The Importance of Planning for Failure: The Missing Link in Helping LD/ADD Students

The Importance of Planning for Failure: The Missing Link in Helping LD/ADD Students

How often have you diagnosed a problem in learning or attention, developed a strategy to address it, and found that the plan was either not implemented or carried out completely?

This is a very frequent occurrence when you are dealing with students with learning challenges or executive functioning/processing difficulties. In fact, creating a strategy is the easy part. However, it is frequently the case that the next step-discussing proactively why, how, and when that strategy will fail-is omitted.


For example, students who have difficulty organizing and planning their work run into time management problems as they misjudge how much time is needed to complete a task. A logical plan would include discussing the scope of the project, breaking it up into small segments, and setting timelines for completion. Yet, students with this type of problem will often fail to carry out the plan for one reason or another.


Why are these logical and reasonable plans often subject to failure? This is a good question and one that needs to be discussed prior to implementing any plan. In fact, this is the missing step or link that goes unrecognized when working with students. It is essential that when making a plan or strategy that students be closely involved in not only its formulation, but its implementation. Specifically, this means that after developing a strategy, a serious discussion or more likely, a series of ongoing discussions need to ensue with a focus on why the best laid plans will fail.


Talking out all of the possible factors that would interfere with the plans success will help in understanding the potential resistances and in finding ways to address them proactively in contrast to having both the student and the professional helper experience the failure of their efforts. It is important in this kind of discussion to actively seek out ways that the plan will fail, using history of previous behaviors as a starting point. Similarly, it is of equal importance to avoid engaging in delusional thinking with respect to passively accepting students’ acquiescing to a plan when history suggests that they will not do what they say.


Each potential obstacle to success must bee sought out and students need to be challenged to convince you that these impediments will not interfere this time around. Playing devils advocate is a good way to ferret out hidden resistances. Simply creating a plan is not sufficient to insure its success. Talking goes a long way to prevent doing and when discussing how the student will find ways to defeat the strategy, you are actually decreasing the likelihood that they will actualize efforts that will derail them.

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