Learning difficulties

Bill Goodyear – Teacher and learning difficulties expert

Bill Goodyear is a teacher, a father and a coach. He has worked with people with autism throughout his career, and is a past principal of a National Autistic Society school. Nowadays, he coaches adults with Asperger’s Syndrome as well as families living with a child with autistic spectrum disorders.
Having met and worked with hundreds of families in his time, he understands the Art of the Possible – parenting your child successfully whilst balancing your life in all its complicated glory.
Babies turn into children fast and are subject to more observation, assessment and monitoring than ever before and it is very easy to worry – nature probably knows best. However, sometime this is not so and Bill has a lifetime’s experience of helping families to manage their child, their relationships and the rest of their family’s, not to mention the powers that be.

Watching you child develop is a joy and a job – sometimes it is great worry. Here are some thoughts to guide at least some of your concerns.

Question 1:

What should I do if my child is not developing like other children?

Answer 1:

Children develop at varying speeds and they follow varying routes. However there are recognised ‘milestones’ and steps in development. Not the least of these is your own instinct – if you feel that there is something wrong you should always go and talk with your GP or health visitor, although many parents tell tales of GPs and other health professionals who brushed them off with ‘wait and see’. Research show that early intervention is one of the strongest factors in helping a child with any difficulties, so you have to push for information, assurance and expertise. Sometimes you have to risk offending the professionals. Your peace of mind is more important than theirs.
Make a fuss. Most parents find this hard to do and many come to regret being slow to learn how to be unreasonable. However, you also need to learn to listen – they may be right.
Any child who is finding the going tough, whether or not they have official ‘learning difficulties’ needs a safe haven of understanding and support. However, they also need to be encouraged strongly to be as independent and successful as is possible. We all work well within our limits of what we could do, and this gives your child some leeway – they may have to try harder and to adopt specific strategies for getting the most out of their experiences. Don’t let them off being as good as they can be, and do love the child and challenge the problem.

Question 2:
How do I manage difficult behaviour?

Answer 2:

All behaviour means something. However, our own standards of what is acceptable change – babies of a few weeks old can be really challenging, and very few get blamed. Later, when they are two or three years old there are more expectations and they do often get blamed. As they become socially and emotionally more aware, the going gets tough and they have to learn to rein in their selfishness and learn to share. Toddlers don’t like this and they generally complain loudly. For some children this is the parting of the ways, with others it is a just a difficult stage which they grow through in a perfectly healthy way.
So the first thing is to assess whether you are being reasonable, and whether the child can actually comply with your demands. You may have to break things down into smaller steps, or just curb your enthusiasm and wait it out.
It is also often possible to avoid conflict – is it really necessary to wait until after three? Can you not just let him sleep? Let him have the toy? Maybe later you can have another go, but just for now, and it may be better to lose the battle and win the war. Alternatively it may be quite wrong to allow the little tyrant to run your life in this way and it may be time to say ‘no’. Only you can choose, but if it is time to learn ‘no’, make the lesson easy to learn – don’t waver, be clear, stay calm and easy – love the child, loathe the tantrum. Always make sure he has something that he can do to comply and move on – give him a way out. And an upset child’s ability to understand can plummet, so keep your messages simple so that you know he understands and can do what is asked of him. Then let it go and have a nice recovery time.

Question 3:
What about labels – what is a ‘learning disability?

Answer 3:

Children grow up to be themselves, and their developmental progress covers all parts of the human spectrum. Scientists build a career out of identifying patterns and creating labels that help us to understand and categorise, and so the child doesn’t always exactly fit the diagnostic labels.
Some global learning disabilities, such as Down’s Syndrome, arise because of a specific abnormality in the child’s makeup (a chromosome deficiency). A simple blood test will confirm or deny, although that does not tell you so much – nowadays, some people with Down’s Syndrome drive cars, get married and earn their living.
Global learning disabilities affect the child’s overall level of functioning. Specific learning disabilities, such as dyslexia or dyspraxia, affect one area of functioning and make it harder for the child to learn. They are harder to identify and can be helped considerably by specific teaching strategies, which schools should understand.
Developmental disorders affect a child’s development (prime amongst these are autistic spectrum disorders), and the child is likely to develop more slowly than others and so miss many of the social and intellectual milestones that his peers all hit at roughly the same time.
Autistic spectrum disorders are diagnosed though observation and consideration of the child’s whole pattern and history of development. Several diagnostic niches exist (including Asperger’s Syndrome, classic autism, high functioning autism, semantic pragmatic disorder) and they often co-exist with some specific learning disabilities. My experience is that the label is helpful in understanding and getting appropriate support, and that it is best to move swiftly on to understanding the individual child, who is likely to present a poor fit to any of these labels.

For one-to-one, individual advice on learning difficulties, arrange a call with Bill Goodyear through Greatvine at www.greatvine.com/bill_goodyear