You CAN Be Smart AND Have a Learning Disability…Yes, You Can.


The hardest part of my job is persuading parents or spouses that their family member can be really, really smart and have a learning disability.

No long ago I attended a parent-teacher meeting at the request of the school and the student whom I coach.

As the meeting progressed past opening remarks and niceties, we got down to grades and academic output. This was a status check to see if the school and the child were a good fit for each other.

The father’s concerns included a feeling that Brad (not his real name) did not seem motivated, didn’t have “a fire in his belly” to do more than what was required. He worried, justifiably, that Brad always seemed to wait for someone to tell him what to do, and never went back to check his work for accuracy and completion.

Brad’s mother took an opposite view. She commented that Brad had made progress, had friends, enjoyed school (Kudos to the teacher!), and excelled in the arts.

Facing academic failure

Bottom line, though, even with a multitude of support systems (informal accommodations, after-school coaching, in-school tutoring, and parental involvement), Brad was still only a point or two above a failing mark and possible dismissal from the school.

This little guy had been working really hard, and motivation wasn't an issue. By the way, motivation is rarely the cause of academic failure. I have yet to meet a person who wouldn't do well if they could, but I will save this topic for another day.

Anyway, this kid was using so much mental energy to just make the cut, so it was a fair question to ask whether or not Brad should continue at the school in coming years, when the workload and expectations would increase pretty dramatically. The answer from both the teacher and myself? Maybe.

Both parents looked at me in surprise, but that’s the truth.

If Brad enters the next level and hasn't "improved", the school will ask him to leave. On the other hand, Brad may grow into his brain with interventions to help the process.

The value of a neuropsych evaluation

My recommendation was to have Brad have a neuropsych evaluation. This will determine whether or not he has a processing delay (which he exhibits). As you know from my previous posts, I believe EVERYBODY should have a neuropsych at some point in his or her life, just to know how our own brains work! But, this, too is a topic for another day.

Unfortunately, if Brad does have some learning challenge, we need to have a diagnosis in place to secure the accommodations he will need as he advances in school.

The mother in particular worried that a diagnosis would be a label that would scar him emotionally and psychologically. That has not been my experience. It seems that the parents have the issue with the label. They believe it's somehow a judgement against their parenting skills. That is the parents' issue, not the kid's.

Be reassured, kids can be smart and have a learning disability. Most kids who struggle in school already feel a stigma of falling behind academically. And most feel some sense of relief when there is a reason for the "problem."

And do you know what the best thing about having a "problem" is? We can work together to solve it!

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