In this Vital Mercy series, Dr. Brenda Murphy shares letters to help calm the fears, answer the questions and steer parents on a path to successful teaching and learning with struggling learners at home.

It’s hard to face the fact that I worry too much. Since the day Matthew, our first son, was born, I’ve worried about him and his four brothers. I’ve worried about outrageously silly things like will they ever give up their pacifier, sleep without their bear, or waste away if they didn’t eat. And, yes, I worried about not-so-silly things like their health and special learning needs. 

Since you’re reading this letter, I’d say you worry about that last one, too. “Does my child have special needs?” is a fearful question parents want me to answer. “Yes, of course they do!” I always begin. “Every child has special needs: to be loved and taught and nurtured.” 

My somewhat flippant answer to such a serious question is intentional. I want them, and you, to see beyond the worry and fears because not everything that appears to be a “special need” is. Even if the verdict is “special needs,” it’s not a death sentence. Many special needs labels wear off, and the child with special needs of today is not necessarily the child with special needs of tomorrow nor adult of the future.

To slay the worries about special needs, I like to divide them into two categories: hard and soft. If you’re reading this letter wondering if your child has a special need, more than likely your child falls into the “soft” category. If your child fell into the hard category, you wouldn’t wonder, you’d know. The signs and symptoms are evident: significant physical, behavioral, mental, and emotional developmental delays. One worry down.

The next worry-buster is to decide if your child is experiencing a fairly typical, temporary learning struggle or a more significant, though still soft, learning delay. Sometimes it’s easy to tell, sometimes not. Let’s look at easy first.

The life happens reasons. During our first few home schooling years, life interrupted academics, sometimes for only a few days, other times for several weeks. We moved, had a power surge, experienced family deaths, were sick, battled allergies. My children weren’t where they should be academically because, for one reason, the time-on-task wasn’t there. Then, there was the curriculum issue. 

Before I learned how to use any material to teach my children the way they learned best,  we knocked heads and hearts over workbooks. In fact, one of my children showed me how much he loved a particular phonics book. My home schooling friends’ children thought it was the “funnest” thing going, but every time we got it out, he scrawled circles so hard across the pages he often tore three to five sheets down. Hello! 

Changing curriculum and methods too frequently can be another induced soft learning struggle. If children aren’t given enough time to learn the material before they’re planted in another field, so to speak, the effect mimics a soft learning problem. 

Perhaps none of these situations are the culprit of your child’s learning struggle. So in our next letter we will explore ways to recognize other soft possibilities.

Putting worry to rest,

Dr. Brenda Murphy

Read the next letter, It’s Not Just Academics; It’s Life!