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Teenagers Who Have to Work Too Hard to Learn

Teenagers Who Have to Work Too Hard to Learn

As parents, it is always a puzzle to us when we are working with a teenager who seemingly has to work too hard to learn things that should come more easily. We constantly question, “Is there a curriculum that will work better for this child? Should I have him tested for a learning disability? Is he just lazy and unmotivated? Should I put him back in school? How will I give him a diploma?”

When I finished homeschooling my son, I worked with “twice exceptional” teenagers in the school system. What is meant by that phrase? We have many of these students at home. Twice-exceptional teens are those who are “gifted with a glitch.” They have an above-average IQ but are struggling in one or more areas of learning.

Because they are verbally bright and interested in many topics, we often think these students are doing poorly in other subjects because they are just not trying hard. Now, thanks to research, we know better. We understand that a teenager can be very good in some areas and yet struggle in others. The good news about this is that there are answers! You and your teenager can find help in overcoming areas of struggle.

Let’s look at two of the most common areas of struggle:

     •Writing and spelling


Writing and Spelling Struggles

The most common reason teenagers were placed in my resource room for language arts was because they were not turning in any writing assignments. In their testing, such students had scored low in “Processing Speed” and its subtest, “Coding”—which is rapid, accurate copying of shapes and symbols. These students basically were suffering with a learning glitch called dysgraphia.

At home, the picture looks like this: The Great Debate occurs every year. “Am I expecting too much of my child, or not enough?” “Is this groaning and moaning about writing just a discipline problem or a character issue, or is there really a problem here?”

Common comments I hear from homeschool moms are:

     •“She can tell me the answers orally well, but then it takes her an hour to write it down!”

     •“When he writes his spelling words to learn them, he leaves letters out of the words.”

     •“When he wants to, he can write neatly. He’s just sloppy.”

     •“He’ll do the longest math problem in his head rather than writing anything down.”

Unbeknownst to themselves, many of these parents are pointing to signs of dysgraphia.

Symptoms of Stress in the Writing System, or Dysgraphia

     •Resists writing

     •Writing reversals

     •Math problems not lined up

     •Omits letters when spelling

     •Can’t get thoughts on paper

     •Copying very labor intensive

     •Poor spacing on paper

     •Great stories orally, but writes very little

No teenager exhibits all of the symptoms, but if your teenager exhibits some of them, it would be good to recognize this and help him with the problem. It is best to do two steps:



Of course, the first thing we do is teach these students keyboarding skills so they can do much of their work on the computer without going through the mechanics of writing with pencil and paper. But, as Dr. Mel Levine in his book One Mind At A Time states, teenagers with this grapho-motor problem avoid writing in all modalities, even on the computer. We can get a voice-to-print software program such as Dragon Speak, and this will help with longer written assignments. However, the teenager is still using too much battery energy to put finger to keyboard or pencil to paper for such tasks as filling in worksheets or doing math problems.

In other words, these are good compensations, but they do nothing tocorrect the problem. How, at home, can we accomplish the task of correction?

     •For three months, reduce the amount of written work (do most daily work orally).

     •Eliminate copying assignments for three months.

     •Perform a daily crossing-the-midline exercise called the Writing Eight Exercise for 15 minutes a day to transfer the writing process to the Automatic Brain Hemisphere. Do this for at least six months. (See the DVD Smart Kids Who Hate to Write, available at www.diannecraft.org.)

     •Teach spelling using right-brain strategies which show the student how to use his or her photographic memory to store spelling words instead of writing them or using phonics for spelling. (See the web seminar “Teaching the Right Brain Child, Part 1” at www.hslda.org/athome, or get the free newsletter describing this method of spelling at www.hslda.org/strugglinglearner)

     •Use the Right Brain Writing Method to help this teenager “see” his entire paragraph or paper before writing it. This method can be discontinued once the student is willingly writing four-page papers for you. (To receive a free paper describing this method of writing, just e-mail craft@ecentral.com, and I will gladly send it to you.)

When I followed the above steps with my bright, struggling teenagers, they did not need to work with me for the next school year, because writing and spelling were no longer a problem for them. I believe these methods will work for you too. In fact, I teach these methods to teachers at the University of Colorado in Denver, and they report the same results.

Focusing/Attention Struggles

Do you have a teenager who has to work too hard to stay focused on a task? Does his pencil become paralyzed when you leave the room for a few minutes? Does he seem lazy and unmotivated? Are you at your wits’ end about how to help him? “He’s so smart, but it takes him forever to complete his work!” You’ve tried all the focusing tricks from the books you’ve read, but you still use much of your teaching day coaxing the minimum required work out of this child. These behaviors leave you drained and with little to show for your efforts.

One of the most confusing scenarios is working with a teenager who appears to have no learning disabilities or glitches, who tests well, but who needs constant supervision to complete tasks. Here are some characteristics of teenagers who have a focusing and attention issue:

     •Needs someone to sit with him or prod him to finish work

     •Forgets previously learned information

     •Impulsive behavior

     •Easily upset and angered

     •Inconsistency in performance

     •Sullen, moody, wanting to be alone much of the time

     •Depression (more negatives than positives)

     •Often has difficulty getting to sleep at night and waking up in the morning

When it comes to evaluating such behavior, it helps to remember something: We are not just a head walking around. We are attached to a body! Let’s look at the physical clues that this child is presenting to us. Dr. Sydney Walker says that “Children act how they feel.” In his clinic, he explores the physical causes of attention/behavior issues.

The place to begin exploring the causes of your teenager’s nervous system upset is his family doctor. Here are some possibilities you can explore:

Iron Levels

Dr. Sydney Walker III (The Hyperactivity Hoax) found that 45% of teenagers who were struggling with focusing or depression (wanting to be alone) were subclinically anemic. This means that their hemoglobin and hematocrit tests were in the “normal” range, but their ferritin levels (the iron-binding capacity of the blood) were low. It is best to ask to have the blood test results sent to you. The interpretation of the test may be that the results are normal, but “normal”  covers a very wide range, and your son or daughter’s results may have just barely made it to the bottom of that range. This would be something to further explore.

Zinc Deficiency

Dr. Carl Pfeiffer (Mental and Elemental Nutritents) found that teenagers who struggle with anxiety, impulsiveness, and focusing issues were low in the mineral zinc. (This deficiency can manifest as white spots on the fingernails.) When the nervous system is biologically stressed, it throws out excessive amounts of zinc and B-6, which are the calming mineral and vitamin. This can be measured in a urine test. In my 13 years experience in my clinic in Denver, I have found this to be a large factor, particularly in teenage boys. I have also seen them respond very favorably to supplementation. Read about the impact of this zinc/copper imbalance at www.hriptc.org.

Fungal and Yeast Overgrowth

Many of these teenagers have become “carbovores,” craving carbs and sugars all day. They are inadvertently feeding the yeast/fungus in their gut, causing them to feel spacey, unhappy, and forgetful. Dr. Trowbridge in The Yeast Syndrome and Dr. Orion Truss in The Missing Diagnosis both talk extensively about using natural antifungals to help teenagers create a better balance to banish these disturbing behaviors.

In my CD set The Biology of Behavior, I discuss a three-month nutritional supplement program designed to address this imbalance in teenagers (www.diannecraft.org). This yeast/fungus overgrowth creates many unwanted behaviors that seem confusing and can look like character issues. Many great reports have come from parents who helped their teenagers overcome this imbalance naturally.

Omega 3s

Dr. Andrew Stoll (The Omega 3 Connection), in his Harvard study, found that many adults and teenagers who struggle with focusing or depression are low in the Omega 3 fatty acids, particularly the DHA found in fish oil. Dr. Jacqueline Stordy has created a protocol, or formula, that works best. It is described in her book The LCD Solution. She has found that ADHD, dyslexia, and dyspraxia run in families that are low in these essential fatty acids. They are easy to supplement, and it takes about three months to see the full effect, even though most teenagers say they notice a difference in a few weeks of taking the protocol amounts (see the article “Essential Fatty Acids and the Brain” on my website—www.diannecraft.org—for Dr. Stordy’s protocol). Oils are powerful tools in our arsenal!

Learning What It’s Like to Focus

It is important to discover the cause of your teenager’s reluctance or difficulty in finishing work while he is still at home. There, you are in a position to help him find answers and experience what feeling good, and focused, is like.

If we don’t recognize and address these issues at home, a common story is that this bright student goes to his first year of college, maybe even getting a scholarship, but has great difficulty completing the required work his first year. He finds himself on academic probation. He may even lose his scholarship. That is when we may first realize that we were accommodating the teenager so much in homeschooling that we did not see the extent of the struggle he was having. It is much more difficult to get him to take supplements or change his diet while in the dorm setting. This is best done at home.

God is so good, and He gives us insight when we ask for it. If your family is struggling with some of these issues, I believe that you will find exactly what you can do at home to make learning and focusing easier for your teenager. 

Dianne Craftis a former homeschool mother who has a master’s degree in special education and is a Certified Natural Health Professional. For the past 13 years, she has been the president of Child Diagnostics, Inc., in Denver, CO. Her website, www.diannecraft.org, has many articles on children and learning. Dianne is also a Learning Specialist for the Homeschool Legal Defense Association. The website www.hslda.org/strugglinglearner has many helps for parents of struggling learners. Members of HSLDA can personally talk to Dianne and other Learning Specialists about their child at any time.

This article was originally published in the Mar/Apr 2011 issue of HomeSchoolEnrichment Magazine. To learn more, and to request a FREE sample copy, visit www.HomeSchoolEnrichment.com.