Melinda L. Boring, MA-CCC/SLP
you have a child with learning challenges, you've probably wondered at
times if he or she will ever master certain tasks. If learning is
represented as a curved line, and the line curves more sharply with
rapid learning, then a longer line with a gradual upward slope would
more accurately represent slower learners. The steepness of the slope
would vary with the degree of difficulty involved for the individual
child to learn specific material or tasks. For some children, the
slope may appear fairly typical for some things but reflect
significant difficulties in other specific areas that are challenging.
Other children seem to struggle consistently across most areas of
Does it ever seem to you that your child's learning curve isn't
actually curving at all but is more like a straight line extending to
infinity? If so, you are not alone. I've observed it over and over
with many children and multiple learning tasks. My own "neurotypical"
child has a learning curve that looks pretty much like the majority of
learning curves for the general population. She demonstrates continual
increases in learning and the rate of learning is steady and
consistent over time. Her progress is predictable both for academic
tasks and life skills, showing no hesitation or lag in her progression
toward mastery in all areas of learning.
In contrast, the development and learning mastery of my own two
special needs learners are better represented as bumpy lines with
occasional spikes. Not stair steps, not smooth upward curves, but
rather by jolts and spurts. I still haven't figured out what actually
causes the spurts, or prevents them for that matter. What I can tell
you is that they need a whole lot more repetition and practice than
the average child does to master a skill. They also appear to finally
"master" a skill only to have it mysteriously evaporate by
the next day. Then it reappears again, not taking quite as long the
second, third, and fourth time around. It's as if their neurological
wiring shorts out, causing them to lose information that had been
available to them only moments before.
Yes, it's very frustrating - for me and for them. I don't know
why it happens, but I know it is not uncommon among those with
learning challenges. If your childís learning fits this description,
your feelings of discouragement and bewilderment are certainly
understandable. I think it is particularly hard for those of us who do
not share our childrenís learning challenges yet are faced with the
task of figuring them out and trying to find solutions to help them.
Most often, those solutions are multi-faceted and require a great deal
of self-education to increase our effectiveness in teaching our
challenged learners. It is time consuming, there are no guarantees
that specific techniques will work, and perhaps most disheartening of
all is the fact that even when we come across something that helps it
may not work consistently for reasons that remain elusive to us and
In addition to all the extra work we incur as we investigate
various curriculums, tools, and support, the expenses for materials we
acquire continue to accumulate and add yet more stress to our lives.
Not only that, we have to guard against bitterness and envy when we
hear about our friendís child who taught herself to read or whose
child can use a comprehensive curriculum from one source and excel
with it. After all, we really do want to rejoice with those who are
experiencing success and be supportive to our fellow sojourners!
So despite the frustration, our childís learning challenges
are something we have to deal with and we press on until another spike
in learning occurs. Some of you may be visualizing large increases as
are sometimes shown on charts in business meetings. How wonderful that
would be! The spikes I'm seeing, though, are much smaller.
Distinguishable from the bumpy line, but not huge upward thrusts like
some people experience when they have a breakthrough. Yet I rejoice in
the seemingly little jolts of learning for my children, because I know
that eventually those small increases will accumulate and the skills
will be successfully incorporated beyond the point that they could
evaporate. Most challenged learners will still continue to learn in a
manner similar to a bumpy line, but now that line is just a little
higher. And if you look really closely along that line, you just might
see a tiny slope emerging over time.
L. Boring is a speech/language pathologist, workshop presenter,
homeschooling mother, and author. Her experience with distractible and
hyperactive children has been developed in both a professional and