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My daughter is 10 years old. Shes in the fourth grade. She was held back this year because she is having difficulties in Math and English Language & Arts (ELA). She was suppose to go into fifth grade this year. I became aware of her learning disability at the end of last year. Her school and I are diligently providing help for her, in school and out of school. She receives one hour of tutoring in both subjects everyday at school. And I also take her to a highly recommended tutoring program on the weekends.

I haven't told her that she has this problem, but she is starting to ask me, 'Why can't I seem to make good grades and why is it difficult to retain information that I've learned?' I dont know what to say so I just change the subject and talk about something else.

How can I tell my daughter that she has a Learning Disability?

  • Is this your only child? – sbi Sep 11 '15 at 11:45
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    I would like to point out that you have to say these things to her with an extreme caution, respect and love. Love is the thing that changes everything. Don't make her judge herself. Just love her and let her know that she'll always be loved by you. – rogaloo Sep 11 '15 at 13:42
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    How did you become aware of her learning disability? I may have missed something, but it seems to me that it would be hard for a ten year old (one capable of asking why she has a hard time making good grades) to be completely unaware of a clinical assessment taking place on her. She may already suspect. – kojiro Sep 11 '15 at 15:00
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    I became aware from a phychologist and the board of education; they tested her with a series of assessments @Kojiro – LOSTinNEWYORK Sep 11 '15 at 15:10
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    If a child is asking a question, they're generally ready for some form of its answer. I was 9 when I was diagnosed with ADHD and it was a relief to know why I was having so much trouble in school. – McCann Sep 11 '15 at 19:00
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If I am allowed to butt in, I'd like to share my personal experience with teaching very young Italian children English.

For seven years I taught English at two Kindergartens (BrEng Nursery schools) to Italian children and children of immigrants aged between 3 and 6. And I can say, hand on heart, that every child, regardless of their natural ability, or any learning difficulty they may have had, all learnt something. It didn't matter if they could already read or write, if their parents never spoke a word of Italian at home, or if they were "difficult". Everyone could learn a song, a simple game, a nursery rhyme, a story, and even how to cackle like an English witch! Young children learn when they are excited about a subject.

And those very children, the ones that teachers said had special learning needs would make progress. Their pronunciation was as good as any of the brightest, they just didn't remember as many new words and they had greater difficulty in holding pencils, and tracing letters and numbers. But I never let on. I praised every single child for what they produced, it didn't matter how little or how much.

Your child will not be discouraged, if you tell her that she is making her own journey. The journey she is making might take longer than others but she will arrive at her destination in her own time. This is not a competition as to who is the fastest, or who gets the most points. But it's important to give her goals that are achievable for her. Don't set the bar too high, keep it within her reach because it's so important for young children not to feel frustrated.

Help your daughter to discover the natural talents she possesses, but at the same time help her realize that her studies at school will enable her to cope in the real world. Try to connect what she is learning in class with the world outside. And praise, praise, praise every time she makes progress. A child who has self-confidence will always achieve more that one who has been told they're not smart enough to do this, that or the other.

  • Wow! As I read your answer to my question, it brought tears to my eyes. Im struggling alot with my little girl and she just doesn't understand, 'why her?' Thank you! (With my hand over my heart) – LOSTinNEWYORK Sep 13 '15 at 20:41
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    @Ginger I just wanted to help you see that your daughter will learn and make progress but in her own time, Enjoy learning together :) – Mari-Lou A Sep 13 '15 at 20:45
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    Thank you again. I screenshot your message to continue to encourage me and her that she CAN DO IT! – LOSTinNEWYORK Sep 13 '15 at 20:46
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Honesty about a learning disability is important for helping the child cope with it. They know if their grades aren't as good, or they can't remember the words, or it's harder for them to read — absent any information to the contrary, they may simply conclude that they're stupid or worthless and therefore just stop trying. Parents and teachers can provide extra support (tutoring, for example, or extra time on tests), but at some point kids grow up and aren't in school anymore.

There's a lot of good reading out there about talking to kids about learning disabilities or other special needs. These are a couple ones that I found; I really suggest reading them in full (both are empowering and informative), but here are some selections of what I felt was the best advice.

  1. Talk to Your Child About His Disability (PBS Parents)
  • Parents should attempt to demystify the condition by talking more about the particular effects of a learning disability than talking in terms of complex nomenclature that has no relevance for a child.
  • Parents should keep the learning disability in perspective and try to find, praise, and build upon the child’s areas of strength.
  • Parents should learn to listen to the child, answer the questions the child has, and only go further when the child requests more information.
  • Parents should try to protect a child from humiliation, but this does not mean hiding the fact that the child has a learning disability. Instead, practicing resiliency, identification, and appreciation of special strengths and ways to compensate are essential.
  1. Explaining Learning Disabilities to Your Child (LD Online)
  • When discussing the child's learning problems with her, it is critical to explain what the disorder is—and what it is not. You may find that the child holds many misconceptions about her disorder ("It goes away at middle school"; "It means I'm stupid"; "I'll never be able to read"), and it is important that you clarify and correct this misinformation.
  • Attempt to strike a balance between what she can do and what is difficult for her. Express optimism about her development and her future.
  • Continually remind the child that she can, indeed, learn but that she learns in a unique way that requires her to work hard and participate in classes and activities that are different from her peers' and siblings'. Emphasize the fact that this situation exists through no fault or choice of the child's.
  • Emphasize that the child is different, not defective.

My son (now 8) has ADHD, and we have been up front about this since he was diagnosed last year. We talked about how that makes him a bit different from some of his friends. We talked about how it related to some of his struggles at school: sitting still, listening, staying on task. And since he already knew there was something wrong and he couldn't please his teacher no matter how hard he tried, it helped him just to be able to name the problem.

Discussing his ADHD is an ongoing process.

  • It's always going to be a part of him.
  • The sort of challenges he faces are going to change as he gets older: right now it's sitting still in the classroom, but in middle school it will be note-taking, and organization will be increasingly important. I also expect that as he goes through puberty and adolesence, we'll start noticing different challenges that we can't even think of right now.
  • We keep providing external reinforcement that he's doing a good job coping with it. Some things are harder for him because of the ADHD, and he deserves to know we're proud of the additional effort he puts in.
  • I'm interested in making sure that he always does his best and doesn't use ADHD as an excuse to "slack off". I focus on praising effort in addition to (or instead of) results, and make our expectations clear. We don't demand straight A's or a deep and abiding love of school, but we do expect attentive behavior, assignments brought home and returned to school, and honest effort.
  • He needs to have a sympathetic ear to express his frustrations. I can endorse that frustration, and talk through a problem, accepting that there's ADHD (which he can't change) while examining other circumstances and his reaction to events (both of which he can change).

A year later, he gets frustrated less quickly, doesn't declare that he's stupid and worthless (as often), and is becoming more aware of situations or circumstances that particularly cause him problems. He actively suggests ideas for interventions. But most importantly, he is equipped with knowledge and strategies that will be useful long after he grows up.


As a final note, I've found that my personal feelings about his ADHD have sometimes interfered with being the best advocate possible, both to him and with other people (family, teachers). Deep down, I feel like I somehow failed him and it's my fault. This is inaccurate, pointless, and unproductive self-blame, of course; nevertheless, I have to consciously remind myself that it's inaccurate to get back to being productive. Getting rid of my own negativity was the first step to becoming a strong source of support.

  • Fantastic answer, +1 from me. – sbi Sep 11 '15 at 16:50
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    Only suggestion would be to mention something about how it can sometimes be used as a crutch, and perhaps a way to avoid this? – Waterseas Sep 11 '15 at 18:45
  • @Waterseas -- do you mean the child using their particular disability as an excuse for inadequate performance, or something else? – Acire Sep 11 '15 at 18:48
  • @Erica That or, knowing that they have the disability, not trying as hard. – Waterseas Sep 14 '15 at 13:52
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    @Waterseas I've been mulling over that the last couple of days. I don't think I'd recommend "now, this isn't an excuse to not do your best" as part of the initial conversation introducing a child to a learning disability, but it should certainly be part of ongoing support conversations. I'll edit some of that in accordingly. – Acire Sep 15 '15 at 17:47
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I think it's high time she is told, but read this first:

Having a whole bunch of children, I can tell you that each child is special in its own ways – which includes that each one has their own set of problems. One is good at math, but horrifically bad at remembering even a dozen country's capitals. One is very well aware of what the people around feel, but did wet the bed well into school age. One is great at sports, but bad at paying attention. One is always very helpful, but also very impulsive...

So this one child of yours has this problem. I am sure her brother has other problems. In fact, if you talk to your daughter's peers' parents, you are very likely to hear that each of their children all have one or more problems. Only their problems are different from your daughter's. So your child isn't standing out for having this problem. She just has a different problem then everyone else – just like everyone else has.

And one more things: One of my friends suffered from a severe learning disability in his childhood. He's past 50 now, and it still shows. But while I would not ask him to review a manuscript, and while he's never had a well-paying job, he is a very wonderful human being, who is great to be with, loves to help other people, is exhaustingly thorough in everything he starts, never forgets anyone's birthday, and what he does as an occupation he is very good at. In short, he is a genuinely great addition to his social circles, even though he has, just like everybody else, deficiencies. He certainly is much nicer to be around than some very bright people I know which I sometimes loath having to spend time with.

If you look at your daughter's learning disability from these angles, you will find that she is not worse than other children, she just shines in a different light. (I am sure you have known this all along, but it is important to consciously think of it once in a while.)

It is this thoughts you should have in mind when you explain to your daughter what her special problem is. Make her aware of her weakness without making her feel like she isn't worth much. Explain to her that we all have our strengths and weaknesses. Point out what she, her family's members, and her friends are good at and what these people are bad at. And do not fail to point out that the latter, our weaknesses, is exactly what we all need to work on harder than the other people need to.

The latter is the reason I think you need to explain to her as soon as possible what her problems are: How else is she to know what to work more hard on? The fact that this does not make her an unworthy person is the reason I think you do not have to be shy to tell her.

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    In today's society, telling someone "You'll never have a well paying job, but you're still a wonderful human being" does not carry much weight, especially with children. They're under constant pressure to be successful in everything they do, get the best grades to get scholarships to the best schools so they can get the best jobs and have the biggest boats which leads to the happiest life. It might not be true, but that's what they face. – corsiKa Sep 11 '15 at 19:22
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    @corsiKa: It's your job as a parent to stem against that flood of nonsense. – sbi Sep 12 '15 at 6:16
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    I don't know if it's entirely nonsense. Remuneration is the measure of contribution to society and civilization, and people need to be incentivized to make that contribution. They might take it to an extreme, but only because to truly advance (as opposed to maintain) requires both extreme specialization and inspiration. But even if it were nonsense, one does not simply "stem against the flood" of societal pressures. – corsiKa Sep 12 '15 at 6:25
  • -1 for patronising stigmatising views of people with learning/intellectual disability. Here's a tweet from Hazel Watson (nurse lead of learning disability and MH for NHS England) recommending Clinical Commissioning Groups should employ people with LD: mobile.twitter.com/HazelWatsonNHSE/status/642384602229809152 here's a mayor who has LD: theguardian.com/social-care-network/2015/may/21/… – DanBeale Sep 13 '15 at 10:47
  • @DanBeale: So my plea to treat people with LD just like other people comes across patronizing, huh? HAND. – sbi Sep 15 '15 at 17:44

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