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Thou wilt show me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of  joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for ever more.  Psalms 16:11


The Learning Curve

By Melinda L. Boring, MA-CCC/SLP

Heads Up!



            If 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 learning.
            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 our children.
            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.


Melinda 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 personal capacity.