“Being there” for children with learning disabilities

University of Minnesota psychologists recently discovered that “social support benefits are maximized when provided ‘invisibly’ – that is without the support recipient being aware that they are receiving it” (Science Daily).  Graduate student Maryhope Howland and professor Jeffry Simpson suggest that there may be “something unique about the emotional support behaviors that result in recipients being less aware of receiving support.”

Effective support should make the recipient “feel better and more competent” and is generally acknowledged; such support includes giving advice and encouragement.  These are positive exchanges between individuals, but they are exchanges of which both the giver and the recipient are aware.  Sometimes, such exchanges, although they are ostensibly positive and committed with good intentions, can make individuals feel “vulnerable, anxious or ineffective.”U of M researchers had 85 couples engage in “videotaped support interaction,” in which “support recipients were instructed to discuss something they’d like to change about themselves with their partners, who thus had the opportunity to provide support.”  The recipients then reported the extent to which they felt they had received support, or were aware of receiving support, and “trained observers then watched the videotapes and coded the interactions to gauge the extent to which any support provided was invisible or visible.”

Invisible emotional support includes reassurance, expressions of concern, advice or overt offers of assistance.  Partners that received invisible support seemed to experience increased self-efficacy.

Children with learning disabilities are not romantic partners, but developing individuals learning to navigate their world and interact with others on terms that they often don’t quite understand.  There are myriad options available to assist your child in learning the world’s ways and hidden curriculum, but you can provide invisible support even in the home.  All situations allow opportunities to provide invisible support.  Practical support is fine, too; there is great significance in encouraging a child to talk himself through a situation or providing a direct solution to a problem, but there is also significance in encouraging a child through smiles and words of encouragement.  Your child, whether or not he or she has a learning disability, looks to you to confirm his or her beliefs about the world.  Be a shining light for your child by being aware of the difficulties he or she sometimes faces – and providing support through all of them for which you can do so.


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