What I Learned From My Students With Learning Disabilities: 8 Ways To Rock It At School

What I Learned From My Students With Learning Disabilities: 8 Ways To Rock It At School

It’s common for parents to say something like, “I know he is capable, he just isn’t trying.” But what about the kids who have real, documented learning disabilities? For many of these kids, school is never-ending maze that they have to “solve” under time constraints. Sounds stressful, right?

Yet some of my most impressive clients are students with a list of learning disabilities. On paper, it seems like the deck is stacked against them. But what they lack in “raw talent” they make up for with these habits and character traits. Here are some of their most useful, actionable habits for success in school. 


1. They are their own advocates.

Encouraged by the adults in their lives to get rid of the shame surrounding their learning disabilities, they stopped seeing themselves as dumb. Instead, they learned that because of their circumstances, they needed a lot more support from their teachers so they:

  • Make a weekly check-in with their teachers about upcoming tests and assignments.
  • Ask for class notes if they struggled to keep up during class.
  • Find gadgets that helped with their fidgiting and ask permission to use them.
  • Partner with a classmates for when they were absent.


2. They get organized.

Organization is a huge hurdle for kids generally and for them, even more so. Again, with the encouragement and direction of adults, they learned to:

  • Keep a separate notebook and folder for each class, even the ones that didn’t distribute much paper.
  • Get new notebooks and folders every semester. Instead of keeping all papers with them, or sorting the papers or throwing them out (this is very overwhelming for kids), they simply stored their work until the end of the year AND THEN threw it all out.
  • Take pictures of their passwords for all school portals and then bookmark them on their home computer or laptop.
  • Create systems using Google Drive to set up folders for each class where all assignments are kept.


3. They plan their time with their disabilities in mind.

Both say that their friends only study for an hour to get a good grade. This was not the case for them though, so either they earned a lower grade, or they studied differently. This meant:

  • Learning how to plan their time. Since they couldn’t simply sit down and “look over their notes,” they budgeted their time for a few days leading up to the test instead of cramming and stressing.
  • Studying in shorter, more regular increments to accommodate for their short attention spans.
  • They took brain breaks. They got up, stretched, listened to music every 45 mintues. But they didn’t socialize while they were working.


4. They don’t multi-task online.

The minute social stuff comes on their radars, they are done. This means they:

  • Leave their phones in another room when they are working.
  • Shut off all social media alerts and messaging apps on their computers.
  • Listen to ambient background music on their computers. 


5. They adjust their expectations.

Parents and kids think that a B is the lowest, acceptable grade. But for kids with learning disabilities, this may be unrealistic as a starting goal. As I wrote recently, starting where you are is a cornerstone of productive, successful mindset.


6. AND they continue to challenge themselves.

They worked their best, and accepted that sometimes they would get a 70 in math. BUT, they also did all of the things listed above and they aimed incrementally higher each quarter.


7. They develop incredible work ethics.

To succeed in school is it’s own challenge for almost all students. It takes a lot of motivation and focus to overcome both the obstacles of teenagehood. My students with learning disabilities are hard workers. 


8. They are personally accountable.

Once they understood their  learning disabilities, they were remarkable accountable. They owned when they slacked, just as much as they claimed their hard work. They learned not to blame anyone else for what they were responsible for.


School is so much less exciting than the online world. It gives kids none of the dopamine fix that they have come to crave. It takes a huge amount of focus and discipline for anyone who wants to do well, but especially so if you have  learning disabilities.

Kids in this category are battling not only the boredom. They are battling the fast pace of the learning environment and the expectations to absorb a huge amount of information in what some describe as mental chaos. For these kids, having a structure like these 8 habits makes success more likely.  But they are not going to get there alone and that’s where the adults come in. Implement one or two of these at a time, be consistent and hold kids accountable to the structure. If my experience is reliable, you will see a change not only in their grades, but their self-perception. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]


  • Pam


    What wise people children are.. and those who have something to overcome even more so! I wish more adults would consider some of these tips! And learning these lessons early that we all should be learning, they will become outstanding adults.

    February 16, 2017 at 4:44 pm
  • They are smarter then most of us! That’s how you prevent children and future adults from burnout!!!

    February 16, 2017 at 5:58 pm
  • Helaina, I love that you are educating parents that kids with disabilities can actually take advantage of their “difference” and make it work for them. I help families and kids with learning disabilities to get organized in mindset and practical terms so they can succeed incrementally towards their goals. This list is actually a great one for any of us…it’s about setting ourselves up for our best focus…and focus requires breaks too. Fantastic post! These kids and families are so blessed to have you!

    February 16, 2017 at 7:36 pm
  • “They are their own advocates.” what a beautiful perspective, helaina. and i was especially struck by the first habit that you listed. i personally think nothing can be more self-motivating than being your own advocate. knowing what you need. who to ask for help, and when. and when/how to convey you can do something on your own. thank you.

    March 17, 2017 at 11:20 am
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    August 25, 2017 at 2:22 pm

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