As parents, it’s overwhelming when we begin to realize that our child has a learning disability (LD). We find ourselves in an unexpected world with a steep learning curve, dealing with our own feelings about the diagnosis while ensuring our child gets appropriate services through new means such as IEP or 504 plans. When we began this journey, I tried to keep central the goal of restoring emotional well-being and self-esteem regardless of how well she learned to read, write or spell.
But I was unsure of how to talk my daughter about her LD. Her self-esteem was already low and her anxiety high. For many, encouraging a child to talk openly about their LD is thought to be the first step in teaching them how to advocate for themselves. But I found limited information on how to begin talking about LD. How do you break the news to your child? By trial and error, here is my personal sketch of what worked for our family.
Begin by talking about specific challenges or behavior.
Calling the disability by its true name is important for complete understanding and helps children learn how to advocate, but is not necessary at first. Begin by talking about your child’s specific challenges or behavior—not the disability’s name.
Gradually have ongoing, age-appropriate conversations.
Choose words and concepts that your child understands. Keep in mind that this is a long road and the goal is to have many ongoing, age appropriate conversations.
Talk about learning differences.
Introduce the concept of learning differences, before talking about your child’s LD. The goal is to speak about challenges comfortably, normalizing the concept of differences. Kids benefit from a clear understanding that we all have strengths and weaknesses. Without our differences the world would be a very boring place.
Increasingly share in-depth information and terminology.
As time passes, begin sharing in-depth information and accurate terminology for your child’s struggles, increasing the level of detail over time. I started to introduce basic ideas on how the dyslexic brain works to my daughter. To take the focus away from my child, I talked about myself. “I read slowly because I need more time for the pathways to reach the reading areas of my brain. But I can do it!” Eventually, with the help of books and online sources, we discussed the unique attributes of the dyslexic brain and how it processes written language. You know best how much and how quickly to share. The goal is to have balanced discussions that help your child understand their LD, as well as their abilities.