Last week, I had to pleasure of doing a 1-2-1 coaching session Donal (pseudo-name). Donal is 16-years old and is doing his Leaving Certificate this year. He also has a learning difference called Dyspraxia. According to the Oxford dictionary, Dyspraxia is a ‘developmental disorder causing difficulty in activities requiring coordination and movement’. Others refer to this as ‘clumsy child syndrome’. What a horrible label.
So let’s look at why we attach labels to children. Nowadays there seems to be a desire to label or diagnose children to explain away their behaviour. I regularly get calls to my practice from parents of teenagers with dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, ADHD and dyspraxia to name a few. Getting a diagnosis can seem a relief and has its advantages but there are also disadvantages. Children can obviously get support in school but then the label can negatively affect their self-image and identity.
According to Kate Benson in her excellent book ‘Teaching Excellence’, the problem with using expressions such as ‘learning difficulties’ or ‘disabilities’ puts a limitation on the learner. She advocated use of the expression ‘Learning Differences’ and says these differences should be celebrated. She goes onto say the problem is not a learning difficulty but a teaching difficulty. This is really important to note. We must remember every person learns and processes in a different way.
A big feature of my coaching is what I call the HOOK POINT. This is where I uncover the learning difficulty or blocking point for each student. Whether you have a learning difference or not, most students have a blocking point. Sometimes, this can be as simple as them telling me ‘I don’t know how-to-study’ or ‘I find school and study boring’. My curiosity revolves around this point of resistance.
Donal told me ‘I don’t like to do the work’. He acknowledged that his work ethic was poor. I asked him what he did like to do. “Play battleship,” he told me. It turns out he loves to play Battleship online. When I asked him what he loved about Battleship he told me he loved strategy games. So, we turned the Leaving Cert into one big game of strategy. Now instead of thinking about studying, he is thinking about strategy. This is his HOOK POINT.
I love learning and I love coaching. The key is to meet a student where they are at. Focus on their strengths. Labels have their advantages and disadvantages. For me it’s about strengths. For you as parents my advice is to focus on their strengths. This is how you help every type of student (whether they have learning differences or not) achieve their potential.