The Shut-Down Learner: Helping Your Academically Discouraged Child


One of the worst feelings a child can have is being discouraged in school. The sense of hopelessness that pervades can become almost insurmountable. This is the emotional experience for the child called the shut-down learner. Also referred to as Lego kids or high-spatial children, such kids thrive with hands-on tasks that use their visual and spatial abilities. This book offers perspective and hope to parents who are struggling with these issues.

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One of the worst feelings a child can have is being discouraged in school. The sense of hopelessness that pervades can become almost insurmountable. This is the emotional experience for the child called the shut-down learner. Also referred to as Lego kids or high-spatial children, such kids thrive with hands-on tasks that use their visual and spatial abilities. This book offers perspective and hope to parents who are struggling with these issues.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Dr. Selznick has a keen eye for professional observation and extraordinary empathy for the children and parents that are fortunate enough to cross his path. Without resorting to professional jargon, Dr. Selznick has created a resource for parents and teachers that promotes insight and understanding, relieves guilt, and provides strategies for intervention.
--G. Emerson Dickman, J.D., President of the International Dyslexia Association

If your child has a reading disability, like dyslexia, if he feels defeated, hates school, and comes home sullen and miserable and angry, Dr. Richard Selznick’s The Shut-Down Learner: Helping Your Academically Discouraged Child can be of tremendous help. It can help you better understand why he’s miserable or angry. It can help you to better understand dyslexia and its emotional effects. More importantly, it gives you simple, sound, and practical advice on how to help him.

Here are a few samples:

1. Identify the “cracks in the foundation” as early as possible. Find a professional who knows the “red flags” to identify for early learning problems. So much heart-ache can be avoided if you address the skills weaknesses early.

2. If the cracks are widening, seek outside help if possible. Don’t be passive and wait for the schools to intervene. They may, but it’s often a long process. Many of the children I see are not bad enough to warrant the school’s intervention. It’s a negative snowballing effect. Use word of mouth in your community to find people who can intervene

3. Know the kind of reading problem you’re targeting. There are essentially two types. In the first type the child has trouble decoding the words and reading fluently. This type is the largest majority of the struggling kids. In the second type, the child can read fluently, but has great trouble understanding what he/she has read. Get clear on what you are targeting!!!! Don’t scattershot your remediation.

4. Take the heat out of the interaction. For most of the struggling kids, the daily ritual of yelling about school is a constant. Households are tense. Lots of blame goes around. Pecking at your child, nagging and yelling are not working. Why continue?

5. Find the child’s true strength and help kid embrace it. The shut down learners that I know do not feel very good about themselves and they do not see their strengths. Most of these kids are very solid in the visual spatial dimension of ability. This is often not valued in school. The kids need to learn to value this trait and see it as a potential.

6. Find someone to connect and mentor your child in school. If your child is older, push the kid to have one adult in the building as child’s mentor. It should be someone that your kid can form a relationship with. Too often shut-down learners go through school not bonded to anyone. This is tragic.

7. Keep your humor. Try not to let school problems become all consuming. Go out for an ice cream sundae with your kid even if he hasn’t done his homework! School problems can be so all consuming - don’t lose touch with your kid’s good qualities.

Fortunately, the value of The Shut-Down Learner doesn’t end with advice. Dr. Selznick shows you how to apply this advice. With great sensitivity, he writes about several of the shut-down learners he has known. He shares their conversations and insights and shows how they didn’t let their learning problems and the rigidity of schools destroy their lives.

In 160 well-written, easily understood pages, Richard Selznick has given parents of discouraged, defeated, and demoralized learners, a simple but powerful set of ideas for helping them help their children.

--Howard Margolis, Reading Disabilities: Beating the Odds

Your teenager is struggling in school, and you’re convinced it’s because he’s just not applying himself. He barely does his homework, there’s a constant struggle at home, and the more you push, the more he retreats.

This is the classic case of a shut-down learner, says Dr. Richard Selznick. Selznick, who serves as director of the Cooper Learning Center, a division of the Department of Pediatrics of Cooper University Hospital in New Jersey, assesses and treats a broad range of learning and school-based academic and behavioral problems. Over the years, Selznick has consulted with thousands of families and has discovered that, unfortunately, shut-down learners are a fairly common group of learners. “The prototype shutdown learner is a teenager who feels pretty beaten down by the time he comes to me,” Selznick says. “He has an emotional block, and his battery is depleted. He’s got his parents coming at him, the teacher. It’s too much.”

Selznick’s recent book, The Shut-Down Learner: Helping Your Academically Discouraged Child, is written for parents of just this kind of kid. “I try to present things to parents in a very down-to-earth way, without any jargon, so that it’s digestible and not threatening,” Selznick says. “The message is this: parents need to understand these kids. Yelling at the kids, telling them they’re not trying hard enough—this doesn’t work.” Selznick explains that in many cases, parents just need to back off, be less aggressive about the homework, and find a way to relate to their child’s struggles.

“These kids may have a range of learning disorders,” Selznick says, “but I want to stay away from the labeling because in the end, these kids have a great number of strengths that they need to key into.”

As Selznick explains it, the shut-down learner tends to be a problem-solver, someone who learns spatially and thrives with hands-on tasks that load on visual and spatial abilities. On the downside, they often lack the core skills necessary for success in school. “These kids often get all the way through the system, getting more and more disconnected because they simply can’t learn the way teachers want to teach,” Selznick says. “But when you say to the kid, ‘Look, you’re really good at this stuff—if I put you in a room with a hundred kids, you’re better than ninety of them’—then the kid feels okay, like ‘I’m good at a lot of things. I’m smart.’”

Selznick says the key is that these children learn differently; they need patience and understanding from parents, and they also need their parents to believe in their strengths and to empower them.

“They can be a hard group to work with. They’re giving their parents a hard time, they look bored in class, they’re disconnected,” Selznick says. “Or, the second type I see is the ones who are more pleasant in the social area, but they’re masking their insecurities. Either way, they need to understand that they’re really smart kids and they’re good at things, too.”

In fact, Selznick says, if these kids can survive school without losing too much self-esteem, they have a good chance at being highly successful.

Lloyd Stone, a classic shut-down learner growing up, has turned out to be successful despite his earlier challenges in school. Today, at 53, Stone is president of Manny Stone Decorators in New Jersey, a company that designs and builds trade show exhibits for clients on a national and international scale. I’ve overcome this and adapted to it and have actually been able to assimilate into society by creating a different path,” Stone says. “It’s almost like a mutation … I branched out in other directions that got me to the same place.” Stone’s experiences in school have also given him a very specific take on best practices in business: “I hire B students. A students, things come too easily to them,” Stone says. “I want the B student, the guy who has met with defeat and has been able to learn from defeat.”

This should be music to many parents’ ears. However, Selznick urges parents to trust their instincts when their kids are young and to spot the learning problems early. “Some people will say, ‘Oh, you know how boys are. He’ll grow out of it.’ But if your gut tells you something’s wrong, get it checked out,” Selznick says. “Save your kid the trouble later.”

If you think your young child might fit the mold of the shut down learner later on, here are a few things to look for:

Tuning out in circle time
Highly spatial and visual learners
Active or over-active
Difficulty with language-based activities such as reading and writing Shut-down learners don’t develop overnight, and early intervention is key. Selznick suggests that if the problems persist into 1st or 2nd grade, a visit to a child or school psychologist is probably a good idea.
--Anna Weinstein,

Livia McCoy, Richmond Parenting & Education Examiner
Dr. Selznick is a nationally certified school psychologist and the Director of the Cooper Learning Center at Cooper University Hospital in Voorhees, NJ. The Shut-Down Learner (SDL) is based on his experience working with parents and students who are not doing well in school.

According to Dr. Selznick, the term shut-down-learner means “children who thrive with hands-on tasks requiring visual and spatial abilities, but who become discouraged by their difficulty mastering core academic skills such as reading and writing.”

Dr. Selznick wrote this book to give hope to families of these children. So often, school failure has set up a pattern of negative interactions between the school, child, and parents that wind up leading to a child who just quits trying. Depending on the situation, the child can become completely shut down.
--Livia McCoy, Richmond Parenting & Education Examiner

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781591810780
  • Publisher: Sentient Publications
  • Publication date: 1/15/2009
  • Pages: 160
  • Sales rank: 372,009
  • Product dimensions: 5.72 (w) x 8.61 (h) x 0.54 (d)

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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 5, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Learning Aids

    Since I am on the topic of education let me continue if you don't mind. We learned College Girl has ADD in her first year of College. I learned of my own issue with dyslexia as a senior in High School. So I was wondering why did it take so long to learn of these issues. Could it have been noticed sooner. I think so.

    My friend and neighbor, Nessa, has two very smart children. But they are also noticing some issues while in middle school. We have looked closely at grades, behavior and routines to see if there was ways to help them out. One of the things we have found that has helped in this endeavor is the book "The Shut-Down Learner" by Richard Selznick, Phd. We loved finding someone who could mirror our thoughts, get it you know, and also not label the children. But instead was able to give insight on what may be the issues and how to help. In reading examples of others peoples experiences we saw some of our own.

    I borrowed the following from his web site,

    The following typically start to emerge in the upper elementary grades, becoming much more pronounced by high school:

    . A sense that the child is increasingly disconnected, discouraged, and unmotivated (shut down)
    . Fundamental skill weaknesses with reading, writing, and spelling, leading to lowered self-esteem
    . Increased avoidance of school tasks such as homework
    . Dislike of reading
    . Hatred of writing
    . Little to no gratification from school
    . Increasing anger toward school

    You can also download the first chapter for free at his web site. You may find that you see your own child, or yourself, or a friend. But it is great to know that in simple language there is ways to help so learning is not a chore but a gift. I do wish to thank Paul J. Krupin for sending me Dr. Selznick's book. It is written with direct language while being full of techniques that can be used my most parents.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 2, 2009

    This book is a must read for parents of struggling readers and teachers who teach them!

    FINALLY, a book that gives a name to many of the kids I've worked with over the years! A must read for ALL teachers. The book provides insight into understanding the psyche of these "shut-down" kids. A must read for parents of struggling readers - the earlier the better! Strategies and interventions for parents to help their kids before they completely "shut-down". This down-to-earth book is written with honesty, sensitivity and a little humor and most importantly HOPE for these academically discouraged kids.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 25, 2012

    Highly Recommend

    What a great book! Really helped me understand my child better. Opened my eyes to what is really going on in school. The book showed how we are all differnet, we all have strengths and weakness and that the school only teach one way and how when a child does not learn that way, how that child can struggle. Lots of information and different books and web sites to help you. If your child is struggling in school, get this book, it will really help you. I think all teachers should also read this book. It will show them how to pick out a child who is having trouble, who may otherwise be labeled as Lazy or defient. Great Book

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  • Posted February 18, 2012

    Not as much as I hoped for

    I was looking for ideas to prevent a child from "shutting down". What I got was a sense that this was just the way the child was and we'd just have to get by as best we can. Thought "shut down learner" was negative sounding- especially as I felt is was presented as a personality trait and not something that develops. Lots of definition, weak on solutions

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  • Posted September 24, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Bridget's Review

    This is the perfect book for anyone (parents, guardians, teachers, etc.) who know a child that has different learning needs. It can be very hard trying to reach a kid, especially if he/she is a "shut-down learner". I have met many extremely intelligent people who wouldn't be where they are today if someone close to them didn't recognize their needs and act accordingly. There is no excuse for giving up on a child. I am so glad that I read this book and I'm even more glad that Dr. Selznick wrote it.

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    Posted March 21, 2009

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    Posted September 5, 2009

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    Posted February 2, 2010

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