Raising a Different Child: Intervention

Posted by Becca Larsen on Nov.23, 2009

© - Philippa Banks

© - Philippa Banks

The previous installment discussed discovering that your child is different, whether because of autism, learning disorder or attention disorder. Click here to read Discovery

The first, and possibly the most fraught, step in developing an intervention plan is determining what you need to intervene in. Though lumped together because they are all neurological problems and may coexist in the same child, autism, learning disorders and attention disorders are unique problems that each require their own approaches to interventions.


Autism is a spectrum of neurological disorders that affect social interaction and communication. Autistic Disorder is only one of five related diagnoses of pervasive developmental disorders from the DSM-IV. The others are Rhett’s disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, Asperger’s syndrome and PDD-NOS, a diagnostic category used for atypical autism. All five ASDs are identified through a list of characteristics. Though autism is generally accepted as a neurological problem, there aren’t clinical tests like a blood test or brain scan that show physiological symptoms of autism.

Learning Disorders

Learning disabilities are categorized by whether they are input, integration, memory or output problems. These problems often overlap, or snowball, so determining the exact nature of the problem can be difficult even for parents, even though they are with the child the most and have the most intimate knowledge of how the child communicates.

Input problems are difficulties with auditory or visual perception; doesn’t process information effectively. Integration problems occur when the brain doesn’t put the individual pieces of information together, and the brain can have problems putting information in order, discerning meaning or organizing the whole package. Memory problems keep children from acquiring all the necessary information because they can’t keep individual bits of information long enough to accumulate a useful whole, like remembering all the words in a sentence to be able to discern its meaning. Output problems can be language or motor skill issues that impede verbal or nonverbal communication, including writing; the child understands everything perfectly well, but can’t get that out properly through speaking, writing or art.

Attention Disorders

ADHD is characterized by high levels of activity and difficulties focusing. While adults can have ADHD, the main issues with ADHD are in the school years, since a typical classroom situation, with lots of sitting still and paying attention to the teacher, is the exact environment that children with ADHD have the most difficulties. Though the causes of ADHD aren’t clear, brain scans have shown children diagnosed with ADHD have thinner tissue in parts of the brain that regulate attention.


A professional diagnosis from a child development expert is definitely helpful if your child needs accommodations in school. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004, schools need to provide accommodations for children with diagnosed disabilities.

A diagnosis can also be a double-edged sword, slapping a label on your child that risks defining him or her. Not only can the label become central to the child’s identity, effectively defining her by a deviation from “normal,” but the diagnostic label can prompt teachers, or even parents, to assume that a child with a learning disability can or can’t do certain things. Teachers may assume that, because dyslexics have trouble reading, a child with dyslexia doesn’t like reading. Autism, learning disabilities and attention disorders are diagnosed based on a list of traits, and a child doesn’t necessarily need to exhibit all of those traits. However, as a child is assessed and after a diagnosis, the list of behaviors may call attention to traits that describe the child, like daydreaming a lot, that may not have caused a problem before and would have gone unnoticed.

Schools and doctors can both be good resources for helping determine the exact nature of a child’s issues. Because the definitions of the problems are somewhat fuzzy, getting a second, independent opinion can safeguard against an inappropriate diagnosis. Even if the initial evaluation is done through the school system, you are legally allowed to get a second opinion, an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE), from experts not employed by the school district.

Creating an Intervention Plan

Early and consistent intervention can minimize the lifelong effects of a child’s particular problem, either by training the child to adapt to their abilities or by taking advantage of the brain’s plasticity–essentially, the brain can rewire itself when provided with the right stimuli–to “fix” the neurological problem. If you have found that intervention is necessary, make a plan and make it flexible.  Focus on encouraging your child to work with and around his difference, essentially turning his “weakness” into a strength. Use only what approaches work in an intervention plan; throw out what doesn’t.

Intervention strategies are numerous, as children differ. Using certain teaching techniques, adapting home routines to the child’s differences, and even adjusting nutrition and dietary supplementation can all help. Games can train both a child’s brain processes and her responses, minimizing the issues, and the child is learning through his natural language, play.

If you have your child evaluated by the school, the evaluation should include recommendations for interventions and accommodations. Check with other parents and reliable sources about potential interventions to incorporate into your plan. What works for one child may not work for the next, and there is no blanket solution. Be creative in your approaches as you help your child compensate for their issue.

One of the most important things to consider when developing an intervention plan is to keep it simple. Only address the problems your child is having. These neurological problems are all defined by lists of typical characteristics, and your child may not have all the ones on the list. If your child is diagnosed with ADHD, but doesn’t have problems losing things, no intervention is necessary there even though that is a typical sign of ADHD.

If you choose to use an individual education plan (IEP) or other interventions in school, the IEP should keep an eye toward your child’s future. As a parent, try to ensure that the IEP encourages your child to do as much as possible without interventions, because the larger world does not have IEP plans. The sooner and better your child learns to accommodate differences himself, the better off he will be outside of school, mixing with and competing for jobs with those who are “normal.”


“Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).” National Institute of Mental Health.

Types of Learning Disabilities” Learning Disability Association of America.

“What is Autism.” The Autism Society.

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Posted under Family, GDM Kids, Tweens, Teens.

Article By: Becca Larsen

Becca Larsen

Profile: Becca Larsen is a lifelong outdoorswoman. A mom of 2 and stepmom of 2, she is committed to natural, green parenting and teaching her daughters good nature stewardship and healthy living. Becca has her heart in the desert and her home in the Pacific Northwest.


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