Types of Therapy for Children and Teens With LD
Page 1 of 2You’ve done some soul searching and decided that your child or teen with a learning disability (LD) might benefit from therapy. But with so many options available, what’s the best approach to take? For some kids, just having a supportive place to go where they can talk and feel understood and validated is helpful, says Dominick Auciello, PsyD, neuropsychologist with the Learning and Diagnostics Center at the Child Mind Institute in New York City. That’s especially true for a kid who has taken a “beating” or been bullied due to his or her learning disability. “But good treatments, in general, combine both validation and strategies to help promote change,” he says.
Common Types of Therapy for KidsUnderstanding the source of the emotional difficulty is very important, says John T. Beetar, PhD, ABPP, director of Psychological Services for School Programs at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, MD. “If social skills are a problem area, for example, then attendance at group therapy focusing on social skills can be helpful,” he says. Two other common approaches are solution-focused counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy.
Social skills groupsThese are common and many schools offer them says Rebecca S. Martinez, PhD, NCSP, associate professor of the School Psychology Program at Indiana University in Bloomington, IN. So start here first, she says. “This isn’t therapy as we tend to think of it, but is still addressing the ‘nonacademic’ side of a child.”
Social skills groups can help children learn how to take turns, initiate conversations, regulate their emotions and make and keep friends. 75 percent of kids with LD have social skills deficits, says Martinez.
Groups can also create a sense of camaraderie and belonging around others who are struggling with a similar challenge, says Auciello. “They’ve also been effective in helping overcome social anxiety.” For a child with LD who is particularly introverted or anxious, Auciello recommends a smaller group of no more than three to five kids. A speech and language pathologist who has a good understanding of both social communication and language development might facilitate such a group, he says.
Where groups may fall short, says Auciello, is in not having a means of transferring skills learned in the group to everyday life. It can also be difficult to find a group that addresses a student’s particular challenge and is also targeted to the right age range.
If a social skills group is not available, a school counselor or other therapist may use role-playing and modeling techniques to promote social skills and help overcome communication problems, says Beetar.
Solution-focused counselingThis type of counseling is a more practical approach than some types of therapy, says Martinez. Rather than prompting a child to focus on childhood dreams and expectations to get to the bottom of a rift with a classmate, she says, a solution-focused counselor might have a child focus simply on the interactions she’s distraught about. What’s working? What’s not? How can you make this better?
“This is especially helpful as kids enter middle school when they are learning how to initiate conversations and ask for help when they don’t understand things,” says Martinez. “I’m not against private practitioners,” she says, “just trying to save parents money and anguish. Sometimes parents go to the Yellow Pages, and find six or seven local practitioners with PhDs. But they may have very little experience working with children and less experience working with schools. Parents can shell out hundreds of dollars when the issue is simply, “I don’t know how to make friends.”