How to Move Forward with Learning Differences
So you are now armed with the information of what learning differences look like and how they can lead to adverse life experiences and negative messages about ourselves. Now what? This post is for parents wanting to help their kiddos and those of you that realize you, as an adult, may need some support. These are just ideas and examples of what I have seen work for others through my life and practice.
Firstly, have some testing done. My husband is one of the smartest people I know; he has seen himself as incapable for his entire life. Well, that is until I came along and convinced him there is nothing he can’t do. And it’s true. In the four years we have been married, there is not a problem I have found that he can’t solve. He makes all the final decisions on major purchases and vets the repair people. If you know anything about me, you know I love school. Five-year plan is in to enroll in a PhD program so I can teach master’s level clinicians. I have hardly ever met a continuing education course I didn’t want take. So when we got together and I realized how smart he was, I encouraged him to go back to school. His substance use disorder derailed his original attempt at college, so I thought, “hey let’s do some community college courses.” He enrolled and by October of 2017, his anxiety had become so bad around being in the classroom that he stopped going to class. He would literally go to the school and sit in his car in the parking lot because he was too paralyzed to go in. After a large blow up about him being dishonest about going to school (that’s a story for another day), we found a therapist with a master’s in education to do some academic testing. Turns out he is in fact pretty smart; he has an IQ of 136. However, that 136 isn’t factoring in his extremely slow processing speed. It wasn’t that Ken couldn’t do the work, it was that it was all coming in too fast and he couldn’t process it. I think on standardized testing without extended time he has an IQ of 121 or something. That’s a big difference! After going over the testing results with his therapist, he gained so much clarity about who he is and what he is capable of. Honestly, it’s done wonders for his self-esteem. It has also given him an out anytime I get inpatient with the speed of things. “I’m a slow processor!” he protests. So testing can be pivotal and incredibly healing. Turns out, he is also on the autism spectrum. When he was a little guy, ADHD was not well understood, and high functioning autism was hardly a thing. I cannot tell you what this information has done for him and for our marriage. There are all kinds of people that do academic testing. The clinician can go as shallow or in-depth as you want. If you are thinking this would be something that could be helpful to you or your child—contact a master’s level counseling program and ask them for referrals. If you are in Dallas, I would love to you help you find someone.
Secondly, enneagram work. Now, hear me out. There are certain numbers that are more predisposed to learning differences than others. The enneagram considers genetics and life experience. As some examples, 9s miss about 1/3 of what is said. They literally just don’t hear it. You could have a whole conversation with them, and they will come back with information missing. 7s on the enneagram love new experiences. They love to plan and anticipate events and anything even remotely fun sounds like it could be a very good idea. 5s have an inner mental world that is rich, often they are absorbed in that world instead of the one the rest of us live in. Enneagram work can be transformative no matter if you struggle with learning differences or not. We all fall short somewhere. The enneagram’s premise is help us work toward becoming the essence of who were created to be, not to settle with letting our personality get our needs met. The enneagram also centers around wounding messages we received as children and healing messages we need to hear as adults. At the heart of overcoming lies we have believed about ourselves is hearing the truth of who we are seen as through the eyes of Being greater than ourselves.
Movement. The number one and most underused treatment for ADHD is movement. Get out there and find a way to move around. Stretch. Walk around the block. If you’re feeling really adventurous, join some kind of recreational league. Martial arts are also incredibly helpful for those with learning differences. Because the body-mind component is the focus, it helps with self-regulation. In those sports, the mind has to slowdown to gain the skills needed to beat their opponent. One mom I worked with had two children, both, diagnosed with ADHD. Every morning she had them out running around the block or the playground before school. It takes intentionality, but movement can be momentous in helping children learning how to self-regulate.
Nutrition. Red dye 40 is a thing and it makes children with learning differences lose their minds. I had heard that for a long, long time and I thought people were quacks. Then I started helping older kids with their schoolwork. Nutrition can affect can a lot of behavioral issues. I have seen spectrum kids and kiddos with sensory processing struggles turn into different people just by their parents changing the way they ate much of the time. Coming back to what I said in the first blog, children should be treated appropriately. It seems cruel to never let your kids eat what other kids are eating. That’s a singling out experience in and of itself. As a former preschool teacher, you don’t want to be the parent that only feeds their kids weird stuff. I think there must be a balance with everything. As adults, we have free reign over our nutrition. Experiment with your nutritional intake and see what works with your system. Are there foods that make you sleepy? Ones that energize you? As Americans, we move so quickly that we hardly notice anything anymore. Slow down, notice your body, notice your reactions, create a system that works for you.
Medication. Some people just needs meds. I think I always struggled with reading and retaining information, but I did well enough to get by most of my life. It was not until I was in my 20s that my psychiatrist recommended an ADHD medication, and it has changed my life. Sometimes I forget to take it and Ken will look at me and say, “Have you taken your meds today? You can’t seem to finish a sentence.” Nothing like a spouse to keep you humble. There are all kinds of medications out there—stimulant, non-stimulant, anti-depressants with stimulant properties, and the list of natural and homeopathic remedies knows no end. The thing about ADHD meds is that they should not make you feel “different.” If are amped on your medication, the dose isn’t right. The purpose of all psychiatric medication is to enable you to be the best version of yourself. If that’s not happening, talk to your provider.
Well, those are my ideas. I have loved writing this series of blogs. I hope it has been helpful to you and possibly helped you begin your road to recovery. If you are an adult that has decided to seek out support, make sure you find a therapist with a good understanding of learning differences as children and adults. One last thing—a book that changed my life was “Smart But Stuck” by Thomas E Brown. Good luck on your journey.