Does Your Child or Teen With LD Need Therapy?
Is your child or teen finding every excuse in the book to avoid going to school? Spending all her time alone? Having trouble eating or sleeping? Or, is something just not quite right, and you’re not sure how to deal with it?
Maybe it’s time to think about seeking some professional help to cope with these emotional challenges. Chances are you know your child best. But take some tips from three professionals in the field who can help guide you through this process.
Not Just a Problem With Academics?
Some research indicates that those with learning disabilities (LDs) are more often challenged by social-emotional issues than those without them, says John T. Beetar, PhD, ABPP, director of Psychological Services for School Programs at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, MD. These are some possible reasons:
Poor self-esteem. “Students with learning problems can be lonely and withdrawn,” says Beetar. “They may deal with mood variability and teasing and bullying by others. Their motivation tends to be poor and there are high dropout rates in this population.”
That can be a setup for poor self-esteem, says Dominick Auciello, PsyD, neuropsychologist with the Learning and Diagnostics Center at the Child Mind Institute in New York City. But it’s important to not jump to conclusions, he says. “That’s because kids with LD can have many different combinations of strengths, weaknesses and outcomes. LD comes in many forms, too.”
Distorted processing. Learning disabilities can distort emotional processing, says Beetar. For example, a problem understanding nonverbal communication might interfere with a child’s ability to “read” other people or cause a child to take things too personally. Misunderstanding can also arise for children with language-based learning challenges, says Auciello. “Much of what happens socially is verbal, so these kids are at risk for not understanding what others are saying or for not expressing themselves effectively.”
Coexisting disorders. Psychiatric disorders such as anxiety, depression, or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) also tend to coexist at higher rates in those with LD than in the general population, says Rebecca S. Martinez, PhD, NCSP, associate professor of the School Psychology Program at Indiana University in Bloomington, IN. “So we want to put our heads together to take care of them,” she says. “It becomes a school issue, parent issue and private practitioner issue.”
Signs of an Emotional Problem
Is your child becoming increasingly distressed over schoolwork? Many students with LD that end up with a diagnosis of LD handle the early grades quite well, says Beetar. “But in the third and fourth grades, academic work begins to get quite challenging for students with learning disabilities.” That’s because there is a shift from learning to read to reading to learn. “At that time, work may become more and more frustrating and the student may start refusing to do certain assignments. This could also be the start of behavioral difficulties that could become worse over time.”
In general, a younger child will have fewer words to describe how they are feeling, says Martinez. For them—and to a certain extent, for teens, too—behavior becomes the language you need to translate.