Helping My Daughter Understand That We All Learn at Different Rates


My daughter is 11 years old and has an autism diagnosis. She is an amazing kid, but her self-esteem can be low and she can also be self-critical. I have been working in conjunction with a clinical psychologist recently to help my daughter build confidence in her abilities. She regularly compares herself to other students in her class, which sometimes makes her feel like she isn’t achieving enough.

I continually work with the school, trying to reduce any additional stressors that affect her daily school life. That includes support with transition into school and reduced homework at home. I want my child to achieve, but not at the detriment of her well-being. When it became evident my daughter was putting this added pressure on herself, I had to find a way to help her reduce it.

It has been highlighted that working with a child’s interest to understand social situations or learn in the classroom works well. My daughter has varied interests, one of which is swimming. It is an activity she does every other week with her dad and something she loves. But it is also something she has had to work at.

We have recently been working with a clinical psychologist and talking about how it is OK to ask for help in the classroom, as well as how we all learn and work at different rates. An analogy we have started to use with my daughter is to compare learning at school to learning to swim (something she enjoys), and it seems to help her understand.

We tell her we all learn to swim at different rates. Some of us enjoy swimming more than others, and this is OK. Everyone who learns to swim is probably more confident doing certain strokes over others. Some of us might prefer to swim breaststroke or front-crawl, while others might be more confident doing the backstroke. When we swim the length of a pool, we don’t all reach the end at the same time.

Swimming and learning are similar. Like swimming, people learn at different rates, and this is OK. Each person is more confident in different subjects. Some of us prefer to learn maths to English. Some people are better at physical education than learning in the classroom. We don’t all finish our work at the same time.

Using a comparison of something my daughter enjoys to understand a social situation seems to work for us. We have reinforced the learning by putting classroom rules on a keychain that include short statements like “I can ask for help more than once” and “It’s OK if I do not finish all of my work.”

What has been evident through helping my daughter is that she has a set of “rules” in her head, and sometimes the rules are too tough. She expects so much from herself that I have to balance this with reassurance she is doing enough, she is amazing and I am so proud of her.

My daughter may always be a little self-critical, and she may continue to put unnecessary pressure on herself to achieve alongside her peers. In turn, I may always have to be her reminder that we all learn at different rates, and this is OK. I hope with this continued support she will realize she is enough, exactly as she is.

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