The Shut-Down Learner: Helping Your Academically Discouraged Child – A Book Review

A Book Review by Karina Richland, M.A., E.T.

The Shut-Down Learner by Richard Selznick, PhD, is a very parent friendly book written for parents and teachers of children and students with learning disabilities, primarily dyslexia.

The Shut down learner is a visual-spatial child that has a unique set of strengths and weaknesses.  Dr. Selznick refers to these children as “the Lego kid.”  The Lego kid does not succeed in school because others do not understand and value his strengths and everyone focuses too much on his weaknesses.

The weaknesses of these children are very low linguistic-verbal intelligence.  They struggle considerably with reading, spelling and writing.  Despite attempts from special educators and remedial teachers to help these children fail in these areas of weakness, the progress for these children is slow and often even unrecognizable.

The strengths of the Shut-Down Learner are excellent spatial and visual perceptual organization skills.  This attribute is his most defining indicator and the author stresses this strength throughout the entire book.  The SDL child can visualize things well.  They learn through visualization and not through language.

The High-Spatial Characteristics include:

  • Lego kid
  • Loves puzzles
  • Engages for hours with hands-on-activities
  • Likes taking things apart to see how they work
  • Enjoys hooking things up, such as entertainment systems
  • Good awareness of visual detail
  • Excellent visual recall
  • Does well with psychological assessment tasks that involve spatial analysis
  • Enjoys doing tasks and is movement-based

The curriculum is a major obstacle for these students.  They will not thrive under the regular curriculum because of their severe language acquisition deficiencies.  Dr. Selznick recommends Orton-Gillingham remediation as part of the student’s education.  This instruction will help these children overcome the worst of their deficiencies.  The SDL child will also need heavy focus on the areas in which he can excel and have confidence in.  These are the areas of visual-spatial and kinesthetic intelligences.

I did enjoy reading this book and would recommend it to parents and teachers of struggling readers.  I do want to mention though, that not all children with dyslexia and learning disabilities are gifted in the visual-spatial skills.  I work with many students with dyslexia who do not perform well in visual-spatial tasks and do not enjoy building with legos or taking engines apart.

Multisensory learning is the key factor and will benefit struggling readers. We all learn a different way, and we each have our own set of strengths and weaknesses.  It is so important to always point this out to our children.


Karina Richland, M.A., E.T. is the Managing Director of Pride Learning Centers, located in Los Angeles and Orange County.  A former teacher for Los Angeles Unified School District, Ms. Richland is a reading and learning disability specialist. Ms. Richland speaks frequently to parents, teachers, and professionals on learning differences, and writes for several journals and publications. You can reach her by email at: or visit the Pride Learning Center website at: