Tag Archives: Learning Disabilities

Sensory Processing Disorder Through A Child’s Eyes

Understood is a website that provides information and support to parents and those interested in helping kids who have learning differences and attention issues. I found this website through the National Center for Learning Disabilities which is one of the well know non-profits that helped create the website. One of the features of the website is called Through Your Child’s Eyes. Which gives the perspective of the child’s experience with their learning issues. Here is a great one describing Sensory Processing Disorder.

I have seen a child cover her ears and scream when she went into a gym filled with noisy kids. If you understood it is actually painful for the child to hear all the noise, it explains the behavior.

Sensory Processing Disorder does not just affect children with Autism. It can exist by itself or with other conditions like ADHD.

Photo from Sensory Processing Disorder 101 by Priscilla Scherer

The Difference Called ADD

What does it feel like to have ADD?

Click image to slideshow by Additude Magazine

ADHD is like a browser with 600 tabs open, each to a different website.”–adult with ADD

“No matter how clever the alien becomes at attempting to pass as an earthling, some telling awkwardness in his manner, some fatal expression of his true nature will, in unguarded moments, betray him for what he is: “different.”–Gabor Mate M.D. in Scattered

To say someone with ADD has a deficit of attention is a misnomer. People with ADD have a deficit of attention for something that does not interest them. They have an abundance of attention for many things. I think that has been called curiosity.

In his article, Secrets of the ADHD Brain, William Dodson M.D. states “ADHD is not a damaged or defective nervous system. It is a nervous system that works well using its own set of rules. Despite ADHD’s association with learning disabilities, most people with an ADHD nervous system have significantly higher-than-average IQs. They also use that IQ in different ways than neurotypical people. By the time most people with the condition reach high school, they are able to tackle problems that stump everyone else, and can jump to solutions that no one else saw.”

I don’t like calling ADD a “condition” either because that makes me think of illness. I prefer calling it a difference. I do think kids can have trouble functioning in school with ADHD if they are not helped to develop coping skills to adjust their temperaments and differences to the neurotypical, linear thinking environment.  Teachers can make accommodations and modifications in the classroom and work load to help kids with ADHD engage and manage with their school work requirements.

” Far from being damaged goods, people with an ADHD nervous system are bright and clever. The main problem is that they were given a neurotypical owner’s manual at birth. It works for everyone else, not for them.” (Dodson)

Feeling Separate and Unequal with ADHD

Image via Additude Magazine

People with any kind of learning difference are bound to feel “separate and unequal,” because of their difficulties navigating in a world that expects them to fit in. Dr. Dodson describes in this slideshow what this is like and how kids with learning differences can develop a deep shame. Click here to read more:  Feeling Separate and Unequal with ADHD.

It made me aware of how I need to be sensitive to how my reactions can effect the kids I work with as a tutor. I need to keep reminding myself that many of the behaviors are due to the learning differences.

“For ADHDers, shame arises from the repeated failure to meet expectations from parents, teachers, friends, bosses, and the world. It is estimated that those with ADHD receive 20,000 more negative messages by age 12 than those without the condition. They view themselves as fundamentally different and flawed. They are not like other people.–Dr. William Dodson”

It is so important for kids to receive the message that they are accepted and do not have to be perfect. The message that they are worthwhile people and are loved for who they are.

Dr. Dodson points out it is important for kids to feel they have a cheerleader:

“Having someone—a friend, neighbor, coach, or grandparent—who accepts and loves a child or adult with ADHD, despite his faults and shortcomings, is vital in overcoming shame. This is the opposite of perfectionism, in which approval is contingent on what the person has done lately. The accepting person acts as a vessel that holds the memory of you as a good and valuable person, even when things go wrong.”

The Myth of the Normal Brain

I want to share an article that Thomas Armstrong Ph.D. wrote in the American Medical Association Journal of Ethics about neurodiversity that proposes that there is no such thing as a “normal” brain.  I have always felt that kids labeled with Learning Disabilities, ADHD, and Autism have learning differences, not learning disabilities. I do not like the way people with learning differences and mental health issues are often pathologized.

A great thing my credential program in Special Education emphasized was to focus on the person’s strengths. And as this article says, everyone has strengths. Kids can actually develop Depression from being labeled and having everyone focusing on their weaknesses.

Dr. Lara Honos-Webb Ph.D. talks about her experience in her article ” Just Down- Not Out!” that many times after kids are diagnosed with ADHD they develop depression. She states, ” Being diagnosed with ADHD often makes a child or adult feel like there is something intrinsically wrong with their brain..that it impacts all areas of their life…, and that the disorder will not go away. In short, an ADHD diagnosis is a formula for developing depression.”

Dr. Armstrong points out all the things that people are labeled for may actually be adaptive in survival and can still be seen as a strength. Dr. Edward Hallowell was one of the first to write a book about ADD and has resisted labeling ADHD as a disorder. He says, ” The best way to think of ADD is not as a mental disorder but a collection of traits and tendencies that define a way of being in the world. There is some positive to it and some negative, some glory and some pain. If the negative becomes disabling, then this way of being in the world can become a disorder. The point of diagnosis and treatment is to transform the disorder into an asset.” (1)

It makes sense that if you label someone as disordered or tell them they have a disorder they are going to be seen as defective and feel defective. I hope more people in education and medicine adopt the attitude that Dr. Armstrong proposes and see these differences as diversity not disorder. And to focus on the strengths when working with kids.

The Myth of the Normal Brain: Embracing Neurodiversity, Apr 15 – AMA Journal of Ethics (formerly Virtual Mentor).

1. Delivered from distraction: getting the most out of life with attention deficit disorder
By Edward M. Hallowell, John J. Ratey
Published by Random House, Inc., 2005
ISBN 034544230X, 9780345442307


images autism via academicconcepts.org on creative commons

Children with special needs and learning differences do have to fight big battles every day. They are trying to relate to a world which often does not make any allowances for their differences. A world where they are seen as strange and not accepted.

They struggle to engage with the lessons that are presented to them in the classroom. Their learning styles or best way of accessing the material may not be taken into consideration.

The pace at which the material is presented may be too fast and not repeated enough for them to be able to process it.

They may have sensory needs and sensitivities that are impacted. They can be distracted by a noisy classroom or the noise itself can be painful for sensitive ears.

They may struggle to answer questions when called upon because it takes them a longer time to formulate their response.

They may prefer to work alone but are often required to work in groups where there are demands for social skills that they lack, and with other children who are more naturally adept in group interactions.

They may need down time, sensory breaks, and just plain time alone to regroup, recharge, and not be given those breaks.

With all the stresses that are not understood by others, kids can start acting out and have meltdowns. Their behaviors are not understood or easily tolerated by the other kids and the teacher. So that causes them to stand out again as different or strange.

The IEP report stated ” He comes to school every day with a smile on his face and ready to work.”

That is what I call bravery.