Tips and tricks to work with a ‘shut down learner’



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Dr. Richard Selznick, an American psychologist and professor, coined the term “shut-down learner” to describe children who often thrive while doing hands-on and spatial-visual tasks (like building with Lego) but are slow to master core subjects such as reading and writing. Selznick recently wrote the book, The Shut-Down Learner: Helping Your Academically Discouraged Child

The root of the book’s message is: “Too often parents are told that things are fine, when in fact they are not … There are many children that fall in the ‘grey zone’, meaning their deficits are not severe enough to warrant service in the school. Even though they don’t warrant service, these children are still struggling.” It’s the struggling that’s a major concern. 

Many shutdown learners will exhibit these characteristics:

  • Fundamental skill weakness with reading, writing and spelling
  • Lowered self-esteem
  • Increased avoidance of school tasks such as homework
  • Little to no gratification from school
  • Increasing anger toward school
  • A sense of disconnection or discouragement, and little motivation (feeling shut down)

Dos and Don’ts for parents of shut-down learners

  • Don’t be intimidated by the system
  • Do remember that there is no easy or simple solution
  • Do research options online and in person
  • Do enlist people to work with you
  • Don’t make enemies of teachers and administrators
  • Do listen to and communicate with your child
  • Do take care of yourself

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