Having the suspicion that your child has a learning disability can be nervewracking. Having your child tested for learning disabilities can be emotional. Getting the confirmation that your child has learning disabilities can be a straight kick to the gut.
As a parent, all we want is for our child to do well in life and school. As they are babies, we dream of the day they get the “Good Reader” award in Kindergarten, make the honor roll in Junior High, and win a science scholarship in high school. We somehow manifest this perfect child in our minds where nothing bad can ever touch them. Then school age hits. You notice your child is struggling but you don’t want to see it. You start to see a trend in their grades, notes from the teacher, chats with the teacher’s aids…but you still don’t want to see it. You even start to see them struggling in the same areas you did when you were in school, so you look away even more. All of these emotions are normal.
As a parent of a child with documented learning disabilities, I went through all of these. Even after growing up in a family where more than one person had documented learning disabilities, I still went through all these emotions. There was no way my child was struggling because there was something “wrong” with him. My child was going to be that shining example of a student. To top it all off, there was no way any of this was MY fault. All of these emotions are normal.
When my son was in second grade, I finally put my emotions aside and stepped up to the plate. I had to do something to help my son. I was scared
shitless and had no idea what steps I really needed to take. All I knew is I had to start somewhere. I advocated for him during parent-teacher conferences and finally convinced the school to test him. Yes, I had to CONVINCE the school. That was the first moment of clarity I had through the whole processes. That moment when I realized no one else had my son’s best interest at heart. No one else was going to figure out how to make learning better for him. No one else was going to get him the help he needed. It was up to me to make all this happen. *insert superhero music*
Even with this moment of clarity and the sudden superhero feeling, nothing could prepare me for when they gave me the test results. It hit me like a ton of bricks and I’m pretty sure I just sat there staring at the teachers sitting at the table with me. This one of the few times in my life I was actually speechless. They went over what the different results meant and what measures would be taken to help him overcome these issues.
In my mind, I desperately tried to find the reasoning behind all of this. Was it something I did while I was pregnant? Was it because I wasn’t a stay-at-home-mom when he was a baby? Did I not breastfeed him long enough? Did vaccines do this? Did my divorce cause this? I wanted a reason all of this happened, but there wasn’t one. All of these emotions are normal.
At first, I met with the school twice a year. Once in the fall, once in the spring. We combed through each aspect of his Individual Education Plan (IEP) with a fine-toothed comb. Everything he did was monitored and measured. He had certain times set aside each day to meet with different specialists. They helped him with his language deficiencies and worked with him on coping with his color blindness.
Initially, I was worried he would start to feel singled out from being pulled out of the classroom. As a young boy who often came home feeling like his classmates were laughing at him because he couldn’t read as fast as them, having him taken out of the classroom was a major concern for me. Luckily, he ended up finding comfort in the space away from the other students. There he didn’t feel pressured and could take the time he needed. As the years have gone by, his need for additional help has dropped off a bit. Instead of leaving the classroom several times a day, now he only leaves once. He is more confident in his abilities, making it easier for him to ask questions in class and ask for additional help when he needs it.
It has become so much like second nature to him, the other day he asked me why he even needs an IEP anymore. I explained to him that it’s what enables him to have extended testing times, the extra help with reading comprehension, and other parts he had “forgotten” were only applicable to him. We talked about his different deficiencies and how they make his learning style unique and how it will affect him all through his school years. I told him his IEP will follow him all through school, even if he gets to go to the same private high school I had gone to (a dream of his since he was 5), even through any SSATs, SATs, or ACTs he takes.
He then proceeded to poke fun at his different learning disabilities, showing me that they weren’t a disability for him at all. He realizes that all of this has helped to make him the student he is today. He knows his strong points and what he needs to work on. He is more aware of his learning needs than most 11-year-olds I know and I couldn’t be more proud of him. I’m glad I got over my personal fears as a mother and became his advocate. Even after he looked at me with a huge grin and said, “You know my learning disabilities are all your fault, right? No one in daddy’s family has any of these.”
And then I threw him out of the car and made him walk to soccer practice. My response, “No honey, daddy’s family has their own set of issues you’ll learn about as you get to know them better.”
To any parent who suspects their child is having trouble in class due to learning disabilities, you are their only advocate. You have to be the one to talk with their teachers and have them tested. The worst thing that can happen is they can find ease in learning again. Yes, it is scary but you have to remember that it is scarier for you than it is for them. They are the ones who have been living with the frustration of not learning the way everyone else does. They are the ones who have been picked on for being slower on assignments. They are the ones living with learning disabilities day in and day out. As their parent, they look to you to help them. They need you advocate for them, to be pushy about getting them tested, to make sure they have all the resources they need to be able to finish school and become a productive member of society. All those emotions you are going through, they are all normal. It’s ok to be scared. It’s ok to feel like it’s your fault even though you know it’s not. It’s ok to cry through all of it. It’s ok to have a moment where you feel helpless. All of these emotions are normal, and so is your child. Learning disabilities don’t make them different or make you a bad parent.
If you suspect your child has learning disabilities or is struggling in school, act sooner rather than later. They will thank you for it at graduation.