As a competitive ice skater our daughter, Christy, could be quite hard on herself. We would say to her, “On your worst day, you skate circles around everyone else.” I don’t know if it made her feel any better, but it was true. She was (and still is) a stunning skater, even when she’s having a bad day.
But what if, on your best day, you still fell far below your peers and your potential?
If trying harder gets you results, then it’s worth the effort, but for many students with learning and attention challenges, trying harder just ends in disappointment. All the motivation and effort in the world won’t get you the results you want if you don’t have the skills to do the job.
Getting your double axel is a big deal for an ice skater. It’s one of those really huge, really difficult milestones. At twelve years old, Christy really wanted two things: to get her double axel and to have a pair of Doc Martins (shoes). I certainly wasn’t inclined to buy a hundred-dollar pair of shoes for a girl whose feet were still growing.
But Christy was almost there with her double axel, so close her coach could taste it! One day, he told her he would give her a hundred dollar bill if she would land the double axel right now. Was she motivated? Absolutely! Did she land it? No.
Her coach would never offer her that deal now, since she can practically do a double axel in her sleep, but at the time, she just didn’t quite have the skills. If you don’t have the skills to do the job, it really doesn’t matter how motivated you are.
Just as there are many subskills that are needed to be able to execute a double axel, there is a whole continuum of underlying skills that support easy, efficient learning. These are skills such as memory, attention, and auditory and visual processing that are not really taught anywhere, but just assumed when kids go to school. If any of the critical underlying skills, or mental tools, are weak or not supporting the learner well enough, he will likely have to work harder and longer than he should, and often with lesser results.
It’s not fair and it’s frustrating, but thankfully, these underlying skills can be improved – often dramatically or completely. It’s not a quick and easy fix, but then, neither is a double axel. A double axel is a turning point in a skater’s career. Strengthening weak underlying processing/learning skills for a student with learning or attention challenges is a turning point in their life.
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“Helping smart but struggling students dramatically improve or completely correct their learning and attention challenges by developing the underlying learning skills that are not supporting the learner well enough.”
We serve children and adults with diagnosed or undiagnosed learning and attention challenges including learning disabilities, dyslexia, ADHD, auditory processing disorders, and autism spectrum disorders.
Jill Stowell, M.S.
Author: At Wit’s End A Parent’s Guide to Ending the Struggle, Tears, and Turmoil of Learning Disabilities
Founder and Executive Director – Stowell Learning Centers