing to her teaching experience, Natasha is skilled at providing recommendations that are both useful and realistic for the classroom. She has also gained experience with functional assessment-based interventions, and she has conducted numerous individual- and group-based therapy sessions with children and youth, based on several different issues relating to mental health and learning, such as anger management, social skills, bullying, etc. These experiences have strengthened Natasha's desire to help children and youth reach their full academic potential.

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