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Recently, I watched a 30 minute documentary produced by HBO called I Can’t Do This But I Can Do That: A Film for Families About Learning Differences.
It is an excellent film that shows several children with learning differences who finally get the help they need. It is a hopeful story, and the takeaway is that these children have trouble in school, but they have talents and gifts that serve them well outside of school.
After almost 30 years teaching students with learning differences, I think I finally realize the pain these children feel. This realization is partly because of the film, but also because of several biographies I read recently. Two of the best are Most Unlikely to Succeed by Nelson Lauver and My Dyslexia by Philip Schultz. All of these (the books and documentary) illustrate the intense emotional pain children feel when they are made to feel stupid and lazy. In Lauver’s case, not only did he endure emotional pain, but he also suffered unimaginable physical abuse by the teachers and administrators in his school.
Even though school can be painful, life after school does not have to be. Today, Nelson Lauver is a well-known performer and speaker. He is called “The American Storyteller.” Philip Schultz won a Pulitzer Prize for his poetry. Both of these men are hugely successful as adults, yet their childhood, particularly when in school, was absolutely miserable for them.
What is the lesson from this? If you know a child who is struggling in school, find something he does well and make sure he has plenty of time to spend doing it. Emphasize his talents and allow him to share them with others. Read stories with him about successful adults who also had a hard time in school. And, most of all, figure out what kind of help he needs and get it for him!
A good place to start finding out what kind of help is available is with the school psychologist or counselor. Many struggling students have incredible gifts. It is those gifts that give them a hopeful future. They need to hear this over and over again. What they hear from the adults in their life is what they believe about themselves.