As I was growing up, my mom was quite fond of the phrase “Mother knows best!” I’m sure I used to roll my eyes and silently dismiss her advice during my teen years and into early adulthood. When I reached my 30’s and had a child of my own, I suddenly had a new appreciation for maternal wisdom and instinct!
A few weeks ago, a friend told me that she was taking her five-year-old son to see a developmental optometrist. I was somewhat surprised because this little guy is already copying simple words and reading from age-appropriate books. I asked why she had made that decision and found her reply to be quite interesting. “There’s nothing really specific, but something just doesn’t seem right.” She went on to describe some general concerns, ending the conversation with the comment, “I’d just rather be safe than sorry.”
Often, parents can’t pinpoint anything specific, but their parental instincts lead them to seek advice from friends, teachers, pediatricians, and advocates. As the mother of a child with learning disabilities and AD/HD, I look back on our daughter’s early years and realize that our gut instincts were very accurate. From the time she was a toddler, we were asking the right questions, but just weren’t connecting with the experts who could provide the necessary diagnoses and intervention. Her pediatricians weren’t wrongfully dismissing our concerns, they just didn’t have appropriate knowledge about processing disorders and learning disabilities. Several of her teachers agreed that she had some delays, but they assured us that she would “catch up eventually.” Hindsight is always 20/20!
I now consider parents to be the “boundary spanners.” When a parent calls me and expresses even hesitant concern, I immediately encourage them to follow their instincts. A parent will “know” that something isn’t quite right, even when a well-meaning teacher says, “Oh, don’t worry! There are lots of children who just don’t spell all that well.” When other family members discourage evaluation because they want to protect a child from being “labeled,” parents will risk family conflict to obtain an expert evaluation. By the time our daughter was nine years old, we thought we’d explored every possible reason for her academic struggles. She had been evaluated by several experts, all of whom encouraged us to do what we could, but also to be patient and see what happened as she grew older. Suddenly, another parent mentioned dysgraphia to me and I decided to do some online research. A short sentence at the end of a Wikipedia entry led me to information about visual processing disorders, and those few words changed our daughter’s life dramatically.
When I share our story with families and educators who are struggling to find solutions for students with learning disabilities, I always encourage them to explore every possibility. As an educational advocate, my list of resources grows daily. Advocates are constantly searching for new information from researchers, ways to screen more effectively, and for interventions that help to alleviate frustration and stress. I am thankful for the work of NCLD and other organizations that support parents and educators who advocate on behalf of those with learning disabilities. Together with parents, we can partner together and help our children reach their full potential in life.
My friend’s concerns turned out to be well-founded. Because she listened to her instincts, her son will receive expert care and intervention as he prepares to begin kindergarten, instead of potentially hitting a wall when he reaches third grade. While there isn’t always a “cure,” there is an incredible amount of knowledge to draw from that can help our children navigate the world around them. As we celebrate Mother’s Day, I want to encourage parents to listen to their instincts and never give up as they search for ways to help their children!
Esther Falcetta resides in Pennsylvania with her husband and teenage daughter. As the proud mom of a vibrant, energetic and resilient daughter, Esther has been privileged to be part of advocacy efforts at the local, state and national level.