As parents, part of your job description is to be the support team for your children – and this is vital for children with LDs. (LDs are not always learning disabilities; sometimes they’re learning differences.) Depending on the LD, children often don’t realize something is seriously wrong beyond “I’m not as good as my friends.” I know I thought everyone else had just as much trouble with handwriting as I did, even though they finished faster. But what I couldn’t understand was why the humming of the fluorescent lights didn’t bother them, or the revolting stench of the cafeteria didn’t appear to faze them, no less prevent them from eating their meal.
What I have found to be incredibly helpful, from a child’s perspective, is for parents to focus on what their children can do, as opposed to what they cannot. I have dysgraphia. My mom did not force me to practice handwriting, the normal way, until I got it (which I never would have). Instead, she purchased a book on writing and typing for dyslexics (which I am, too!). This approach empowered me and allowed me to move forward with my education – always finding and refining my strengths and working to minimize my weaknesses. While one can think that this is a Pollyanna approach, there’s a lot to be said for viewing these LDs with the maxim “your glass is half full not half empty” in mind. (My mom and the mother of Forest Gump both have a lot in common. She’s always chiming in with aphorisms or proverbs such as: “The glass is half full, not half empty,” or “This too shall pass.” In fact, she got me a ring that says just that for me to wear as a constant reminder!)
Finding ways to support children’s strengths and minimize their weaknesses requires some major brainstorming. When discussing this with your child, refrain from offering the apparent solutions; instead, guide your child to discover his or her own. This enables your child to look at future obstacles with a critical, “can do” attitude.
Initially, brainstorm with the teacher and your child together – parent-teacher conferences don’t have to mean trouble! You may be amazed at the lengths teachers are willing to go to maximize a child’s strengths. Here’s an example. With my dysgraphia, testing in my upper-level math class was almost impossible. My grade was suffering because I could not show my work – it was simply too difficult. One solution my teacher offered was to allow me to use 11 x 14-inch whiteboards on the tests. It was pretty funny to have a dozen whiteboards sitting on my desk – I felt like I was back in the Stone Age with the Flintstones! Eventually (hopefully) your child will have the confidence to initiate this type of brainstorming session with the teachers him/herself.
Teaching your child to self-advocate is an invaluable skill. Chances are these are lifetime LDs, and they are not going to eventually “just go away.” I think one approach, based on personal experience, is to advocate with your children and not for them. When I was younger, my mom would make the suggestion or request the accommodation for whichever LD we were dealing with, and then ask me to verify with the teacher/ counselor that this was, indeed, correct and necessary. It usually was just a nod of my head, but I had a say in the matter. As I got older, my mom would, in the same situations, ask if I had anything to add. Basically, it was made clear that my opinion mattered. By 7th grade I was pretty self-confident and capable of telling each teacher what my limitations were and what accommodations were necessary.
I know it’s hard, as a parent, not to be constantly running interference – but you don’t have to. I approach each teacher as soon as a possible issue might arise and explain the situation. (Granted, I am in high school.) It takes a couple of weeks to figure out a teacher’s particular teaching style and expectations. At that point, it’s fairly easy to set up a conference with the teacher or just an after-class meeting, and offer suggestions as to how I can be most successful in his/her classroom. Some teachers get it and some don’t. Then, I can approach the counselor for assistance with those who are uncooperative, with the assurance that my mom would be more than happy to come talk to them herself.
As a culmination of all these approaches, I’m one of those kids who can just go up to my teacher, discuss my LDs, and come up with a game plan – simple as that. Of course, some of these plans don’t always work and have to be revised; but it’s usually not a problem to do so. Teaching or helping a child to advocate for him/herself is an invaluable life skill – and, of course, it isn’t restricted to the classroom! Being able to advocate for oneself is just one of those things that can applied anywhere, at any time, throughout your life.
Kelsey Ganes is 14 and, after five years of homeschooling, attends high school in Washington. She is an avid artist, writer, musician, and an active 2e advocate. Circumnavigating the school system with CAPD, dysgraphia, and dyslexia in tow, she is nonetheless enjoying her school experience.
This article is reprinted with permission from the 2e Newsletter and the author.
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