Learning and Social Disabilities

updated July 18, 2002

I wanted my child to be the best and it was with disappointment and pain I realized that she would not be able to live up to my highest hopes. She had to drop out of the special program I had enrolled her in, she couldn't progress in a normal classroom and needed extra attention to learn.

She had social problems, too. I would see her excitement as she waited for a friend to come over only to see her explode in anger after 5 minutes of play. She longed for friends and approached other children in a friendly and eager manner but could not play happily with them for even a short time. And she spent a great deal of time in the principal's office when she started school. It was agony to watch.

But my child was still delightful. She sang and danced and laughed and could fill me with joy. She showered me with gifts like bent dandelions and small stones and hand drawn pictures. She generously and openly expressed her love for me with hugs and words at home, in the grocery store, in the car, or wherever the thought occurred.

So what did I mean by wanting her to be the best? By whose standard was I measuring her? If I could just accept her for who she is - see the beauty in her, watch her grow at her own speed, build on her strengths, encourage her, love her - it would be better for both her and me. Did she sense my disappointment? Was it a burden for her?

My daughter's disabilities are not severe. She will eventually be able to live on her own and support herself. But watching her struggles is not easy for me.

She has many strengths, mainly physical, loving to swim, dance, skate, and climb. She loves dressing up and has a good sense of color and style.

summer 1999


Testing has found that Dee's disabilities are likely due to Fetal Alchohol Effects. She has lots of trouble with short-term memory as well as memory retrieval. This has a lovely side-effect - she can't remember well enough to carry grudges.

Dee has learned to read so that reading is an integral part of her life. She reads signs and any notices that are sent home from school. She loves teen magazines and can glean a lot of information from them. Her progress here is thrilling to watch.

But numbers make no sense to her at all. She doesn't know how many cents are in a dollar and gets her younger sister to count her money for her. She looks at a sign in McDonald's and sees that the combo she likes costs $5.49 but she can't tell whether the $5 bill she holds in her hand will cover the cost.

One summer we were getting rid of stuff by attending bazaars and selling our items. A woman with three children picked up several things and her total came to 80 cents. She handed me a dime and a nickel. "That's not enough," I said. So she emptied her change purse into her palm, held it out to me and said, "Take what you need." My thoughts were with my child who is very likely to be in similar situations soon. And it's so easy to be cheated if you don't know money. I worry about this.

Dee's strengths are many and varied and she keeps adding more. She loves little children and would like to babysit. One of her school classes included a section on babysitting and she was thrilled.

She's very organized and keeps her belongings tidy and neat. She is a great help around the house, cleaning and doing dishes and keeping the kitchen neat. Actually, this trait gets to the point of annoying because on occasion, I'll find the fridge completely re-organized and won't be able to find the cheese I'm looking for.

And she continues to love dancing. Sometimes she says she'd like to be a dance teacher when she grows up. She could certainly do it.

Dee is a "people person". She's very good at relating to people of all ages and all walks of life. She can carry on the most interesting conversations in person or on the phone. She has overcome her earlier difficulties with children and now makes and keeps friends readily. Another thrilling development.

I think she'll turn out great!

summer 2002

Books I've Found Helpful

For help with social difficulties (up to age 8 or 9)

Arthur...; In Association with Amazon.com
Arthur series by Marc Brown
There are many books in this series and we haven't found one that we didn't like.
The Arthur books, videos and TV programs are a great series depicting situations that happen to children in real life. Arthur is an aardvark in grade 3 and has a sister, DW who is a pain and is in nursery school. Both my daughters love Arthur and these stories are a good jumping off point for discussing social difficulties with them. We talk about the problems Arthur or DW have, what solutions they found and whether those might work for us.
Arthur...; In Association with Amazon.com
Arthur...; In Association with Amazon.com
To order through Amazon.com: Arthur Babysits
Arthur's New Puppy
Arthur's Chickenpox

A Birthday...; In Association with Amazon.com
A Birthday For Frances by Russell Hoban illustrated by Lillian Hoban
This book and others in the series are fun to read. I use them for further discusion with the children about social issues that may be troubling them.
Other titles: Bread and Jam for Frances; A Bargain for Frances; Best Friends for Frances; Bedtime for Frances; A Baby Sister for Frances
A Baby Sister...; In Association with Amazon.com
To order through Amazon.com: A Birthday For Frances
A Baby Sister For Frances

I Want to Play
There's a wonderful series of books that really helped us. The Problem Solving Series by Elizabeth Crary, (illustrated by Marina Megale), gives lots of alternatives for children to try when they're working out ways to solve their problems. These books can be read either as traditional books or by choosing the page by your child's response. They're great for helping with social difficulties. Children learn that there are many choices for responding in unpleasant circumstances.
Titles: I Want It; I Can't Wait; I Want to Play; My Name's Not Dummy; I'm Lost; Mommy, Don't Go

Elizabeth Crary also has a Dealing With Feelings Series . (Illustrated by Jean Whitney) Again, they show a range of choices for dealing with feelings and can be read in different ways. Titles: I'm Frustrated; I'm Furious; I'm Scared; I'm Proud
These books can be found at Parenting Press (Parenting Press has other great books, too.)

For help with learning difficulties

Keeping A Head in School by Dr. Mel Levine. Educators Publishing Service, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1990.
I thank God for this author, for his deep understanding and compassion for children with difficulties, and for his hopeful attitude and many useful suggestions.
This book is written for children (11+) who have learning disabilities. It explains some things about the brain and what can go wrong to cause disabilities. It is hopeful throughout, showing the strengths that can develop when difficulties are overcome. It has many helpful suggestions for dealing with specific disabilities.

Mel Levine's books can be found at Educators Publishing Service or
To order through Amazon.com: Keeping A Head in School
There's also a book for younger children: All Kinds of Minds

Educational Care by Dr. Mel Levine. Educators Publishing Service, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1994. ISBN 0-8388-1987-7
Another book by the same author, that should be required reading for every teacher. This book is for parents and teachers of children with learning disabilities. It describes many difficulties and gives lots of suggestions for use at school and at home to help children overcome their problems.

To order through Amazon.com: Educational Care

A Life Worth Living by Judy Robinet. Robinet Publications, Windsor, Ontario, 1992. ISBN 0-9696606-0-X
Real parents tell their stories of coping with children with sometimes severe physical disabilities. Filled with suggestions for enhancing learning.
You can contact Judy Robinet at 6285 Matchette Road, LaSalle Ontario N9J 2R5.
phone: (519) 978-3358 or fax (519) 978-3492 or email JUDY@ALWL.ORG
pay by cheque to Judy Robinet
There is also a website for A Life Worth Living


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Comments on this web site and suggestions for it are welcome. mgre@greentwigs.com

Copyright© 1999, 2002 by Martha Greenhow
Etobicoke, Ontario, Canada
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