I am a mother and a special-education advocate, and I have dyslexia. Many parents have confided in me that they had a “hunch” that something was not right with their child. More often than not, a parent’s hunch turns out to be correct. Maybe your child doesn’t have a serious learning disability, but a parent knows when their child is different. Parents can’t help but compare their child with a sibling, or kids in a playgroup or after-school activity.
If I had grown-up in today’s world, I would have been diagnosed and helped as a child. I would not have had to wait until my 20s to find out I have dyslexia. That would have saved me a lot of struggles in school, as well as hits to my self-esteem.
If you feel your child may have a learning disability, trust your instincts and follow these tips.
More than 10% of children in the U.S. have some type of disability. Learning that your child needs help is the best way to a better future. Many children outgrow, or learn to compensate for, their disabilities and become adults who excel in many areas. It’s important not to be afraid of any stigma. Having a disability is completely private information and protected by many laws. You need not share that information with anyone.
I’m referring to a comprehensive psychoeducational evaluation performed by a psychologist. If your child has a disability, or even just a weakness in some area, the evaluation provides you with a roadmap to meeting their needs in the future. Public schools are required by law to fully evaluate students who may need special education services. The first step is to request an evaluation from the school principal. I recommend doing that in an email directly to the principal. You can also hire a private psychologist to evaluate your child, but psychoeducational evaluations can be expensive.
When you think your child is mature enough to understand the information, it’s important to tell them they have a disability. At some level, your child knows they are different. Maybe their peers have sensed they are as well. Rather than keeping the information from your child and letting them believe the worst (e.g. that they’re stupid or unworthy), tell them what their weakness is and how you are helping them to overcome it. This information makes them feel more in control and stronger. You could also share a book written for children about how to cope with disabilities, such as “Tom’s Special Talent” by Kate Gaynor. I wish I had known about my disability earlier on in my life, but instead, I felt misunderstood and sometimes even stupid.
If you have a child with a significant disability, you will likely need to advocate for them throughout their school days. That means getting your child the help they need in public school by learning their rights under state and federal law. Fortunately, laws are very protective of students with disabilities, though public schools will not always tell you what your rights are. You may need an advocate or a lawyer, but a good place to start learning is the website www.Wrightslaw.com, which is written for parents and advocates by a nationally renowned expert on the subject.
Though it seems your child will be young and under your wing forever, they won’t be. As they get older, teach them, and ask your school to teach them, how to compensate for their disability and to advocate for themselves. Self-advocacy is learning how to speak up for yourself, finding out who will support you along the way, knowing your rights and responsibilities, and problem solving. This will give your child the greatest gift of all – the knowledge to succeed and to participate in their own life decisions.
This article first appeared in L.A. Parent Magazine on November 18, 2020.