In my previous blog, I explained how the symptoms of LD and AD/HD often overlap and that treating a child’s individual problem situations, instead of his or her diagnosis, can empower parents. The "treatments" or strategies needed for many problem situations caused by LD and AD/HD are the same. You and your child’s doctor can decide which challenges are the most important, and then choose the treatments or strategies you think will best address them.
There are several behavioral and educational strategies parents can use, including:
A clear routine at home. Establish a clear, simple, and predictable home routine that helps your child understand when it’s time to do homework, do chores, have fun, eat, and sleep. Children with AD/HD and LD need their parents to take the guesswork out of their daily routines. .
Task/chore/organizational lists. Create task lists or checklists to help your child remember where to put his or her belongings (such as in a school backpack), and how to do certain jobs or tasks (like cleaning up the bedroom). A well-defined description of what’s expected for each task is the first step towards your child’s success in managing it.
Create a space for homework. Provide a distraction-free space for homework. Students with LD and AD/HD expend extra mental energy on homework, and they need as little interference as possible when studying and working on assignments.
Establish a good home-school communication system to assure that homework is completed as required. Students with LD and AD/HD often forget which assignments are due when, and what they’re supposed to do for each. Good communication helps with the task of remembering what materials have to move back and forth between home and school, and defines the specific requirements for homework assignments.
Reinforcing social skills.Students with LD and AD/HD can be inattentive to social cues and can misjudge social situations. When their social interactions go well, think about why. Did your child follow rules of the game successfully? Did he or she ask peers for their input in deciding what they’ll do together? Be sure to offer your child praise and reinforcement in such situations.
Provide emotional support. Children with LD and AD/HD often feel inadequate in social and academic situations and need extra emotional support that helps them to understand and value their strengths, especially when they and adults in their lives often focus on improving their weaknesses. Providing positive feedback about what they do well, no matter how small the accomplishment, can help your child focus on what’s working, instead of always emphasizing what isn’t working. When providing positive supports to children with LD or AD/HD, adults should be alert to – and offer praise for – even very small successes, while still keeping their eye on the big picture. Over time, those small successes will lead to big successes.
Specialized treatments and interventions for AD/HD and LD
All of the above strategies are appropriate for students with LD as well as AD/HD. However, they may not address all of your child’s needs. For example, if your child has AD/HD, you’ll need to discuss with the physician whether or not medication is needed to manage impulse control issues. Managing those symptoms can have a positive impact upon learning in a child with AD/HD. Medication, however, isn’t used to treat LD. If your child has LD, you’ll need to work closely with school personnel to create a plan for specialized instruction, such as phonics instruction, to address your child’s particular LD. Such specialized instruction, however, may not be appropriate for the student with AD/HD.
Even though medications are considered to be a specific treatment for AD/HD, and specialized instruction is a specific intervention for LD, both treatments can have a positive impact on both conditions, depending on their academic needs and progress.
Ready to get started?
Once your child has a formal diagnosis, ask his or her physician or educational specialist about interventions or treatments, such as medication or an Individualized Education Program (IEP), and build upon the basics listed above. Strive for ongoing collaboration with your child’s physician and educational specialist so you can work together to manage the many facets of your child’s LD and/or AD/HD. Remember: Until you have identified the problem situations that you are trying to solve, it’s much more difficult to figure out what you need to do. Don’t ask how to treat your child’s LD and/or AD/HD. Instead, ask questions such as:
How can I make sure my child gets ready for school on time each day?
How can I teach my child to keep his room tidy?
How can I help my child learn to read?
How can I help my child learn to complete a book report?
Not all professionals will know how to answer all of your questions. Just keep asking. You will find the right professionals to answer your questions if they’re familiar with AD/HD and/or LD, and if you focus on your child’s problem situations rather than on the diagnosis alone.
Erik von Hahn, M.D. is a Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrician. He works at the Floating Hospital for Children, Tufts Medical Center, and is assistant professor of Pediatrics at the Tufts University School of Medicine. He sees children with diverse disabilities in a clinic setting and consults with school districts. He has a special interest in promoting collaboration between hospital clinics and schools.