Discovering that your child has a learning disability can be as emotionally difficult as finding out that they are physically ill. In some ways a learning disability can be more difficult to accept because there are typically no physical symptoms or outward signs that there is an issue. You usually don't know that s/he has a learning disability until they enter school and s/he is unable to keep up with the academic demands and is not making the same progress as his/her peers. You may be made aware by our child's teacher that s/he is struggling, you may notice that s/he isn't making the same progress that an older sibling made, or you may even notice that his/her younger sibling is further along than your child with a learning disability. No matter how you find out, you are likely to feel numerous emotions ranging from overwhelmed and confused to relief and understanding. Here are three tips for accepting that your child has a learning disability.
1. Accept Your Child
You are likely to go through the stages of grief before coming to accept your child as having a learning disability. The stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
Denial is a temporary response to the reality of the situation. It acts as a buffer to ease some of the pain associated with mourning. As part of denial you may say to yourself that, "He's a late bloomer." "It's just a stage." "I was the same way at that age and I turned out fine."
Anger is a stage that tends to overlap many of the other stages of grief. It occurs when the buffer of denial is lifted and you are faced with the reality of the situation. As part of anger you may blame your spouse, yourself, the school, or your child. You may feel like the teachers didn't teach your child appropriately, that they don't know what they are talking about, or that they are out to get out you and your child. In addition, you may have feelings of guilt which perpetuate your anger.
Bargaining occurs when you say to yourself, "He would do better in a different school." "The problem will go away with a different teacher." "Next year he'll be more mature." What's happening during this stage is that you are trying to regain control.
Depression, which may also overlap many of the stages, occurs in the form of sadness and regret. For example, you may feel that your child will never be a success or hold down a job because of the learning disability. You may think that college or a career is out of reach.
Acceptance occurs when you make peace with the fact that your child has a learning disability. You realize that, while the learning disability is a part of your child, it is not who they are as a person.
Allow yourself time to grieve and accept the presence of the learning disability. This is a process that will help you with the next two tips.
2. Focus on the Positives
Your child was once a small bundle of joy that would look up at you, smile, grab your finger, and make little cooing noises. You were thrilled the first time she rolled over, crawled, and took her first steps. She has begun to develop into a young person with her own unique personality, sense of humor, and skills. Keep in mind that none of this has changed. Your child is the same person she was before you found out she had a learning disability. There are things she excelled at before, and there will be things she continues to excel at.
What may change is that you are now able to better understand those areas where she doesn't excel. You should be able to use the information from the psychological and educational evaluations to better understand her strengths and weaknesses. You can now focus on those known strengths to buttress those weaker areas.
3. Advocate and Plan
As your child's parent you know her best, you've spent the most time with her, and you were her first teacher. After you find out that she has a learning disability you have to become a student again, to learn as much as you can about her disability and how to get her the services she needs to succeed in school. This can be a daunting task as you are simultaneously trying to accept her learning disability, remain positive, and advocate for her educational needs.
You want to develop a short and long-term plan for her success. The short-term plan should include having the school provide her with appropriate educational services in order for her to become an independent learner. The long-term goal is to ensure she has the skills needed to become an independent adult. Both of these goals require careful planning and monitoring of her academic progress.
Discovering that your child has a learning disability can be a difficult and overwhelming experience. You have to accept these difficult emotions, learn about the disability, focus on your child's strengths, and navigate the maze of special education. This is a daunting, yet, not impossible task. However, there will be times that are more difficult than others when you don't get the answers you are looking for or you are unsure of how to proceed. You may find it difficult to remain positive. At those times, it may be helpful to reach out for support. There are others who have gone through similar experiences and who will be on your side.