Advice from a Parent of a Student with Learning Differences

By Jane St. Pierre

Once your child is diagnosed with a learning disability, it is imperative that you become his/her tireless advocate. This initially begins with becoming familiar with the diagnosed disability/disabilities and reading as much material as possible (from various sources) regarding best teaching practices to address the issue(s). Once armed with information, the parent’s role is to politely, but firmly, demand necessary accommodations. Sometimes this entails providing or arranging such accommodations on your own when requests made to the school are denied. Challenges are opportunities in disguise. Therefore, it is imperative to gradually learn to discern a healthy challenge which causes your child to strive and improve vs. an unsurmountable obstacle. Healthy challenges should be allowed along your child’s educational journey. Unsurmountable obstacles need to be creatively tackled and chipped down. Developing a positive and reciprocal communication agreement with the school is necessary for success. Lucky is the LD student who has a compassionate and motivated force of adults on a common team to ensure success!

Of course, having a healthy academic life is a major priority of the school experience. However, parents of LD students must carefully manage their precious time in order to ensure that they honor the “whole” child. Tempting as it may be, withdrawing your child from a valued extracurricular activity to devote yet more time to studies may not be a wise decision. (Of course, such activities should require only a reasonable amount of time, not several hours after school every day.) LD students absolutely realize that they somehow fall short in the academic arena. Therefore, a positive outlet which promotes a feeling of accomplishment and success is vital for emotional health. Obtaining professional help from school counselors, social workers, psychologists, or psychiatrists is very worthwhile. Such professionals can be very beneficial in guiding parents to balance education with other aspects in their child’s life. Education is a very important part of a young person’s life, but one must always remember that it is, in fact, just a PART. Spiritual, emotional, and physical aspects are also quite crucial.

Even in light of this emphasis on the “whole” child, parents must also make it very clear that a good education is a priority. An emphasis on effort and attitude should supersede requirements for a particular grade average. Many times, it is quite possible that the family would give a hardy cheer for a healthy D! Little tolerance, on the other hand, should be extended when assignments are not submitted. Parents of LD students will also typically be more involved in their child’s school efforts than parents of average and above-average students. LD students experience defeating frustration more often than other students, and help (from a parent, tutor, or friend) must be available to prevent these situations from becoming road blocks. Until the LD student reaches a more mature age, the responsibility for making these connections for help falls upon the parents.

Therefore, open communication is a necessity. Where many may feel the need to keep their child’s learning disabilities secret, it has been my experience that sharing such information in casual conversation when it naturally flows from the topic being discussed is highly advantageous. Quite frequently, one runs across someone else who shares similar circumstances and strategies well-worth considering. Prayer has been essential to me. Many, many, many times I have prayed for God’s guidance in forging a successful path for my son. He has never let me down, and often the solution to my problem at hand has been offered by someone else’s casual comment. I have a tremendous appreciation for the work of the Holy Spirit throughout our journey. Hope always seems around the corner despite the fact that “she” occasionally hides from us!

I also highly recommend arranging a meeting with a career counselor on behalf of any LD high school student. This idea (recommended by a dear friend!) produced amazing results. Through questionnaires and interview, our career counselor was able to show my son (who at the time was a very discouraged 10th grader) that there were many jobs available that perfectly matched his personality, abilities, and passions. She provided him with many avenues to explore and literally skyrocketed his motivation to graduate from high school in order to make many of these options possibilities. We immediately helped him find part-time employment with a job that contained many aspects recommended by the career counselor based on his results. A prolonged period of fruitful employment with high recommendations from an employer is a very useful bit of information to include on a resume. (Especially when one considers that an impressively top-notch GPA was out of reach and activities are limited due to the amount of time an LD student must devote to school.) Most of his career assessments pointed in the direction of sales. I am happy to report that he has graduated from high school and has obtained full-time employment as a salesman/ customer relations specialist! Life is good; he has found his way.

In summary, every LD student needs at least one adult to sign on for the role of his/her “champion.” Such a role will require its bearer to be an advocate, a support center, and a creative problem solver. Always remember that your LD student’s educational career does not have to look like the path the majority of students take. Our journey required a few school transfers – all of which contained valuable aspects. We eventually chose to finish high school through the use of a private online high school based out of another state. As my son’s advocate, I paused my career to be available for him at home to demonstrate how much our family valued his education and graduation. With the help of a village of supporters (some paid professionals and others who volunteered assistance along the way) my son made it to the finish line with passing grades, confidence in himself, and a work ethic out of this world!