Ask An Expert / Learning and Development Disorders

My daughter is so frustrated by her learning disorder she’s having tantrums at school. What can we do?

Behavioral strategies can help, but help with reading is key

Susan J. Schwartz, MAEd
Susan J. Schwartz, MAEd

Learning Specialist

Child MInd Institute

We have a 4th grader who has struggled since preschool with a learning disorder. Her intelligence is average to above average. Her reading comprehension is way above average but her decoding and fluency is extremely below average. She has received services for years from our amazing school system. Still reading is extremely hard for her and she does anything to avoid it.

Last year, 3rd grade, she became emotionally uncontrollable at school, getting enraged when frustrated by an academic demand. She got help from a behaviorist and she made good progress. She definitely "buys into" the reward system and she has an aide who she has bonded with.

This year she has done much better emotionally even while she struggles academically. She knows her strategies to use when she feels herself getting upset. Still, yesterday she went ballistic in school over an academic demand, and needed to be put in a restraint hold, something they hadn't have to do since last year. Supposedly this behavior was 'extinct,' so it's troubling that it should happen again. We are at a loss as to what to do next. We would appreciate any advice you can send our way.
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You have been very resourceful and have advocated well for your daughter. From the way you describe her struggles I think that two issues are going on simultaneously.

First of all, it sounds like your daughter struggles with the mechanics of reading-decoding. This is a fundamental issue in students who are dyslexic. There are many ways to remediate and compensate for dyslexia. A child needs to be taught many decoding strategies and needs support to use those strategies in every subject area because reading is required in language arts, writing, math, social studies, science. Reading decoding strategies need to be taught and reviewed daily. Once a child masters the basics, then rules of syllabication and decoding are important to learn for both reading and spelling. It sounds like your child often becomes frustrated, overwhelmed or overloaded. It could be during any subject area that would require reading or writing. Using both coping and behavioral strategies are important tools. But it is also very important to provide ways for her to manage the complexity of reading demands. She may require a reader to read directions, instructions or content in textbooks or information that is written on the board. Even copying a simple homework assignment that has been given orally can be a struggle for dyslexic children. In addition, during independent reading times, a reader may be needed, or your daughter needs to learn to use recorded books. Recorded books are available for fiction and non-fiction/text reading too. For more information check out this site.

Another goal is to ensure that your child feels happy and productive throughout her day. A special education class may be a good alternative to the mainstream when a child is very frustrated with the workload and when there is not enough individualized attention, as well as special attention to building the toolkit of decoding, coping and advocacy strategies that she needs.