The following article summarises some of the key themes in Dr. Selznick's latest book: "The Shut-Down Learner: Helping Your Academically Discouraged Child". Click here to visit Dr Selznick's site to get hold of a copy.
The Shut-Down Learner: Premise
The primary premise of the book is that the shut-down learner’s strengths (visual spatial skills, hands-on thinkers, etc.), do not mesh well with the standard school curriculum, which results in their having layers of frustrating experiences over the years. I refer to them in the text as “Lego Kids.” Sadly many of the children with this profile are casualties of school. Their self-esteem is so beaten down and their personal shame and defectiveness runs so deep, that they cannot overcome these emotions. However, there are those who make it to the other side, and are having productive, satisfying lives.
This book, The Shut-Down Learner Helping Your Academically Discouraged Child, explores the variables that contributed to enabling them to get to this successful other side, putting the shame and embarrassment experienced in school behind them.
Shut Down Learners – New help for parents with kids who are struggling in school
What do you do when your child is becoming increasingly discouraged about school? What do you do when your child has a difficulty learning the basics skills – reading and writing at school? What do you do when your child literally refuses to crack a book and do homework?
Dr. Richard Selznick coined the term” shut-down learner” to describe these children.
Dr. Selznick, who has spent over 20 years of clinical experience assessing thousands of children has come to the conclusion that many of them are visual thinkers. In fact, it’s a mode of thinking that is far more common than people ever imagined.
As many as 40 percent of all children in America experience problems learning to read and write and a significant proportion of them are “spatial learners”- they learn best and even will thrive if they are given hands on tasks requiring them to use their eyes and hands.
But they will often fail miserably if they have to read and write.
“Unfortunately,” says Dr. Selznick “the educational system is often at odds with the shut down learner’s style. If you have a ‘Shut Down Learner’ you are in for a really rough time unless you identify and address your child’s special learning needs.”
His new book The Shut-Down Learner: Helping Your Academically Discouraged Child is packed with techniques that parents can use to help their shut-down learner succeed in school and in life.
Dr. Selznick says that the Shut-Down Learner style becomes increasingly apparent in the upper elementary grades, although there are indicators in pre-school and kindergarten. You can identify the early warning signs of a Shut-Down Learner style by noticing what he calls the “cracks in the foundation.”
These cracks include:
- Difficulty with learning letters
- Trouble with playing rhyming games
- Difficulty following directions
- Resistance to early reading activities and instruction
“The cracks in the foundation can be identified in kindergarten!,” says Dr. Selznick.
How would you know if your child is a Shut-Down Learner?
Dr. Selznick offers these signs:
- A sense that the child is increasingly disconnected, discouraged, and unmotivated (shut down)
- Fundamental skill weaknesses with reading, writing, and spelling, leading to lowered self-esteem
- Increased avoidance of school tasks such as homework
- Dislike of reading
- Hatred of writing
- Little to no gratification from school
- Increasing anger toward school
“When you couple these behaviors on the part of the child with lack of understanding from parents and teachers, emotional tensions and problems increase over time and strained family communications result in a phenomenally difficult family situation that can last for several years.”
But Dr. Selznick says there’s hope. “Shut-Down Learners are often times incredibly talented and misunderstood. Sadly, many of them are casualties of school. Their self-esteem is so beaten down and their sense of shame and defectiveness runs so deep that they cannot overcome these emotions.”
“There are those who make it to the other side and are enjoying very productive, satisfying lives. They come from a variety of different fields and professions and include high-level executives, CEO s of companies, engineers, photographers, graphic designers, exhibit designers and producers, surgeons, landscapers, musicians, and trades people. “
Dr. Selznick’s book delves into the strategies parents can use to identify and deal with these challenges. He offers a number of strategies to deal with a child who is showing the signs of being a shut down learner:
- Identify the “cracks in the foundation” as early as possible. Find a professional who knows the “red flags” to identify for early learning problems. So much heart-ache can be avoided if you address the skills weaknesses early.
- If you as a mom are worried, usually there is good reason. Most of the moms that I meet are right about their concerns. Don’t let professionals tell you “he’s fine…you know how boys are.” Check it out. Maybe you’re wrong, but usually I find the moms know their kid is struggling.
- If the cracks are widening, seek outside help if possible. Don’t be passive and wait for the schools to intervene. They may, but it’s often a long process. Many of the children I see are not bad enough to warrant the school’s intervention. It’s a negative snowballing effect. Use word of mouth in your community to find people who can intervene.
- Know what you are targeting. There are essentially two types of reading problems. In the first type the child has trouble decoding the words and reading fluently. This type is the largest majority of the struggling kids. In the second type, the child can read fluently, but has great trouble understanding what he/she has read. Get clear on what you are targeting!!!! Don’t scattershot your remediation.
- Take the heat out of the interaction. For most of the struggling kids, the daily ritual of yelling about school is a constant. Households are tense. Lots of blame goes around. Pecking at your child, nagging and yelling are not working. Why continue?
- If you have a spouse, get your husband on board. The dads can be tough. They often don’t see the problem and will tell you typically that you are making a big deal out of nothing. This leads to more confusion and arguing. If you can find a professional to explain things in clear terms to both of you, it helps to get both of you on board together.
- If you are in a divorced situation, it’s even more important to try and work together. The differences between you can really lead to huge emotional problems for the child. These differences result in a lot of anger and it is this anger that leads to classic shut-down learner behaviors.
- Find the child’s true strength and help kid embrace it. The shut down learners that I know do not feel very good about themselves and they do not see their strengths. Most of these kids are very solid in the visual spatial dimension of ability. This is often not valued in school. The kids need to learn to value this trait and see it as a potential.
- Find someone to connect & mentor your child in school. If your child is older, push the kid to have one adult in the building as child’s mentor. It should be someone that your kid can form a relationship with. Too often SDL kids go through their school experience not bonded to anyone. This is tragic.
- Keep Your Humor. Try not to let school problems become all consuming. Go out for an ice cream sundae with you kid even if he hasn’t done his homework! School problems can be so all consuming - don’t lose touch with the good qualities he/she has.
topics - Dyslexia
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