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Accepting Your Child as Learning Disabled

Sujata got a call from Sandip's class teacher. She wanted to talk about her son's progress. Before the teacher said another word, Sujata knew what was coming. She knew her son was having trouble in school. His report cards were not as good as she thought they should be. His teacher sent messages about incomplete work, and shabby work. Homework sessions with him were a nightmare. She knew her son had difficulty outside the classroom too. He had trouble playing games with other children. He had trouble reading directions. So, she immediately suspected that this must be the reason for the call.

Still, when Sandip’s teacher said that she thought the boy’s lack of progress might be caused by a learning disability, Sujata's reaction was surprising. Though she knew in her heart of hearts that her son needed help she said, “He doesn’t need to be evaluated. He doesn’t have a learning disability. He's just immature. He will outgrow this.”

Every one of us is very much aware that this is the way parents react when they come to know about their child’s problems. These varying reactions are of several types :

1. Many deny the problems

2. Some are fearful

3. Some blame themselves.

4. Some show surprise

5. Some are angry at school

6. Some are relieved (that the problem has been identified)

Some parents are unable to face this diagnosis of Learning Disability. They don’t want their child to be labeled and treated differently. It is much easier to deny the problem than to accept it. They say, "He's just lazy.", "He is just like his father.", "He would be fine if he just listens."

Fathers especially have a hard time positively accepting the diagnosis. In their minds, a change in a son’s or daughter’s academic program is unacceptable. There are many reasons for this non-acceptance.

Fathers, in general, have less of a connection with the school than mothers. They have had fewer opportunities to develop a relationship with their child's teachers. They hear about their child’s problems from their wives.

They want a child who is one hundred percent normal. They fear for their prestige and status in society. Most parents are angry at school. They are fed up with the system.

"These educators need to implement better methods. They don’t know how to handle the children."

They are angry with teachers/with systems/with their child’s peers. They are angry with the Gods.

Instead of accepting the problem, they keep blaming someone or something else. Often their next reaction is Guilt.

"Did I do something wrong? Maybe the mother did not follow the doctor’s advice. Maybe she had tried abortion and still, the baby was born, maybe their long working hours in the office have affected the child’s progress."

'Maybe...' 'Maybe this', 'Maybe that' drove them nuts.

Most parents then turn to grief. Though they may not have physically lost their child, they still feel as if they have to say goodbye to many of their wonderful career plans for the future. They lose hope. They believe their child can never be normal or have a normal life.

Many parents get a feeling of powerlessness an out-of-control feeling. They are unable to decide and they don’t know where to begin. They are worried that that school would make their child repeat the class and their family would have to face ridicule and humiliation.

When they are contacted by school authorities they feel as though their privacy has been violated. Many parents are afraid of what they may have to hear.

These parents travel the emotional path from denial to anger, anger to guilt, guilt to powerlessness, all the while feeling inadequate. They go through this emotional roller-coaster.

First, the parents need to accept that their child has a problem. They should not judge themselves harshly. Instead, they must recognize their strength and accept limitations.

Second, goals may have to be redefined. Compromises may be necessary. They may have hoped their child to be a Doctor/Engineer but he may turn out to be an artist/Librarian or any other suitable profession.

Third, parents must be told that their child's learning disability is not their fault. Single parents have more guilt and blame themselves when they are separated or divorced.

An example comes to mind,

Mrs. Damle is busy fighting her marital problems than helping her child. She is vengeful and blames the child’s father for everything. Instead of becoming a part of the solution, she is contributing to the problem.

Denial is the most difficult response to overcome. Parents need to unite and tackle the problem. We all want our child to be perfect even though we have a difficult time defining just what perfect means for us.

Children with learning difficulties are as normal as any other children. All children have strengths and weaknesses. All children excel in one area or another. Rationally, most parents understand and accept this.

What makes them reluctant to accept the diagnosis is their fear that their son or daughter will be stuck with a label and identified as a child who is not perfect.

Try to understand the difference between a label and stigma, the identification label will get more help and concession. But do not mix that up with stigma. Your attitude as a parent matters.

The extra help they receive helps them enhance their academic skills, as school performance improves, social skills improve, and so does self-esteem. Identification of problems does not make matters worse it can only make them better.

Earlier, students were held back in the same class. Nowadays, specialists know that repeating the same grade won't make the learning disability go away.

Many parents need to make a mental shift in their thinking. Parents came to parenthood with a map in their heads for the child’s future. Maybe the route will have to be changed but your child can still reach the destination.

Parents need to redefine success. What is a measure of success for one child might not apply to another. Parents should have confidence in their LD children. They should provide positive reinforcement.

If the child is mentally retarded or physically handicapped, parents become aware in the first few weeks, or months. But with a learning disabled child, the preschool development is often uneventful and it comes as a shock when a problem is detected in elementary school. Their tendency is to negate all medical reports and behavioral tests.

The remedy to the problem does not lie in denial but in accepting reality and finding ways to combat it.

Patience is another key to this problem. The parents should not overreact if the child fails to complete the tasks. Child bashing is a strict No-No. Rather, the parents should watch for the pitch and tone of their voice. These children are sensitive and if they hear instructions in a loud voice or shouting, they may stop sharing their troubles, resulting in their withdrawal from society and in living a closed life.

Too much tension between the couple will only escalate the child’s mental trauma.

Parents should be together in countering their child’s anxieties and questions. Parents can take the help of other members of the family. But preferably go to a counselor to sort out the issues.

A learning disabled child does not need sympathy but empathy. Parents should attend support group meetings and counseling sessions conducted by practitioners and specialists. If parents accept the truth it is easy to calm themselves. This affects their body language. A learning disabled child is blessed with strong intuition. So he can easily pick up negative body language.

The good news is that with proper help and treatment most learning disabled children can make progress. A Learning disability is a hidden disability. Students with LD have average or above-average intelligence but they are not able to use it effectively. The parents of the LD go through tremendous stress and difficult time. With these pointers, you and your child can lead a normal and happy life.


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