Difficulty vs. Disability: Embracing the Struggle
Too often our focus is to help kids feel better, rather than live better. Instead of knowing what a “healthy kid” looks like, we have become masters of seeing dysfunction. In doing so, we have greatly limited our ability to help children who truly struggle.
Here are some simple examples. In 1986 the ratio of school aged children on psychiatric medication was 1 in 400. In the year 2000, that ratio was 1 in 40. In 2013 the ratio was 1 in 13. This morning when I checked Amazon, there were over 200,000 unique book titles in the areas of family and parenting. In 1940 there did not exist any readily available books on how to raise your kids. Yet by all accounts the children of the 1940s were much sturdier in their makeup and more capable to exist in a difficult world.
In the school setting this affects many things—from the parent who complains because their child had Latin homework over the weekend and how that of course would interfere with his travel field hockey or social calendar, to the student who has the idea that school should be easy.
How has all of this affected the student with learning difficulties? The use of the term “disability” is a clue. I use the term “difficulty” because in most cases, that is a more accurate description than “disability.” When we automatically assume a disability, the conversation changes in a way that assumes a student “can’t” do something rather than realizing in the vast majority of cases it is “harder” for that student.
For kids with extra difficulties, we should look for an academic approach and environment that allows for struggle and engages it well. For the significantly “disabled” child, this may be in the public system with the vast array of special education resources. But for many, I have seen the Christian classical model meet that need quite well.
The ability for a student to struggle in an environment that embraces that children learn at different paces and in different ways while at the same time providing a foundation of Truth is invaluable. I often describe the idea of contemplation as allowing students to struggle with big and important things … that is what education should contain. When both parents and schools change the message that struggle should be managed and navigated, rather than avoided, we can better see and meet the needs of struggling students.
KEITH MCCURDY has worked with families, children, parents and individuals for more than 25 years logging more than 75,000 clinical hours of experience. He received his Master of Arts and Education Specialist degrees from James Madison University. He is currently the President and CEO of Total Life Counseling, Inc.