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Perseverance and LD: Enhancing Skills for Success in Life

Life Skills Learning - Social Skills Help  Are you a college-educated professional who can’t imagine anything less for your child? Maybe you’ve even visualized the famous actor or successful surgeon, earning $300,000 a year. Perhaps goals like these are within reach for your child. But even if they’re not, don’t just give up. Whether or not a child has learning disabilities (LD), you can define success in many different ways. It inhabits the realm of health and relationships and fulfilling work, for example.

Redefine success based on your child’s unique strengths and interests. Then help your child pursue that image of success. How can you do this? By fostering traits that lead to success. One such trait that research shows can lead to success, especially for those with LD, is perseverance—the ability to keep going, despite challenges or setbacks.

A Model of Resolve

Watch and learn. As you well know, your child is continually doing just that. And, you’re the very first teacher. So when it comes to perseverance, what are the lessons you’re teaching? Do you give up after the first try at something new? Is your knee-jerk response to turn to others as problem solvers? If so, give these habits a second look. If you want your child to persevere, you must do so as well. To paraphrase Gandhi, “Be the change you want to see in your family.”

Still, it’s also important for your children—whether learning disabled or not—to know that their parents’ lives have not always been a bed of roses. Jeff Rice, principal of one of the Briarwood Schools in Houston, TX, serving students with LD and developmental delays, uses himself as an example.

“I hit my wall in high school with math,” he says, describing why, when he went to college, he took a required calculus class as pass/fail. He worked really hard, but still failed the class. It was only after one-on-one work with a teacher and retaking the class over the summer that he was able to earn a solid B+. Sharing experiences like these can help your child understand that everyone struggles and everyone needs to practice stick-to-itiveness.

Here are a few other tips for teaching your child how to persist.

  1. Size up the situation.

    Paul J. Gerber, PhD, professor of Special Education and Disability Policy at the Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA, describes the importance of sizing up each situation to see whether you can adapt to it or make it adapt to you. This, he says, is an ”incubator,” a thought process for good problem solving. He calls it “learned creativity,” the opposite of learned helplessness where you give up because you think you’re prone to failure. (So, why try?) People with that mindset, he says, are often marginally adjusted to adulthood or become very dependent. But the closer you are to being able to shape situations for your best purposes, the more creative and successful is your approach to the world.

    Try helping your child size up situations and develop a creative mindset by asking probing questions like these:

    • What’s missing for you to be successful in this situation?

    • What would it take for you to complete this task?

    • Are there adjustments you could make in yourself, or could you change something so this works better for you?

    • What are you lacking in support? Where could you go to find it?

  2. Break it up.

    One of the best ways to encourage perseverance is to break up large projects into smaller steps. This makes them more manageable. Show your child how to “chunk” a large research project, by creating a checklist and putting specific tasks onto a calendar. This way, each completed step provides immediate results and a sense of accomplishment. Then it’s easier to keep going.

    Rice says this need to break things up continues throughout high school and college. (And, it can often be applied in the workplace!) “We recommend that our students take no more than three classes at a time in college,” he says, referring to students with LD who struggle with multiple courses. This, combined with knowing how to ask for accommodations, can make the challenges of college much less daunting.

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