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Proactivity and LD: Enhancing Skills for Success in Life

Life Skills Learning - Social Skills HelpSuccess in life is about a lot of things: education, employment, meaningful relationships—and so much more. All parents hope their children will attain it. But most parents who have children with learning disabilities (LD) have at least one moment when they wonder whether their children can truly achieve life success. Not only is it possible for your child, but you also can do many things to foster qualities that make success much more likely.

This article sheds a little light on proactivity, which research shows is pivotal to success for individuals with LD.

Passivity Is Passé

Acting, rather than reacting, to events is a hallmark of successful people—whether they have learning disabilities or not. People who are proactive not only believe in the power to control their own destiny, but they also exercise that control instead of becoming pawns or victims.

Paul J. Gerber, PhD, professor in the department of Special Education and Disability Policy at the Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA, is currently co-authoring a book with Marshall H. Raskind, PhD, about highly successful people with LD. (The book is scheduled for publication by the end of 2011.)

“When we study or interview people who are highly successful, we see them really taking the bull by the horns and setting the agenda—at least their own agenda,” he says. Sometimes this differs from what others expect of them, but they’ve learned to play to their strengths, articulate their ideas, anticipate the demands of a situation and take control to the extent possible. “When you are proactive, you can help frame or structure a situation so it’s fitting to you,” he says, explaining that this works just as well for people who simply achieve regular—not exceptional—success.

Here’s what he and others have to say about how parents can help foster this quality in children who have LD.

  1. Talk about it.

    Jeff Rice is principal of one of the Briarwood Schools in Houston, TX, serving students with LD and developmental delays. He says that proactivity is one of the more difficult attributes for parents to instill in their kids, but that it can be done.

    A good starting place for parents is to label and define the term for their child. “Proactivity is a big word,” he says, and it will help if you can explain or illustrate its connection to self-advocacy. When you catch your child being proactive, then give her immediate reinforcement. That helps her better understand the concept. For example, learning how to ask questions is an important aspect of proactivity and a critical skill in both school and life. If you catch your child asking questions to get her needs met, be sure to give the proverbial pat on the back and congratulate her for being proactive.

    Monica Gomez, a social skills coordinator at the Frostig School, a school for children with learning disabilities in Pasadena, CA, adds that discussing the idea of proactivity brings it into the open. “We’re very big on giving kids the language,” she says. She suggests that parents might say something like this to their child: “You’re really good at stepping out and doing for yourself in this arena, but I notice when you’re in this other situation, it’s more difficult—you get nervous or stressed out. What can we learn for you to be more proactive?”

    Prompting your child for her ideas can help promote proactivity and good problem-solving skills. If your gradeschooler is sitting in the classroom and her pencil breaks, ask her what she thinks she can do. If necessary, prompt with follow-up questions: “Is it best to stare at your desk? Ask someone else for a pencil? Ask to sharpen your pencil?”

  2. Help your child identify resources.

    Knowing how to get help means knowing who to ask and knowing where to look for other resources. Use “teachable moments” to help your child identify these resources, says Chris Schnieders, PhD, director of teacher training at the Frostig School. “It’s a major theme running through middle school,” she says, and a time when teachers (and parents!) need to repeatedly ask students, “What are your resources?”

    “We spend a lot of time discussing resources like the computer, thesaurus or phone numbers of friends.” Then kids don’t feel stumped and simply respond with something like, “I didn’t do my homework because I forgot what it was.”

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