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Top 8 Facts on Underachievement

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Updated July 17, 2011

Children with learning disabilities are at risk for underachievement in school in more ways than we might expect. Many struggle in their specific area of diagnosed academic weakness, but did you know they often perform below their potential in subjects that they have no disability?

This form of underachievement in school is damaging because it affects students' self-esteem, can lead to school failure and keep students from reaching their full potential in school and later in life. Learn about underachievement among students with learning disabilities, its signs, causes, and what you can do about it.

1. Academic Underachievement - What is Underachievement in LD Students?

Underachievement among children with learning disabilities occurs when they do not perform to their potential in areas where they are not disabled. For example, an underachieving student may have a diagnosed learning disability in reading. His math achievement assessment might show his skills should be on par with peers, but he is failing the subject.

2. Signs of Underachievement in Students with Learning Disabilities

Common signs of academic underachievement in students with learning disabilities may include:
  • Failure to complete or turn in homework in a class that does not involve the student's disability;
  • Lack of motivation or disinterest in school;
  • Tendency to make excuses for school failure and refusal to accept blame or responsibility for his own achievement;
  • May daydream or socialize too much, make school work the lowest priority;
  • Falling grades, taking no satisfaction or pride in school work;
  • Seeing herself as having no chance to succeed or seems to believe she is already defeated, so why try?

3. Knowing When School Underachievement is a Problem for Students With LDs

Students with learning disabilities, like everyone else, may not do their best work 100% of the time. Occasionally, most students receive poor grades on assignments. Further, many students go through phases where they let school work slide. School underachievement should be considered a problem if:
  • It occurs over a long period of time, and the student falls so far behind that she cannot catch up.
  • The student is missing important foundational skills that are needed for future classes.
  • The student is showing signs of depression, isolation, problem behavior, or is hanging out with a delinquent crowd.

4. Causes of Underachievement in School

Causes of underachievement are often complex and may be difficult to determine. The student may:
  • Feel overwhelmed and incapable of doing better;
  • Be influenced by peers;
  • Feel picked on or be angry with teachers;
  • Have a learning style that is not being accommodated in class;
  • Lack the ability to discipline himself to do the work;
  • Resist parents' or teachers' authority;
  • Have been allowed too much independence at home or school;
  • Be seeking attention from parents or teachers;
  • Low teacher expectations;
  • Gaps in attendance, frequent moves, or inadequate prior instruction; and
  • Unhealthy relationships at school and/or home.

5. Strategies to Improve School Underachievement by LD Students

Depending on the cause of underachievement, it is possible to help an underachiever improve. Early intervention increases the possibility of improvement and may prevent the behavior from becoming a problem in adult life.

6. Support Interests and Activities Your Child Enjoys

While it may be necessary to limit activities beyond school to provide time for your child to get his school work done, resist the temptation to stop them entirely. Your child needs something positive in his life to reduce stress and keep him motivated. Help your child build positive relationships with others. If your child has no outside activities, help him identify something he will enjoy.

7. Work on Organizational Skills

Your Child may benefit from improving her organizational skills such as using a planner and organizing her workspace at home.

8. Find Parent Support Groups

Coping with a child's school failure is stressful for parents. Many find help through support groups for parents of children with disabilities. Support groups offer a forum for discussion and learning ways of coping with common problems. Ask your school counselor or contact your state's department of education office for exceptional children for information on groups in your area.

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