Kids with Learning Disabilities: Fueling the Shut-Down Learner Tanks

Fueling the shut down learner tanks of kids with disabilities

by Dr. Richard Selznick~When kids have learning disabilities and/or ADHD the experience for them is that they feel drained emotionally by all of the ongoing school demands. By the end of the year, many of them are more than depleted in terms of their mental energy and desire to complete the tasks given on a daily basis
These kids get little gratification from their school day. Additionally, the ongoing battles and parental harangues have taken their toll with the increased irritability of the household rising on a daily basis.

One suggestion would be that if you as a parent can step back a little from all of the academic tension and turn down the heat of the household, then there may be small signs of improvement in terms of intrinsic motivation.

Children are frequently overwhelmed by the inability that they have to manage the growing mountain of worksheets that they can barely handle. From the point of view of the struggling child, the sense is that he is running up a race at a 45° incline, while the other children are on a flat surface or a downward slope.

For many kids, school is an ongoing grind. The ever-present delayed gratification (do well in elementary school so you’ll be ready for middle school which will get you in better shape for high school, so you can get into college, then professional school and one day you’ll get a good job) doesn’t work for many of the kids of concern. To them, it is all too far off and abstract. Because of the sense of being overwhelmed and constantly going uphill, they burn out much faster than the others who buy-in to the delayed-gratification formula.

Instead of continually focusing on school work and what the child is not doing, resolve to do something with your kids just for fun. Try and get them off of the iPads and video games and engage with some “old school” activities with your kids. Perhaps play a couple of UNO games or game of Trouble or find some arts and crafts project to do with your child. Recently I bought a world geography coloring book and found it to be good therapy (for myself). There are many such books on the market that are fun for adults and kids alike. Many kids like doing something as simple as coloring with you-even older kids, believe it or not.

To tackle the perceived drudgery of school, kids need emotional fuel. Emotional fuel is particularly essential for those kids who don’t derive much gratification from their efforts. Ultimately, it is this emotional fuel that matters in terms of their basic day-to-day motivation. If they are angry and frustrated, then much of the tank is depleted of this emotional fuel.

Takeaway Point

It takes a lot of emotional fuel for child to keep his-her head above water in school. This fuel is drained out on a continual basis for a variety of different reasons. Anger, resentment and arguing are significant contributors to the draining of such fuel. Try and find some ways to build fuel back into the tank if you sense that the child is starting to become depleted. Don’t make everything about school.

Adapted from “School Struggles,” (Sentient Publications), Richard Selznick, Ph.D.

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About Dr. Richard Selznick

Dr. Richard Selznick is a psychologist, nationally certified school psychologist, assistant professor of pediatrics and school consultant. Dr. Selznick is the Director of the Cooper Learning Center, a Division of the Department of Pediatrics/ Cooper University Healthcare. The author of two books, The Shut-Down Learner: Helping Your Academically Discouraged Child and the more recently published School Struggles: A Guide To Your Shut-Down Learner’s Success, Dr. Selznick has presented to parents and educators internationally, as far as Dubai and Abu Dhabi and throughout the United States. Learn more about Dr. Selznick at

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