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Strategies for Children with Learning Disabilities

Children and adults may have learning disabilities (LD) for a number of different reasons. Occupational therapists usually work with children who have an underlying motor problem that is contributing to, or causing, their academic difficulties. They may also work with children with LD who are having trouble organizing themselves or completing everyday tasks. If you suspect that your child has coordination or organizational difficulties, it is important to have him/her assessed by an occupational therapist.

Here are a few occupational therapy tips that are useful for many children with LD, particularly those with motor difficulties.

In the school setting:

1. Ask the teacher to review rules and routines with the child individually so s/he is clear about expectations and timing of recess, lunch, changing for gym class, etc.

2. Introduce computers as early as possible. Although keyboarding may be a little harder initially, your child should be able to become proficient and this will reduce the amount of handwriting that is required.

3. If your child has handwriting difficulties, try to provide paper that matches the difficulties; for example, widely spaced lines for a child who writes very large; raised, lined paper for a child who has trouble writing within the lines; graph paper for a child who has trouble keeping numbers aligned.

4. Arrange for the child to have extra time to complete activities such as printing, copying notes, writing a story and artwork. If speed is necessary, be willing to accept a less neat production.

5. Provide the child with different methods of presenting information at school. For example, children may present reports orally, use drawings to illustrate ideas, record a story or exam on a tape recorder, or type a report on the computer.
At home and in the community:

1. Try to establish a daily routine for getting ready for school and for doing homework. Some children find it helpful to have morning dressing routines or bedtime routines posted with pictures or words that show the sequence of events.

2. Encourage your child to wear clothing that is easy to get on and off. For example, sweat pants, sweat shirts, leggings and velcro shoes. When possible, use velcro closures instead of buttons, snaps or shoelaces.

3. Try to introduce your child to new sports activities or a new playground on an individual basis, before s/he is required to manage the activity in a group. Try to go over rules and routines that are part of the activity when the child is not concentrating on the motor aspects; for example, “What do you do when you hit the ball?”

4. Your child will probably prefer, and perform better at, individual sports; for example, swimming, running, bicycling, skiing rather than team sports. If this is the case, try to encourage social interaction through other types of activities such as music, drama, cubs, etc.

Written by occupational therapist Cheryl Missiuna, Ph.D., O.T. (C), assistant professor at the School of Rehabilitation Science, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario.

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