Your Kids Are Not Lazy…They Might Just Think Differently

Well, you want to know how I feel about the term lazy? I will start with my own story. Our second part of our journey started when my second child was in Year 3. She is a highly intelligent child with an above average IQ which we found out when she was 10. We were alerted to ‘trouble’ when she was having social struggles at school and was becoming very quiet. We were concerned for her but didn’t realise the extent to those struggles at school.

We had significant difficulty with her behaviours at home which were highlighted to us something was wrong, yet at school, she was academically sound. She taught herself how to read and is a brilliant speller. Her teacher said he wanted to talk to me. Sure! In I went– he was a colleague and his class was 2 up from mine. He was concerned that she was handing up substandard work. I did agree with that, then he called her lazy. Well, I bit my tongue but I think I got ulcers from the repressed emotions. What? Lazy! How can a child be lazy when she created her own rhyming book at 4 years? She did Year 5 maths at home for fun, when in year 3, was inquisitive and wordy. It didn’t add up.

Apparently, she was only getting 80% on her Maths tests, so he didn’t believe me when I suggested we need to tap into her untapped abilities– Year 5 Maths skills as that might engage her. He was unwilling to extend her until she stopped ‘being lazy’ and got close to 100% in Year 3 Maths. So that sent me on a hunt, as he would not be the only teacher that would say she was “lazy”. She was disengaged from the education system at the age of 8! What we found was a severe visual processing disorder, severe auditory processing disorder in the bottom 3% and a Dyslexia diagnosis and an Above Average IQ. Her Autism diagnosis came much later.

The child could not see as we could, nor could she process full words that we spoke. Her sensory system was not processing as it should. She was actually rendered deaf in the classroom as she could not perceive speech when there was background noise. How she learnt anything is beyond my comprehension. Hence her rigidity and need for control and lack of friendships. The reason for her nightly meltdowns as she had been holding in all her frustrations from school all day. There needed to be some considerations with regards to her schooling and accommodations put in place as well as extending her in her areas of strength. She certainly wasn’t lazy!

I certainly don’t advocate labelling children, too many times I have seen it disempower parents and the client. I believe teachers and professionals could do with some insightful identification training. Looking at behaviours that tell you what is going on for that person. Why was she disengaged, knowing how bright she was? As a teacher, you can tell when a child is bright.

You can be bright and still have a range of learning and behaviour struggles

Just yesterday I worked as a relief teacher with a difficult child. He had many shut down moments. He could identify and articulate to me, that when he got in that moment that the only thing that would get him out of it was the threat of his mum knowing. Now from my observations, he was overwhelmed. He is quite bright from the work I saw him do. He found it hard to concentrate with background noise – indicating auditory processing difficulties. When he is overwhelmed his system does not allow him to make good decisions. He probably has Retained Primitive Reflexes that put him into fight or flight often. Auditory processing struggles are linked to them as well. So for this poor boy following instructions is hard, he likes to see the reason behind things so he can make sense of them. When he doesn’t understand he argues and gets stuck. He didn’t like a change in routine which sparked his anxiety (linked to reflexes).

So how do teachers work with this?

Provide him with options to be able to get on task. I allowed him to go outside to work, wear ear muffs etc. He needs accommodations even without a diagnosis. Flexibility and lots of warning for him are required. Now some people would call him lazy, obstinate, aggressive. But he isn’t those things, he is a little child who is not having his needs met as he isn’t wired up as he should. I am referring to the nerve nets that create connections to all areas of the brain – they need to talk efficiently to each other or a diagnosis like a learning or a behaviour struggle are the result. He needs more time from his teachers and support staff to cope. Sometimes these are not available.

These behaviours won’t change no matter how much growth mindset and accommodations we provide him. We need to change his wiring through neuroplasticity programs.

Lazy is a word that makes me mad. Do not call a child or adult lazy. Look at them and their behaviours and try to find where they are coming from. What is their agenda?

If a child might not pick up his socks off the floor it does not merit him to be called lazy. There could be a lot of factors that we might need to consider:

(1) It’s not important for him,

(2) he might have poor visual processing and doesn’t ‘see’ them,

(3) he will do it later but due to poor working memory has forgotten,

(4) Sensory– doesn’t want to touch dirty socks,

(5) Overwhelm– where do I put them,

(6) Proprioception Struggles– opening a draw,

(7) Visual memory struggles– which draw do I put them in?

(8) Tiredness– tired from the day, tired from all the effort that is required to exist,

(9) didn’t hear or process the information about picking up the socks,

(10) poor auditory working memory forgets what they were sent to do when they get there – got distracted on the way.

Can you see there is a range of problems that can occur? This is especially hard to understand if you have a bright and articulate child. They are great at some things like my second child, but she couldn’t remember to brush her own teeth as she would forget, on her way to the bathroom at age 4, even with a visual schedule.

Do not use lazy, drop it from your vocabulary, please. Replace it with the thought– what is stopping them from achieving? Identify it and address it. Neuroplasticity programs help significantly to permanently change this. As a teacher or parent, we may just be able to reframe the situation offer some accommodations to help the person. Like breaking it into steps and offering support along the way to get the task done. Either way, there is no such thing as lazy.

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