Factors Affecting Academic Confidence in Teens with Learning Disorders

Learning disorders can already make school difficult enough, but societal views and practices regarding the treatment of learning disorders have led to a variety of issues in the emotional realm.  A recent study, published in the British Journal of Sociology and Education, found that grouping students based on their academic ability shows significant negative impacts on adolescents’ self-confidence.  Learning disabilities can exacerbate emotional problems, when in turn emotional problems may exacerbate learning disabilities, creating a vicious cycle.     While it is important for teens with learning disabilities to get the help they need, it is best for students to get one on one help, rather than separating students from their classroom of peers.    

How learning disorders may affect confidence in teens

While learning disorders on their own present many added challenges for adolescents, there has been a strong link found between learning disabilities and low-self esteem.  Learning disabilities do not make you “less smart” than other students, simply put they mean your brain learns in a different way than the average.  The typical school-based learning model is designed for neurotypical students, therefore many of the learning strategies do not work well for many students with learning disabilities.  In order to accommodate students with learning disabilities, these students are removed from their peers and placed in separate groups for learning activities.  While the intention behind this is to help students learn, it can cause them to doubt themselves and believe they are less smart than their peers.  

In addition, the social stigma associated with learning disorders or being “different” can present more challenges for adolescents.  Students with learning disorders may compare their performance to that of other students, and if they are not performing as well or as easily as other students, they may lead themselves to believe they are not “smart”.  

Signs of low-self esteem in students

Self-esteem and confidence are often used interchangeably, and sometimes go hand and hand, but refer to different things.  Confidence is the belief in your own ability to succeed and effectively manage tasks.  Self-esteem refers to having a healthy self-image and believing you are worthy of love and respect from others.  Both of these components are essential when growing up and developing a healthy relationship with yourself.  Adolescents with learning disorders may struggle with both confidence and self-esteem, as we are taught to value good grades and education from an early age.  If you believe your child’s learning difficulties may be affecting their self-esteem, listed below are 3 common warning signs of low self-esteem in students with learning difficulties.

  1. Not completing homework or long-term assignments.  If your child begins to regularly make excuses for not doing or completing their assignments, it may actually be a sign of avoidance.  Students with learning disabilities may begin to feel like they are not “smart” enough if they struggle or do not do well on assignments, therefore leading them to avoid difficult tasks.
  2. Refusing to participate in social activities.  If your child begins to socially withdraw from group activities such as sports or clubs, it may be a sign of self-esteem struggles.  They may believe they are less skilled or have lesser ability than many of their peers, which can lead to self-isolation and withdrawal.
  3. Acting up or attention-seeking behavior.  Sometimes when children act up in the classroom for attention, they are doing it to distract from their academic performance.  Being the attention seeker or “class clown” may be another outlet for feeling confident in school.  Additionally, acting out in class can get students out of doing certain activities and allow them to avoid specific classroom activities, such as reading out loud or solving math problems on the board, which may cause them to doubt their own abilities.          

Building self-confidence in teens

Confidence and self-esteem lead to a successful life.  Growing up it is very common for many teens to struggle with self-esteem issues.  However, adolescence is a very influential time in our lives, and it is an important phase for building self-esteem in the long-term.  Learning disorders can have negative impacts on self-esteem, therefore it is especially important to build confidence in self-esteem in teens with learning disabilities.  The following are some tips and tricks for parents to help build confidence in children with learning disabilities.

  • Teach them about the brain.  Helping children understand the complexity of the brain and that each of us are wired differently, can help them to come to terms with their differences.  The brain is malleable, and many of the skills children with learning disabilities struggle with can be practiced and improved upon.  
  • Stop comparisons.  Everyone has their own unique challenges, one reason why children with learning disabilities struggle with self-esteem is because they perceive others as doing better.  While your child may struggle with learning, other children may struggle with social skills.  Understanding that everyone has their own set of challenges can help children with learning disabilities realize they are more alike than different to their peers.
  • Focus on their strengths.  A great way to build self-esteem is to focus on all the things you are already good at.  Rather it be sports, social skills, arts, or other skills, focusing on what your child excels at rather than struggles with can help re-center their self-image to something more positive.
  • Role models.  Another way to help your child improve their self-esteem is by learning about other famous or successful people with the same struggles.  Seeing other people succeed with the same disabilities can help improve your child’s belief in their own success. 
  • Provide support.  Possibly the most difficult yet most effective strategy in improving self-esteem in children with learning disorders is to get to the root of the problem.  This means providing the support and resources necessary to ensure your child’s success in the classroom.  Work with your child to find resources that support their learning disabilities and find what works best for them.

New Focus Academy can help

New Focus Academy is a residential treatment program for boys ages 12 to 18 who struggle with learning disorders such as ADHD, processing disorder, and other neurodevelopmental disorders.  Our program uses positive reinforcements to increase students’ sense of self-esteem and independence.  The academic portion of our program focuses on teaching “essential elements” such as life skills, functional math skills, language art skills, community-based living skills, and social-emotional skills.  The skills students learn at New Focus Academy gives students the opportunity to gain the confidence and self-management skills necessary to foster healthy relationships as well as lifestyle habits.

For more information on how New Focus Academy can help teens with learning disorders, please call 844-313-6749.