Educating Others About Your Child with LD
By Marcia Brown Rubinstien, MA, CEP
Once you understand your child’s learning disabilities, it’s crucial to share his profile with everyone who significantly impacts his life and even some who play a minor role. But before you engage the town crier to broadcast the details of your child’s learning style, use the following guide to help evaluate who needs to know what.
Knowledge providers (teachers, tutors, aides, extra-curricular instructors, coaches, scout leaders, playground monitors, religious instructors, camp counselors):
People who guide your child’s acquisition of knowledge have enormous power over his self-esteem and cognitive development. Be thorough, persistent, and considerate when filling them in. Talk to them individually about all aspects of his learning. Share the results of testing and interventions. Encourage a positive attitude by describing his strengths and talents. Likewise, when you describe situations that might confuse or frustrate him, give examples of approaches that work to ease the situation.
Healthcare providers (Physicians, school nurses, social workers, psychological, occupational and physical therapists, social skills facilitators):
Everyone who helps safeguard your child’s health should know how her learning disability might affect her wellbeing. Acquaint each provider with her history and any issues that specifically impact her care. For example, children with sensory processing disorders may benefit from the dentist knowing what triggers reactive behavior and what engenders trust. Children with ADHD may respond better when appointments are kept short. If your child has difficulty expressing herself, suggest ways for the professional to elicit substantive responses. And innocuous as it may seem, recognize that children with reading problems may be aggravated by all the publications cluttering the typical waiting room.
Random people (store clerks, service providers, bus drivers, airline seatmates):
When you bring your child into a situation that might trigger impulsive or defensive behaviors, anticipate problems and intervene ahead of time. Explain to a sales associate that it’s best not to bring out 15 pairs of shoes at one time. Alert the bus driver to possible triggers for disruption or bullying. When someone interferes with your child’s unobjectionable activities on a bus, train or plane, explain in firm, positive tones that your child prefers listening to a book on tape while simultaneously reading the text. Be upbeat when you tell travel mates that walking up and down the aisle is actually a positive behavior.
Social acquaintances (peers, parents of peers, family friends):
Most parents would not leave a child with impaired vision at a friend’s home without explaining that some activities might be challenging. Yet parents of children with invisible disabilities often think that if they don’t mention difficulties, none will be noticed. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
When children know that people in their social world accept the accommodations they need, they feel comfortable and productive. You can elicit trust and even respect for your child’s uniqueness if you explain how he responds to stimuli. A child who has difficulty processing auditory information might need several reminders before following directions. Make sure that parents and friends don’t misinterpret such behavior as oppositional. Explain that a child who fidgets might simply be seeking reinforcement to maintain alertness.
A child’s learning disabilities will definitely cause ripples throughout the immediate and extended family, but proactive parents can minimize difficulty while maximizing potential.
In easy-to-understand language explain your child’s learning and living profile to all family members. Never use learning disabilities as an excuse for your child to avoid homework, appropriate behavior, or chores done by other siblings. Instead, find ways that she can contribute at levels that correspond with others. More important, never expect other children to assume responsibility for the needs of their sibling with LD.
When explaining something that might be more difficult for your child with LD, also stress the skills and positive qualities she possesses. Make sure that all family members respect diversity.
Finally, support your child’s interests, defend her against people and processes that undermine her self-esteem, and provide her with the tools to succeed academically and socially. Love her unconditionally, and never miss an opportunity to tell her and show her that you do.