Tuesday, January 7, 2014


The Benefits Of Praise, Encouragement And Rewards For Children With Learning Difficulties

After my last post from guest blogger Nick Davinson about dyslexia was met with so much success I started looking for guest authors would would be willing to write more on special education.  This blog by Hannah Ody is about the different things to consider when educating a child with learning difficulties. It looks at things that parents and teachers can do. Read on for more information.
All children need to feel loved, to feel they belong, and to naturally experience play and interaction with others through their childhood years as they develop and grow. Each of these three conditions is necessary for children to learn, and only the last requires modification to meet the needs of children with learning difficulties.

Early years

During the early years, parents receive support from health professionals. Part of their job is to assess child development so that any potential barriers to development and learning are identified as soon as possible. As a result, the parents of a child with learning difficulties will already appreciate that learning milestones may take longer to achieve. They will also appreciate the role of special needs learning resources and approaches in creating a stimulating environment. Likewise, they will be familiar with the importance of recording, and sharing, both progress and setbacks in order to support and maintain the most favourable learning environment for their child.


School should be a natural extension of this same process, where teachers then become the lead professionals. They will need the same interchange of information as before, both to ensure a child with learning difficulties receives proper support and also to devise a learning plan, and perhaps organise learning development aids. Schools are always ready to offer special needs support for parents. Such interaction is extremely beneficial and always provides mutual opportunities to personalise and develop provision, which can be so productive in helping a child to adapt to the school environment.

This home/school exchange can be an ideal opportunity to focus on the most beneficial types of positive reinforcement for the child. For all children, this will mean praise and encouragement for improvement and good behaviour, possibly with extra rewards for outstanding effort or achievement. For children with learning difficulties, a similar approach should pay dividends, though often the process will necessarily be far more nuanced and personalised in order to promote learning and personal development.

Praise, rewards and reinforcement

Whereas verbal praise is an appropriate reinforcement, some children’s limitations may demand extra kinds of reinforcement to support their development.

Where the processing of sensory information is limited, stimulating activities (appropriate to the age of the child) can form part of a suitable reward and reinforcement system. These might include playing with a pet, a ride on a swing, listening to music or playing a computer game. Such interactive experiences also allow further opportunities for further sensory development.

A child’s ability to understand, and therefore respond to, verbal praise can be restricted by a limited appreciation of ‘goodness’ and similar abstract concepts. Here, a reward in the form of an age-appropriate toy, treat or privilege may provide a suitable reward if clearly linked to the behaviour which is being encouraged.

Similarly, signs of social reinforcement – applause, high-fives, smiles, thumbs-up and the like – from parents, siblings, teachers, and friends, can help children with learning difficulties to enjoy approval from significant people in their lives and, by association, link such approval to their positive effort and achievement.

Sharing information and approaches

Children with learning difficulties will be most happy, secure, and ready to accept learning challenges where there is a clear continuity of approach and expectation between home and school. A regular exchange of information is the core component of this relationship. On the home side, this could perhaps mean informing the teacher when a child is upset, or perhaps agitated by a specific learning issue; whereas the school may wish to coach parents on a particular learning approach, or the use of specific sen resources at home.

Hannah Ody is a primary school teacher to children with learning disabilities such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia and dyspraxia. In addition to teaching, Hannah works closely with LDA Learning who provide a wide range of special needs learning resources.

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