Smart Kids spoke recently with Anne Ford about her new book, A Special Mother: Getting Through the Early Days of a Child’s Diagnosis with Learning Disabilities and Related Disorders. Ford is a longtime advocate for children with LD and former Chair of the National Center for Learning Disabilities. Her interest in the field began when her daughter Allegra was first diagnosed with TK. Today, Allegra is a successful TK, and Ford can reflect on their journey from the vantage point of one who been through it. Some of her insights follow:
Since writing Laughing Allegra and On Their Own, I have spoken to countless mothers. We share so many of the same experiences. I wanted to write a book that recognizes and celebrates the role of the mother in the life of a disabled child. I also wanted to give hope to these mothers. I well remember those early days when my daughter was first diagnosed with severe LD—the confusion, the sense of isolation, the fear that my daughter’s future was unraveling before my eyes. I hope to speak to the mother who is experiencing those feelings now, and to inspire her to become an effective advocate for her child.
Parents who are new to the world of LD feel at a loss when trying to navigate the system. One mother, who is also an attorney, said, “I had no idea who to talk to, or what to do, or even if I should trust my own instincts. I had no way of knowing if the school’s advice was the right advice, or if they were holding anything back.” Many parents have had terrible experiences with the special ed system, and cannot shake the feeling that the school is not doing all it should. (Of course, there are many others who have nothing but praise for the system). For some mothers, this difficulty reaches into the home. They meet resistance from their husbands or from other family members who are in denial or think she is overreacting. Simply facing up to the fact that your child has LD can take a great deal of courage.
When parents are new to all this, they feel insecure, and may even feel their questions are too trivial. As the years go by, and they gain more experience, they no longer feel intimidated, and can go too far in the opposite extreme.
Parents must learn to walk a fine line between being firm while also handling situations in a manner that does not spiral out of control. Some mothers become obsessed with the idea that the school is not doing enough, and escalate matters in ways that actually harm the child’s progress. I attempt to address these issues in the book.
Changes Over Time
The most urgent concern of a young mother is getting the right help for her child. Once that has taken place, some mothers realize to their dismay that LD is not confined to the classroom. This brings up a whole new set of concerns, such as difficulties with friendships, social skills, and sibling issues.
I went through all the pain, the fear, and confusion a young mother may be facing today. When my daughter became an adult, I acquired a whole new set of concerns: employment issues, dating, and most important of all, independent living.
And so I now realize that, yes, the issues change from year to year, but the emotional ties remain the same. For mothers, LD will always be an emotional as well as an educational issue. If you can remain optimistic and determined, you can keep those emotions in check and truly become the special mother your child deserves.
To read more about Ford’s experience and the lessons she imparts, read A Special Mother: Getting Through the Early Days of a Child’s Diagnosis with Learning Disabilities and Related Disorders, by Anne Ford and John-Richard Thompson, Newmarket Press, 2010.