This is my invariable advice to people:…learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!— Julia Child, My Life in France
If you get a diagnosis from a professional who tells you that your child will always have a learning disability, it can come as a shock — one that takes time and energy to process and work through. We asked LD parents to look back. What are some of the most important things they’ve learned, that they would tell someone just starting out today?
Here are 7 wisdom bombs from experienced LD parents that can help you today.
1. No Guilt
We’re all cheerleaders for our children. And if we hear the occasional teacher or childcare professional trying to let us know that they see different abilities or different patterns of behaviors, we often don’t listen. This is natural and normal. If we took every possible criticism or fear as reality, we’d all go mad.
But learning differences also appear more clearly as the child matures into more demanding environments.
Since you’re reading this site, chances are that you have realized that your child is experiencing problems in learning and you need to begin supporting them as a child with learning differences. Don’t be upset that you didn’t do this earlier. It takes time for every family to realize this. And the guilt about causing the learning difference? You didn’t.
2. Don’t Feel Ashamed
The whole learning differences situation is bizarre. As a culture, we have created this school system (which has many faults) aimed at specific types of brains. We’re currently treating our children like they live in a petri dish, by requiring them to do academic work earlier and earlier, so parents of children who just don’t fit into this ever-narrower definition of “normal” end up feeling shame if their children cannot accomplish enough in school.
If you think about it, the skills that we give LD children such a hard time about in school aren’t even used in today’s world! They won’t need to multiply, have neat handwriting, do long division, have great spelling, or many of the other skills. So what are we doing?
Do pull back and try to understand how to raise your child to be strong and competent. Don’t forget how many people who are extremely successful never succeeded in their early school experiences. Richard Branson comes to mind. John Irving was also a total failure in school — his earliest successes were on the wrestling team.
Don’t let knee-jerk shame get in your way. You know your child. You’re in control. You’re gathering your own wisdom as an LD parent, and it’s valuable. Raise your child to be good, to think, to work hard, and to have empathy and a sense of humor. Educate yourself about brain development, what the school is requiring, and how your child learns. Find professionals who can help, and remember to have joy with your kid — set your own priorities.
3. Manage Your Emotions
It’s hard to have anything happen to our children without becoming emotional about the result. And if someone tells us that there’s something wrong — that our child will have a more difficult life, it’s only natural to become upset. Go ahead and feel your emotions, but try to keep them away from your child and your child’s school.
Sometimes parent emotions happen when our childhood memories and expectations are juxtaposed with our child’s life and abilities. Your child’s emotions are about their own experiences living with and conquering a learning difference. Your child is not wishing that their experience could be like their parent’s first grade experience. They are just living their own life. Try to let your child experience their own life, and just make it positive.
It’s a good idea to support your child as they deal with their learning difference, but to hold back from attempting to label the experience. Your child may surprise you with a surprisingly positive viewpoint. These are the first lessons in resilience.
4. Step Around the Lure of Magical Thinking
Some parents feel as though they need to buckle down and obsessively Google their lives away, looking for secrets that will fix their child. It doesn’t work like that. If your child thinks differently, there are a whole bunch of systems involved. Children who think differently take longer to mature, and our schools aren’t set up to support different learning.
Many parents of children with learning issues are taken advantage of by charlatans, who promise a (all-too expensive) “quick fix.” But 9.9998 times out of 10, there is no quick fix for learning differences. You can help many aspects of learning, but maturing takes time, so take a breath, calm down, and realize that this is a journey, not a hop.
Learn to check references and look for well-qualified providers. Be a critical thinker. Learn how your child’s brain is developing, and how therapy and targeted education can help, but realize that you can do some of that at home, simply by adopting new parenting techniques and educating yourself. Be cautious about purchasing expensive systems that involve no measurements or commitments, but lots of payments. Make sure that you stay in touch with professionals and with other parents who have children like yours. And finally, learn to make simple priorities, emphasize the positive for your child, and let your child grow.
5. Focus on Gifts and Passions
In the five stages of grief, there’s a step called “accept.” But instead of trying to accept your child’s learning difference, let’s consider a few things:
As you look around you, you’re surrounded by many people who had learning differences when they were children. Right now, when your child is young, is the hardest time for them. Not only do children with learning differences have abilities that don’t fit easily into the school system (where they spend six hours a day,) but just like every other young child, they lack the self-control, the ability to organize and motivate themselves, and the ability to speak up for themselves and self-advocate that they will have when they are older. This is called being 7. Life is hard for every young child.
A 7-year old child with a learning difference is still a 7-year-old child. They will grow, mature, and will absolutely delight you with their progress.
Go ahead and be depressed for a while, although acceptance doesn’t seem to be the right goal. What is there to accept with a small child? Your role as a parent will be different. Your child’s path will be different. A different path is OK. The entire world is changing. Your phone or Alexa can read you any directions that you need. Making videos and scheduling social media posts are real jobs. Pewdie Pie, a man in Sweden who makes goofy YouTube videos about playing video games, is now worth $50 million dollars. We don’t even know what jobs the future will hold!
Studies show that if you only focus on remedial programs for children with learning differences, the highest that the child can reach is “normal.” But if you focus on gifts and passions, the possibilities are limitless. A learning difference is just .. a difference. Your child will be fine. Frankly, the world is different too. The tools, the resources, and the communities are getting stronger every day. And each of those can help you raise and support your child. Just make sure that child’s goals and dreams aren’t stunted by daily exposure to negative teaching techniques and repeated failures. That’s no way to teach a child.
One of the things that is most amazing about the world of children with learning differences is how many people think that a diagnosis is forever. Not all diagnoses are equal. And some merely identify “hard stuff” at this point in time.
Children develop for 18+ years. They change. They grow. Any lessons, any therapeutic activities, any sports activities will help your child grow in multiple areas.
6. Take Your Time: Your Child Has More Than You Think
In today’s parenting world, we’re encouraged to panic at everything. Put it away. Breathe. School and child-raising are both full of false pressures. Let’s start with the first thing. You have time. Your child has time.
Everything that is taught in grammar school is re-taught multiple times. This means that your child can step off of the pressure-cooker homework merry-go-round for a while so that they can really learn the building blocks that they need in order to succeed. This is one of the reasons why some parents homeschool for a year or two: to get their child up to a level of achievement where they can come back comfortably.
7. Take Time for Your Own Decisions as Well
With the exception of protecting your child, you don’t have to do anything today. You can set timeframes more than you think. This website encourages you to protect, educate, and advocate.
Each of those steps takes time. Although you should act swiftly if your child is being traumatized at school, if they’re not being actively traumatized, go ahead and take your time to really gather information from teachers and specialists about how your child learns. When you get new information, you don’t have to rush to act. Ask multiple sources; ask other parents. There’s a lot of wisdom from LD parents. Feel free to ask as many questions as you need to.
When you advocate for your child, you can take as much time and can include as many experts as you want. Remember: you’re the one calling the shots.