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10 Things To Remember If Your Loved Ones Suffer From Learning Disabilities

10 Things To Remember If Your Loved Ones Suffer From Learning Disabilities

“The only disability in life is a bad attitude.”- Scott Hamilton

Problems with learning are often caused by a learning disability (LD). We are probably more familiar with the ones which cause difficulty in reading (dyslexia) or in problems with math formulas (dyscalculia). There are many others such as having problems with interpreting symbols and maps which is a visual processing disorder and another one where interpreting sounds causes difficulty in understanding the spoken language (auditory processing disorder).

But whatever the disorder, it is essential to remember one thing: a learning disorder simply means that a person’s brain is wired differently and certain information processing takes a different route from that of the majority of the population. They may take longer but they will get there with some encouragement from you. A famous example is Erin Brockovich, the consumer advocate, who was brilliant at passing oral tests at school but could not pass the written tests. Here are 10 things to keep in mind if your loved one has a learning disability.

“There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but the view is always the same.”- Chinese proverb

1. They need our support

People with learning disabilities are much more likely to suffer from mental health issues than their normal peers. One report estimated that up to 36% of those with learning disabilities are likely to have problems compared with 8% of the normal population. We have to make sure that they the best possible support at home and at school. They are more likely to suffer from sort of discrimination at school and later at work and may be disadvantaged because of this problem.

2. They can get special tests at school

Once a student is recognized as having a problem with a certain ability, there are special test procedures which can make it a more level playing field when it comes to final exams. This applies to students who dropped out or who felt that the exams were far too difficult in their standard format. It is well worth it to take these tests because having a high school credential means you can earn up to $568,000 more in your lifetime.

The best known ones are the High School Equivalency exams such as the GED (General Educational Development). Depending on their disability, students taking these exams can avail of a talking calculator, large print formats, more time, use of a scribe, exams in auditory format and private facilities.

3. They need help to conquer the stigma

Having a label slapped on you, just because you learn in a rather different way, can be demoralizing. We know only too well that ignorant people call them mentally retarded and that they cannot learn anything. This leads to learners themselves trying to hide their disability and they also may suffer from low self-esteem. Unfortunately, a learning disability is also a life disability and many adults struggle with shopping lists, paying bills and budgeting, and filling out application forms. We can help by correcting ignorant people and telling them to be better informed. This is one of the great advantages of social media as we can teach people a few things!

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4. They must get special educational needs

In many countries, children can avail of special educational needs (SEN) so that they can maximize their learning. Parents can support their children best by collaborating with the teachers and making sure that both parties are fully informed about problems, progress and expectations. In the UK, the scheme allows the older ones from 16 – 25 to be fully involved in deciding what their priorities and needs are so they get a more custom built learning path. A key element is encouraging kids and teens to discover new ways of approaching a learning task.

5. They need to be encouraged to vote

The recent elections in the UK were an interesting example of how the Dimensions charity was able to raise awareness about learning disabilities. For far too long, people with these disabilities were intimidated by the procedures to actually register to be able to vote. Even an online registration form can be quite challenging. In the last election, about 60% of people with learning disabilities found they could not vote because of the difficulties they had in registering. The majority (70%) of those interviewed said they definitely wanted to vote. These charities are helping people overcome the obstacles and thus empowering them to become full members of the community. They do that by organizing Easy-Read presentations and mock voting so that the whole procedure is less intimidating. Help your loved ones by going along with them to these sessions.

6. They are more likely to come from a disadvantaged background

The University of Lancaster in the UK has done a very interesting study which shows that children with learning difficulties are much more likely to have suffered domestic violence. They also found that they came from unhappy homes where conflict reigned and they were more likely to be poor. Unemployment among parents and low educational achievement were other factors which contributed to the problem. Before you judge a colleague’s performance too harshly, it might be worthwhile reflecting on their background and the enormous obstacles they faced at home and in society.

7. They are more likely to suffer from other disorders

Sometimes, a learning disability is just one condition of a wider range of disorders. For example, we know that kids who have learning disabilities are 33 times more likely to have autism and they are 8 times more likely to have ADHD. The importance of getting any of these conditions properly diagnosed cannot be stressed enough. If you have a loved one in difficulty, do not think they will grow out of it! Take action and help them.

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8. They may have visual and hearing problems

Many children are wrongly diagnosed with a learning disability and/or with ADHD, when in reality they are only suffering from eyesight or hearing problems. This is one of the first things that parents should do when they suspect that there is a problem. They should have these simple tests done so that they can be ruled out or treated straightaway with visual and hearing aids. This is another practical way you can help your child or partner.

9. They may never have discovered their disability as children

Many adults never had their disability diagnosed or even properly treated and may have been unaware of what the real problem was until they entered the workplace. These problems become acute when the worker has to do a training session, give a presentation, write a report or write an error free email. Progressive organizations make sure that modified training manuals are available so that employees do not feel threatened or discriminated. Ideally, there should a department within the HR section which can deal effectively and sympathetically with these problems. At home, you can discuss what they can do and assure them of your support.

10. They may have to struggle with disclosure

According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, 63% of those surveyed know someone who is affected by LD. The problem for many sufferers is whether to make a disclosure or not. It is not a legal requirement but there are many issues they have to consider. Will they be demoted or put on a lower pay scale? Will other workers resent the fact that a worker may receive an accommodation? It is depressing to note that disability discrimination charges are increasing all the time.

But there are solutions and many workplaces could do a lot more to help. For example, they can give dyslexic sufferers verbal instructions while those with auditory problems can receive everything in writing. Software for creating graphics, voice-recognition software, talking calculators or extra large computer screens together with large print manuals can all make a world of difference.

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There is so much we can do to help our loved ones. We should be on guard to identify a possible learning disability and be there to support them when they have to make a few changes so that they can function better at school or at work.

Featured photo credit: Opportunities Fair 2012 aimed at people with learning disabilities/ Guy Evans via flickr.com

More by this author

Robert Locke

Author of Ziger the Tiger Stories, a health enthusiast specializing in relationships, life improvement and mental health.

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Last Updated on January 15, 2019

How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward

How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward

Many of us feel awkward talking to strangers. I’m a very outgoing person, even though I sometimes feel uncomfortable walking up to someone and asking a question or starting a conversation. I consider myself pretty high up on the extrovert meter. So what is it that makes us pause and become worried or anxious about talking to people we don’t know?

In this article, we will discuss why we feel this way as well as some tips on how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

Step right up, don’t be shy!

Why We Feel Awkward Talking to Strangers

The next time you feel uncomfortable talking to a stranger, tell yourself that’s completely normal. There are numerous reasons why it’s actually natural to feel awkward talking to strangers:

Our Stress Levels Rise Around Strangers

Numerous studies have show that our levels of cortisol go up when we are around strangers.[1] Cortisol is the hormone inside of us which produces stress responses.[2]
So there you go, right off the bat you can see part of your standard response to strangers is due to a chemical reaction!

A very interesting by product of increased cortisol is that it makes us less empathetic. More than likely this can be traced to our evolution. The increase in the cortisol and the corresponding decrease in empathy makes us want to stay away from strangers. We are biologically wired to feel concern around strangers.

Evolution Taught Us to Be Wary

Evolution has also taught us to be wary of strangers in general. Humans as a whole have spent a large chunk of their history banded together in small protective groups. We did this in order to help protect each other and maximize resources.

When you think about it in this context, outsiders to our small groups or strangers are considered potential threats. Fear of strangers is common across almost all human cultures.

Culturally Conditioned

We can also thank our society for helping us feel uncomfortable and sometimes afraid of strangers. The term “stranger danger” is something most of us can relate to either growing up or raising kids. Or both.

I remember hearing this from my parents, mostly about not getting in someone’s car I didn’t know. And as the father of 2 teenage girls, you can be sure I’ve talked to them about this very concept more times that they want to hear.

The thought that strangers can be dangerous is built into us as it is. Toss in the amplification of the media on strangers doing things such as kidnapping kids and it takes it to an even higher level.

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Now that we’ve reviewed some of the reasons why we are nervous, let’s look at why you should talk to strangers more.

Benefits of Getting over the Awkwardness

Let’s take a quick look at some of the advantages of how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward. These are some high level benefits of talking to strangers.

1. Broadens Your Network

After you talk to someone, you didn’t know previously they become someone you know at least a little bit. This alone helps broaden your network of people you know. This is helpful in many ways whether it is work related or socially related.

2. Improves Your Communication Skills

I am a huge proponent of the value of solid communication skills and have written about it often. The more you talk to people, especially people you don’t know, the better your communication skills become.

Interacting with a wider variety of people will bring the added benefit of improving your communication skills.

3. Continually Learning

So many of us don’t actively seek to learn new things. This is one of the primary keys to staying engaged in life and our own personal self fulfillment.

Almost every time I speak to someone I didn’t know previously, I’ve learned something new. When we speak to strangers, it pushes us out of our comfort zones and we tend to learn new things.

4. Increases Self Confidence

Every time we learn to do something we were previously anxious about, we feel better about ourselves.

Forcing ourselves to talk to strangers will lead to increased self confidence. As we get more and more comfortable doing something that previously made us feel awkward, our self confidence will go up and up.

So, how to talk to strangers to reap these benefits?

How to Talk to Strangers

Here are some tips to on how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

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1. Say Hello

Putting “say hello” first may seem a bit obvious but let’s take a deeper look. Much of the social awkwardness when speaking to strangers is simply breaking the ice. The first words that will engage someone.

Most people will respond when someone says hello or hi to them. And those that don’t, you probably don’t want to talk to anyway.

Practice being the person that opens the door to a conversation. Say hello.

2. Ask About Them

Something that I have noticed over the years is that people love to talk about themselves. Even fairly private people tend to open up when asked about events in their lives.

You can ask leading questions that get people to talk about themselves and recent events. Things like recent movies watched or the summer vacation are great to get someone talking.

As a father, I also know that people love to talk about their kids. Asking about kids is a fairly easy topic to bring up and in general, most people will expound upon all the great things their kids do or are involved with.

3. Just Do It

One of the biggest reasons we don’t do things we want to or know we should is because we overthink it. Quit thinking about it so much and just do it.

When you give yourself the time to analyze every little angle about a situation, you also give plenty of time to talk yourself out of it. You’ll wind up thinking what if this happens or what if that happens.

Try to force yourself to jump right in without thinking about it too much. Whenever I have done this, I always feel great about it afterwards, no matter how it turned out.

4. Don’t Take It Personal

One of the greatest lessons in life I ever learned was don’t take anything personally. We all go through life with our own sets of experiences and see things through our own lens. The way people react to different situations has almost nothing to do with us. It has to do with previous experiences and the way people feel about things other than us.

When someone’s reaction isn’t what you’d hoped or expected, chances are it has nothing to do with you. Remember that and keep it in context.

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5. Get a Chuckle If Possible

I used the word chuckle purposely because it makes me laugh. In my opinion, it’s one of those funny words. We all like to laugh because it makes us feel good. And when someone makes us laugh, we typically remember those people in a positive light.

One of the best ways to make a conversation easy and free flowing is to get some laughter going. It doesn’t mean you have to be the master joke teller or anything. See if you can work in a way to make the person you are talking to get a smile or some laughter in. In fact, laughing at yourself maybe a nice try.

6. Detach

A great feeling is when you don’t mind which way something turns out, that you will be fine no matter what happens. Kind of like when I watch my two favorite football teams play against each other. I don’t really care who wins, I just want a fun game.

Treat talking to strangers the same way. You don’t really care how the conversation goes because you are detaching from the outcome. Make it a fun time with yourself and if the conversation goes well, awesome! If not then no big deal, move on.

7. Share Your Stories

Well, all like to feel connected to other people. And many times we wind up hanging out with people that we have things in common with. No surprise here.

To help with how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward, tell stories that have commonalities with the person you are talking to. Kids are an easy one. I have a daughter who was a competitive cheerleader and now plays club volleyball. I have instant connection and stories with strangers I speak with who have kids that play sports. It’s easy to relate to.

So when you are speaking to a stranger and you have a story or mutual connection point, bring it up.

8. Give a Compliment

Almost everyone likes hearing a compliment, whether they admit to it or not. As a general rule, we don’t give out enough compliments. It’s amazing how one small remark someone tosses your way about how good you look can literally make your entire day.

When you are speaking with someone you don’t know, see if you can work a compliment in. Nothing creepy here. Not a good idea to tell someone you just met that they are the prettiest or handsomest person you ever met. However, if you can share how you like their tattoo or shoes or something like that, it will help put the conversation into an easy going, smiling place.

9. Relax Your Body Language

If you go into a situation all worried and nervous, it shows on your body. Your shoulders are tensed up, there’s a look of consternation on your face, things like that.

When you engage a stranger in conversation, make it a point to relax your body language. Take a deep breath before you engage the person, let your body relax, and put a smile on your face. This will help relax you and it has the added benefit of putting the other person more at ease.

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If they see that you are relaxed, it helps them relax. Plus having open, engaging body language is very conducive to inviting someone to open up into a conversation with you.

10. Practice, Practice, Practice

Like everything else in life, talking to strangers gets easier with practice. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

Make it a point to talk to several strangers each week and it will definitely help you relax as you do it more and more.

After a while, it will become something you don’t even think about, you just do it. And that takes all of the awkwardness out of being in these type situations.

The Bottom Line

As we have seen, it is perfectly natural to feel awkward talking to strangers. We are biologically built that way and we have our own society constantly warning us how dangerous it is. It’s no wonder we feel awkward talking to strangers!

There are numerous benefits to learning to be more comfortable talking to strangers. See if you can employ some of the techniques mentioned to learn how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

Once you start practicing speaking with strangers more often and utilizing some of the tips, you will become more comfortable doing so. This in turn will lead to a learned new skill and increased self confidence.

Remember, everyone you know was a stranger at one time. Now get out there and make some new friends.

More Resources About Strengthening Communication Skills

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

Reference

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