Does Your Child Need a Learning Specialist Instead of a Psychotherapist?

My Child Seems Depressed, Who Do I Call?

Your child is growing anxious or depressed and you’re worried they need to see a psychotherapist.  Your friends have given you the contact info for a good therapist they know and you’re about to pick up the phone and call that person.  Is therapy the next best step, or is there another pathway forward for helping your child? Before you make that call, ask yourself this important question: Is my child struggling at school with learning?”  If you answer yes, hold the phone. The call you might need to make is to a Learning Specialist.

  I have been a Learning Specialist for over 20 years now.  The first thing to know about Learning Specialists is we are not tutors.  A Learning Specialist knows a great deal about the learning process in general and about what is going wrong with each student’s process in particular.  We match each student with strategies that are going to shift their approach and success with learning.  Learning Specialists are more like engineers and architects; we figure out what is going wrong and what kind of blueprints are needed to create a solid math or reading foundation and what each subsequent floor of learning requires to remain sturdy overall.  We identify the missing pieces – or skills – that exist in a student’s foundation and how to effectively get those skills on board for each student. 

 School Trauma Takes A Huge Toll

 Few parents and teachers realize what happens for a child when they struggle with school and learning.  This is when learning problems become psychological problems and when worried parents wonder what to do.  Now is when I also reveal that I am a former Child Psychotherapist and that I know quite a lot about what happens psychologically when a child is struggling at school. It turns out that when children struggle with learning, their entire sense of self comes under fire.  Normal childhood development is affected the moment a child thinks ‘something is wrong with me’ and that their learning isn’t measuring up. School Trauma sets in and begins to eclipse normal childhood development when a child begins feeling all this.

 Why Students Fall Behind and Struggle

 Most students who struggle fall into one of two categories (and sometimes both) -    1) being nontraditional learners or 2) being students with learning disabilities (such as ADD/ADHD, auditory processing, dyslexia.) Students in either of these two categories are quite at risk the moment they hit kindergarten. Unbelievably, I now see students falling behind in pre-school, something unimaginable 10 years ago. Struggling students are emotionally devastated to see their peers sail through the language arts curriculum while they struggle with reading.  Each day they see their glaring shortcomings as they compare themselves to the ‘bright kids’ in the class. Worse still is when parent/teacher conferences come and they directly hear that they are behind.

 3 Clusters of Symptoms – Anxiety, Depression, Anger

 Children who are identified as struggling have one thing in common:  endless worry and stress. What is different about them is the cluster of psychological symptoms they develop.  Some kids become anxious; they are prone to tears, difficulty sleeping and ‘tummy aches.’ These anxious kids often feign sickness to stay home or find other reasons to avoid school. This group often appear hypervigilant and insecure; they cling to parents more than is normal and can have night terrors or difficulty sleeping in their own beds.

Other kids internalize the awful struggle of school as depression.  They appear sad, dejected and no longer happy. Parents often will say “I have lost my sweet, vibrant child.” These sad children lose interest in favorite activities and are afraid to try new things.  Life closes in on them because their eroding confidence keeps them from trying anything new. They cry easily, sleep longer and are lackluster.

The third group of kids react to school trauma with anger. They are furious inside because school feels defeating and like a game which is not winnable for them. These are the naturally competitive and hardworking kids who are stunted because the nontraditional learning methods they need aren’t modeled for them.  These angry kids often become defiant and oppositional.   They are fed up and frustrated beyond words with the way school has chipped away at their self-esteem. Irritability, aggression, and sometimes violent behavior erupt for these kids.   

Relieve the Trauma, Relieve the Symptoms

So now the good news: struggling students who are showing any of these psychological symptoms can overcome them when they find a good Learning Specialist.  I am still amazed after 20 years of working with struggling students how quickly school trauma recedes and how quickly students recover their self-esteem.  An excellent Learning Specialist will be able to attune to the fact that a child is absolutely, indisputably a natural born learner because every child is!  An attuned Learning Specialist sees the natural learning strengths of each student and builds on those intrinsic abilities.  He or she has a diverse set of learning methods that are used to meet each learner on his or her playing field.  Often, they are light-hearted and know how to make learning sessions fun-filled and enjoyable for the students they see.  Their light touch and sense of humor offsets the ordeal of learning which nontraditional students experience day in and day out in classrooms everywhere.

In my practice, by the 4th session, both child and parent are dramatically relieved and the child is clearly returning to a childhood free from overwhelming worry. Anxious, depressed or angry symptoms are resolving and the child appears deeply happy and confident.  And this all happens because the burden of school trauma is ended by using effective learning strategies that get kids back on track and in touch with their natural strengths.  Lasting academic and emotional breakthroughs occur as a result.

            So, does your child need a Psychotherapist or an effective Learning Specialist? If school difficulty is a clear and present issue in your child’s life, then a good Learning Specialist could very well be the answer.  As a former Clinical Therapist, I must end though by saying that if you see serious symptoms in your child such as self-harming behaviors or talk of self-harm, then a call to a therapist is absolutely needed.  You know your child best so if your gut says they are in harm’s way, get medical or psychological help immediately.  But if you’re not in that danger zone yet, and you know school trauma is affecting them, find a reputable, caring Learning Specialist who can work with your child and restore their self-esteem along with their love of learning.