Hear what our panel of experts has to say about what parents should keep in mind when talking with a child about his or her learning disability:
Candace Cortiella: First, and most important, parents should keep in mind that a learning disability is only one part of a child. It’s sometimes easy to begin to think that every aspect of a child — behavior, social skills, motivation, attitude — is driven by the learning disability. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
So, bearing that in mind, parents should talk candidly about the struggles that come with having a learning disability. Parents should attempt to demystify the condition by talking more about the particular effects of a learning disability than talking in terms of complex nomenclature that has no relevance for a child. Parents should keep the learning disability in perspective and try to find, praise, and build upon the child’s areas of strength. Resilience has been found to be a powerful characteristic among children with learning disabilities, and the manner in which parents deal with their child’s learning disability will help to either build or diminish that resiliency.
Gail Grodzinsky, Ph.D.: Parents should tell their child that she has a weakness in reading or math or attention (or language, etc.) and that it needs to be worked on. But it should also be emphasized that, with good effort and the right kind of help, she can learn to read (or do math) well. Children should NOT be told that they have something wrong with their brain, but they should be told their learning difficulties are not the result of being stupid or lazy.
Having a learning disability makes learning harder but not impossible. It should not be a child’s mantra in life that “I cannot read or write because I have a learning disability or ADHD.” With effort and the right kind of help, learning disabilities can be remediated and ADHD can be managed.
Sheldon Horowitz, Ed.D.: Parents should help children overcome their fear of being “discovered” (a process that parents need to undergo themselves) and work with them to see their areas of strength and talent, not focus on the aspects of their lives that are filled with challenges and frustration. Parents should help open lines of communication with and for their children so they can communicate freely at home and with school personnel. Also important is to keep expectations realistic but high, to provide encouragement and positive and constructive feedback, and to set goals that are attainable and can help their child experience and measure progress, even if this is only in small steps along the path to larger accomplishments.
David Urion, M.D.: As in other circumstances, parents should learn to listen to the child, answer the questions the child has, and only go further when the child requests more information. Too much information can be overwhelming. It is also important that, if the parent has strong emotional reactions to the diagnosis, they should have these mastered while talking to the child.
Cheryl Weinstein, Ph.D.: Parents should try to protect a child from humiliation, but this does not mean hiding the fact that the child has a learning disability. Instead, practicing resiliency, identification, and appreciation of special strengths and ways to compensate are essential. Dr. Sam Goldstein of the University of Utah’s Department of Psychiatry believes that parents must help their child deal with worry and anxiety and that this is just as important as learning reading and math! Furthermore, protecting children from the burden of their parent’s worries is essential. Turning to support groups for help and advice may make this process less difficult. I have spent my entire adult career understanding neuropsychological and psychological principles. As I begin to teach parents about their children’s learning difficulties, it is important for me to let them know that I understand that neuropsychology is not something they elected to learn. But, though it may be painful for them, ongoing education and therapy can be remarkably helpful. Booster classes are always needed, and professionals cannot expect parents to “get it” just because it is written in a report.