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writing assignmentsAs the summer days come to an end, we are all thinking about the start to another school year.

Parents are doing back to school shopping, talking with their children about the new school year, and starting to stress over having a brand new teacher and new expectations of a higher grade.

Teachers are feeling their own beginning of the year stressors as well; getting their room ready, creating lessons that fit into the new Common Core standards, and learning the ins and outs of all their new students.

Both parties have a lot on their mind, and we haven’t even talked about the stress and anxiety the students are having about going back!! Some of those stressors include, who will be in my class, how much more homework will I get, will my teacher be nice, will I have to write about “what I did over the summer”?!!!

As we embark on a new school year, I want to send out a gentle reminder on behalf of my clients that I work with at the Social Learning Center to both their new teachers and parents.

In past articles and in various conferences I have been a part of, I have made references to this idea of “invisible deficits, more recently changing that terminology to “invisible hurdles” and here at Special-Ism referred to as “isms”.  Simply put, this idea of things being “invisible” speaks to both some of the individual strengths and challenges our students/clients possess.

There are many times when we, as parents, teachers, or therapists, forget about both those inner strengths and those neuro-cognitive challenges just because they physically “look” a certain way. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard the phrase from teachers, “well he should be able to write because he can put it into words just fine”. From parents I often hear, “she was able to go and brush her hair yesterday, why can’t she do it today!”

The Assumption Trap

Remember that old saying many of us learned from our parents: “don’t judge a book by its cover”. I think we all too often forget that old saying and the meaning behind it when interacting with our own kids, our own students, and the clients that we work with. More often than not, we tend to fall into the “assumption trap”.

This “assumption trap” is all about assuming our young people should “know,” “be able to do,” or “should figure it out” because of how they look and behave within various contexts or because we have seen them perform the action before. It is a natural trap we all fall into from time to time. As adults, we fall into this trap when thinking about our own friends or people we are in relationships with. The issue with the assumption trap is that it may create this false sense of expectation and pressure upon our children which can often lead to issues in self-esteem and cognitive distortions of their own abilities.

So how do we, as parents and teachers/therapists, avoid or at least remember to think about not falling into this assumption trap? Below are three tips to think about as this new school year begins:

1. Listening is Better than Just “Looking”

For many with social learning challenges, you can’t see their neuro-cognitive deficits right away. These individuals will often be described as “looking typical”. Many of their peers will first pick up on some of their social nuance deficits because they are the ones who are really “listening” to what is being said and realizing that what is being said (or sometimes not being said) is making them different.

Remember to take the time to “listen for” those social challenges and don’t just “look for them”. You want to be listening to how they are taking the perspective of others, are they only talking about one topic, are they always trying to “prove their point”, and are they able to communicate their “plan” to you. Once you are better able to listen for some of these deficits, you will have a better idea of how to help support the person you are working with.

2. “Saying it” vs. “Writing it”

So many times when out consulting to schools, I will have a teacher who says, “Ben can say it back to me just fine, so I know he should be able to write it. And I have seen him write about Minecraft before. He is just choosing not to.”

It’s really important to remember that many individuals with social learning challenges have great verbal language abilities. They are the ones that are often able to “talk the talk” but once they try to “walk the walk” there is a lot of stumbling!

One of those areas they may stumble in is written expression. I have many clients say, “when I put it on paper it never matches what is in my head, so therefore I get mad and shut down”. Others will say, “I know what I want to say, but can’t put my thoughts onto paper, or my fingers won’t type fast enough …and then I just lose my thoughts.”

Allowing students to have access to things like:

  • graphic organizers,
  • extra time on writing assignments,
  • allowing them to choose the topic,
  • setting clear dates as to when parts of the assignment are due, or
  • setting up a calendar of “my choice/your choice for topics”

These are all wonderful tools to help those who have clear difficulties when it comes to putting their thoughts to paper. It’s important to remember that although what we may end of seeing is a “behavior” it is stemming from a neuro-cognitive issue that is just part of who they are.

Consider Dragon Naturally Speaking or it’s iPhone counterpart Dragon Dictation.  Another optional app is PaperPort Notes

3. Everyday is a New Day for Children with Isms

I often fall into the trap of expecting that my client clearly remembers what we talked about the prior week or even, what happened earlier in the day. What happens is that many individuals with social learning challenges have so many thoughts going on in their head at one time, they don’t know how to sort those thoughts into the right “file”.

What ends up happening is that they go to their “default thought (DT)” which is their topic of interest or specialty. It’s like for me when I let the papers on my desk pile up. I keep looking at it, I know it is there, but I tend to tune into to something I would rather be working on because having to sort through all those papers will take time and energy (and its boring!).

It’s important to remember not to assume that your son/daughter or student has “filed away” the information taught the previous day and is thus able to retrieve it when asked about it. It’s great to talk about, “let’s think about what we talked about yesterday” or a phrase we use a lot is “make a picture in your head about……” This idea of making a picture in their head can be very difficult at first…but once they are able to bring themselves back to that time and place, they may be better able to recall events, situations, tools used, etc.

We all fall into the “assumption trap” from time to time. We need to monitor this in ourselves when it comes to working with individuals who may struggle in the areas of social learning. As the adults in their lives, we need to be more flexible in not taking certain aspects of their profile (or personality) for granted. We need to celebrate their strengths yet be mindful of those invisible hurdles or isms they have to over-come each and every day.