Thursday, March 25, 2021


 There’s been an alarming proliferation of categories to explain or define emotional and cognitive abnormalities over the years: learning disability, dyslexia, cognitive impairment, from “autistic” evolved to the autism spectrum as well as ADHD, ADD, executive function impairment, 2e [twice exceptional] – and more.

Two concerns:

(1) all of a sudden, with this diagnosis, many parents feel a huge burden has been lifted from them. “Now, we know what it is!” – and they’re relieved!

(2) but the name, the labeling doesn’t actually do much of anything!

I once sat in a multi-disciplinary meeting at which the neurologist [a required medical professional by law, back them] – told us the student did or did not have ‘frank brain damage’ – I don’t remember which BECAUSE it didn’t matter!  No matter what he found, we still had the same student and deficiencies or conditions to remediate!!!

For me, that was a life lesson - which I’ve come back to, countless times. The key point, whether the student has ADHD, dyslexia, executive function problems, etc. – we’re NOT going to throw him/her away – we’re going to work with them, develop them!!!

These conditions can often be treated by and with drugs.  However, in the long run, most people – parents and student – want to wean off them.

I have worked with enough teens to know that most of them recognize that they themselves need to learn coping mechanisms and processes to succeed with life without medication.

And yes, it can be done.  There are, of course, some who will need medication for life.

One “can’t be changed or fixed” example: many people believe that a reading disability [dyslexia, if you must] is a permanent condition.  And yet – if you read the results Dr. Peter Gray found in surveying students who left school and went home to learn, in a fairly brief period of time, they were reading well!!  Seemingly, it was the pressures of school that “disabled them.”

Most often, we can provide and develop coping strategies. I see many workshops now being offered to ameliorate these cognitive and or emotional shortcomings.  I couldn’t and wouldn’t negate those workshops in any way. But… read on - - - -

The most straightforward strategy is to (1) identify the needed or desired behavior(s) – lack of focus, lack of self-discipline, attention deficits, etc., then, with a cooperative student, work toward the new/ desired behavior with a positively stated goal – not a “don’t do that” goal.

It’s FAR easier to move TOWARD a new, desired behavior than AWAY FROM an unwanted or undesirable one.  We need to identify a new, DESIRED behavior – which will simply ‘overlay’ on top of the unwanted behavior - using the old but still valid model of successive approximations. [Frankly, this will work even with an uncooperative teen – but must be done subtly!]

Step by step approximations of the desired behavior are rewarded or reinforced as the student moves or acts, small step by small step, closer and closer to the desired end result.

Done repeatedly, this process will instill the new, desired habit or behavior.  And with recent research, we now know that it takes [approximately] 66 days to install a new habit.

FYI – neurolinguistic programming proponents contend that everything we’ve ever experienced is in our brain!  And I tend to agree.  So overlaying the new behavior overrides the unwanted one.  Might there be a relapse?  Absolutely.  “Rinse and repeat.”

There are said to be four stages of learning.  The goal here is to internalize or habituate these behaviors to the fourth stage: Unconscious Knowing – but realize, to get there, they need to move through the previous three stages.

Four Stages of Learning

1.       UNconscious UNknowing – don’t know what you don’t know

2.       Conscious UNknowing – you know that you don’t know

3.       Conscious Knowing – you know and, with conscious effort, can do…

4.       UNconscious Knowing – you do, simply by habit – literally without thinking

This is NOT a quick fix – but interestingly, all these repeated reinforcements can also only have a positive impact on the student’s self-esteem - - - and that’s your main job to nurture as a parent!

With these thoughts, go forth, and may the force be with you – and please report back on your results!



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