Monday, December 3, 2012

For parents: Coping with learning differences

Most days of the week I receive a call from a parent of one of my students. These calls tend to increase at this time of year and the start of the holidays signals the end of the school semester. Sometimes it’s a simple confirmation of our schedule or a quick question. But often, when I get off the phone, I realize that these families are asking questions, seeking reassurance, and requesting advice for one reason: fear.

This is not momentary fight-or-flight fear, but rather a lingering cloud of concern. Days have become carefully orchestrated symphonies of schoolwork, after-school appointments, homework, and correspondence with all involved parties to ensure harmony. The time-consuming project of managing a child’s needs interferes with work, family, and personal responsibilities; time for relaxation, socializing, and sleep gets stolen to make up the difference. Meanwhile, costs for additional services strain family budgets and stress strains marriages. The fear comes in when there is a glitch: an accommodation is not made, a test is failed, or, worst of all, when the child expresses that they are a failure. Parents, doing all that they can do, worry that it is not enough.

How do you help the child without getting swept away by the demands?

1. Start with school. Establish relationships with the school personnel who are responsible for meeting your child’s needs and hold them accountable. After all, they are being paid to do this! This is accomplished by keeping a record of all correspondence, and referring back to it regularly to see if all promises are being kept. In a public school setting there are legal rights—get to know them. If you are in a private school, be sure it is the best possible fit and that there is a designated person assigned to manage your child’s supports.

2. See your child as a whole person. Don’t drop all the extra-curriculars to free up time for homework/tutoring. Encourage your child to be a friend (socializing with others), an individual (taking classes in art, music, or sports not offered at school), and a family member (doing chores and spending time together). Without these identities, your child may view himself as simply a kid who has trouble with school. Yes, you may need to pick and choose activities with an eye toward balance, but it is worth the effort.

3. Set limits. Decide how much time you personally are going to spend fighting the battles, and how much time your child will spend on work outside of the school day. Be realistic, and stick to it.

4. Seek community. You are not alone. Online forums can be a way to find support, but nothing beats in-person relationships. Gather the courage to open up just a little bit about the challenges your child is facing, and be prepared to find out how many of your friends are facing similar issues or know someone who is. Also seek out (or consider starting) a parents group that meets regularly.

5. Check in with yourself when you start to feel overwhelmed. Make two lists—one for what is working, and one for what is not working. Celebrate the positives, and identify the people who can help you solve the problems.

Parenting a child with unique learning needs is a challenge, to be sure. But by establishing priorities and supports you will make a difference.

This article was originally posted at

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