Building Trust – the Most Important Element of Helping Students with Learning Differences

When he smiles, it’s like soft sunshine. He tips his head up, an impish grin forming on his face, and I swear I can hear birds singing. He glances up with shy eyes and the longest lashes I’ve ever seen.

The problem?

He doesn’t smile too often.

Hunter is new to us this school year, and like Brandon, he is on the spectrum. Where Brandon exploded, Hunter implodes. He is nervous and frightened. He is stiff and shy and not very happy about being in a new place.

At first, he refused to go outside, but with the help of his mom, we’ve persuaded him to go outside for P.E. He isn’t very happy about that, either, but if he just sits at home or at his desk for the rest of his life, he’ll never be able to adapt to the world.

And of course, that is the goal for all these kids who struggle to learn – to help them so they can live happy fruitful lives – without us.

Baby steps. It starts with baby steps.

Once students build trust, you can help them grow academically and socially.

With Hunter, that first step is building trust. He doesn’t trust us yet, doesn’t believe that we won’t jump in and make him speak when he isn’t ready to or force him into social interaction. He is very scared that we might move him from the comfort zone of his desk.

That kid has latched on tightly to his desk and he makes no bones that he isn’t happy about having to leave his “spot” unless he’s good and ready to.

Baby steps.

Going outside for P.E. might be our only glory for a while, and believe me, we’re thrilled with it.

There’s a fine balance between letting a kid rot in his own space and gently pushing him into the world, setting him free to a lifetime of experiences and adventures that await.

We’re building trust with Hunter, and that means treating him with dignity and respect. That means we prod but don’t push too hard. We talk to him in a normal voice and never, ever talk down to him. Hunter is smart; he just learns differently than most. We let him know he’s smart every chance we get.

We’re lucky, because unlike Brandon, Hunter is willing to do his assignments and has already shown improvement in handwriting and math. We praise, praise, praise in a million different ways.

And that’s when we get those precious, rare smiles.

Baby steps to trust.

Baby steps to smiles.

I’ll take it any day of the week.

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