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Relationships Could Help Teens Overcome Learning Disabilities

Children with learning disabilities develop less secure attachments says Tel Aviv U Researcher

By: David Shear
Published: March 4th, 2013 in Health » World

Often beginning early in childhood, learning-disabled children face a myriad of challenges which become more pronounced during adolescence, an emotionally turbulent time.

According to Dr. Michal Al-Yagon of Tel Aviv University’s Jaime and Joan Constantiner School of Education, these youngsters could benefit greatly from more positive relationships with the significant adults in their lives — including parents and teachers — which would improve both their learning and “socioemotional” experiences.

In a recent study published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, Dr. Al-Yagon reported that teens with learning disabilities were less likely to have secure attachment relationships to their mothers and teachers compared to peers without learning disabilities.

"We found that more secure child-adult attachments may act as a protective factor during this developmental period, whereas insecure attachments are a risk factor" for social and emotional issues, Dr. Al-Yagon says.

These results could help researchers design more effective interventions for children and adolescents with learning disabilities. Helping to strengthen their relationships with parents and teachers may decrease their emotional and behavioural problems.

Dr. Al-Yagon measured the socioemotional state and the security of attachments to parents and teachers for 181 adolescents with learning disabilities and 188 with typical development, all between the ages of 15-17. Participants completed a series of questionnaires regarding their attachment to their mother and father, perceived teacher availability and rejection, loneliness, experience of positive and negative emotions and behavioural problems.

Adolescents with learning disabilities were discovered to have less secure attachments with significant adult figures compared to their non-disabled peers, which had a direct impact on their socioemotional state. Within the disabled group, those who had more secure attachments to their mother and father, or who considered their teacher caring and available, exhibited fewer negative emotions, feelings of loneliness, and behaviour problems — all of which can interfere with learning.

While social, emotional, and behavioural difficulties cannot be entirely avoided, Dr. Al-Yagon believes that a little effort, care, and attention can go a long way toward helping learning disabled children and teens feel happier and more secure. "Parents and teachers should be aware not just of academic difficulties, but also of socioemotional difficulties – and work to treat them. They should not avoid or ignore issues such as depression or aggression, which are another dimension of the original problem," she advises.

Related articles: Tel Aviv University, Learning Disabilities, Children, Relationships
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