Parents Perspective

Help Kids With Learning and Attention Issues (and Their Parents) Feel Understood

If your child has ADD/ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia (similar to dyslexia, but with math), dysgraphia (which affects writing), dyspraxia (affecting motor skills), or other kinds of learning and attention issues, you don't need me to tell you how frustrating, scary, sad, and isolating it can be for your child--and for you. Once kids get to school, these issues become even more pronounced and disruptive. And they can have a dramatic impact on their social life, because their self-esteem takes such a big hit. Even some teachers, despite wanting to help their students, don't always grasp the complexities of learning and attention issues.

What's missing from the picture is understanding, say experts from all over the country, who have banded together to create a new resource called Understood. Managed by The National Center for Learning Disabilities, has 14 partners, including our friends at the Child Mind Institute, Common Sense Media, and Parents Education Network. This means there's a wealth of knowledge that went into this site, which aims to create a community of families affected by learning and attention issues and, equally important, help others realize what it feels like to have such an issue.

(You'll notice I keep saying "learning and attention issues." Not problems, or disabilities, or disorders. This is intentional. The Understood team, in particular the renowned ADD/ADHD expert Ned Hallowell, M.D., wants to move away from that language, which focuses on what's missing or wrong.)

The site offers more tools than I can adequately describe. But one uniquely helpful feature is called "Through a Child's Eyes." You select an issue (reading, writing, attention, math, organization) and watch a video of a child explain in his or her own words what it's like to live with it. From there, you experience a simulated version of that issue, so you get a clearer sense of what it truly feels like to deal with it. For instance, to better appreciate attention issues, you play a sort of matching game that requires you to listen closely to the teacher's instructions ("Put the monkey card on the picture of the rhino"), which become increasingly harder to hear as more background noise and other distractions take center stage. Immediately you get it: This is what it's like for a child to try and focus when her brain won't filter anything out. It's an incredibly eye-opening tool not only for parents and educators, but I'm guessing for children who don't have these issues, too. One of my children has a friend with dyslexia; I want her to do the simulation for reading issues so she can finally understand what it's like for him to try and make sense of words.

There are 8.5 million students in the United States who are getting services without a formal diagnosis, says Mark Griffin, one of Understood's experts and a former headmaster (for 34 years!) at one of the country's top schools for children who have learning and attention issues. The parents of these kids are among the ones the organization wants to reach. Can you imagine what will be accomplished once those children are finally... understood?

Image: Portrait of despairing adolescent boy in school classroom via Shutterstock.

Life with ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder