What role should a father play in a home where one (or more) child has learning disabilities? How important is the dad’s voice and presence when meeting with school personnel? We asked NCLD Parent Leader, Altaf Rahamatulla and he offered some wise advice. As the father of six children, one of whom has a learning disability, Altaf told us how he addresses misunderstandings among siblings and emphasized the importance of fathers taking part in conversations between parents and educators.
Karen Golembeski: My name is Karen Golembeski and I work for the National Center for Learning Disabilities. Today I’d like to welcome you to our podcast series on “Dad-vocates.” This is an opportunity for us to learn more from the father’s perspective on helping to advocate for and raise children with learning disabilities in their communities.
Today we’re speaking Altaf Rahamatulla. Altaf, please tell us a little bit about yourself.
Altaf Rahamatulla: Hi. I live in Levittown, Pennsylvania and am the father of six children, one having learning disability. I am currently a strength and conditioning coach, and was formerly a VP at Merrill Lynch. I changed careers to have the flexibility to be with my son [with LD], to advocate for him.
Karen Golembeski: Let’s start with our first question. For any number of reasons, moms tend to get the credit for most of the “heavy lifting” when it comes to supporting children with learning disabilities at home. What role do you think dads should play when it comes to the day-to-day routines of helping children with learning disabilities be successful?
Altaf Rahamatulla: Well, Karen, I believe each parent brings different perspectives and experiences to the child’s upbringing. Support is such a big item in a child’s development; it allows the child to go out and experience life with self-confidence and self-esteem. It’s imperative that the father be involved [and partner with the mother to provide support].
(I’ve heard of many cases where a single parent gets overwhelmed at meetings with educators and [school] staff, almost to the point of being bullied by them.) As a father, I bring something different to the relationship with my son. With me and him it’s more on the athletic and “outdoors” side of things, where his mother is more nurturing, taking care of his needs. But I believe it’s quite imperative that both parents be involved with the child.
Karen Golembeski: How important do you think it is for a dad to join his wife when it comes to discussions with school personnel? Does it help, does it hurt, and does it matter to have [the child’s] dad at the table?
Altaf Rahamatulla: It absolutely helps. It’s important for the educator to know that both parents are actively involved in the child education, in life and in school. It’s also important for the child to know that both parents are there for him in the environment where he has all these challenges. And once the educator knows that the child’s dad and mom are involved, they will pay closer attention to your child and his education. I’ve seen that in my personal experience with the schools.
Karen Golembeski: Altaf, you mentioned that you have six children. Well, the next question is certainly one I would love to hear your perspective on. Many times you hear of siblings and other family members who don’t fully understand what it’s like for you as a parent and for the child with the learning disability — to live with the learning disability on a day-to-day basis. What can be helpful in dealing with misunderstanding, disappointment or perceived special attention that are often part of the learning disabilities experienced at home with siblings?
Altaf Rahamatulla: I think it’s important for both parents, to be on the same page. I personally taught my children not to criticize each other’s challenges in life, whatever it may be, but to support and help each other overcome those challenges and get better. That is true love and caring, making each other better. From [the time they’re] small they’re always there, any challenge that they have — it could in sports, it could be in school — they are there to support each other. It’s something that’s instilled in them. It’s a way of loving each other.
Karen Golembeski: Definitely good “takeaway” words for any family with a lot of children or just one or two siblings.
And finally, I wonder if you have two of your own top tips to share with parents or guardians, for how to support children with learning disabilities. What would those two top tips be?
Altaf Rahamatulla: Number one, I would guide and support your children in whatever they do and enjoy them, love them, care for them – and do the best you can for yourself. This is caring and loving and leading by example. Show them that they are the best thing to happen to you, and you do your best to be there for them anytime, anywhere. This will give them the focus, self-esteem, the confidence, the ability to take risks, to challenge themselves, to overcome barriers, and be the best they can be. Get involved in your children’s life. It’s the most loving and rewarding thing you can do as a parent. Life is about living, building memories and sharing your life with your children.
Karen Golembeski: Altaf, thank you so much for joining us today.