I find that a lot of parents decide to hide the fact that their child has a learning disability. They want to protect them from negative associations with the label. Most of all, they don't want their child to feel disabled or experience any bullying from his or her peers. Although there might be some short-lived uncertainties and uneasiness associated with learning about one's diagnosis, the research shows that has lasting beneficial outcomes.
How Can Learning about One's Learning Disability Diagnosis Help?
Learning about one's diagnosis can help in a number of ways. Whether the child is in elementary school or even approaching college, learning about one's learning disability:
- shows there is a reason for academic struggles and that the child can receive support and reasonable accommodations that will help them to succeed.
- helps define the type of assistance that a child needs so that remediation can be tailored.
- enables children to shed negative labels such as stupid, lazy, unmotivated, and careless.
I actually did my doctoral dissertation on this topic. I interviewed higher education students that were diagnosed with a learning disability for the first time in college. I wanted to see if their diagnosis impacted their sense of self. The stories were inspiring and profound. Although some of the participants experienced some initial, short-term concern about their testing results, before long, all those interviewed reported that learning about their learning disability as well as their strengths was empowering in three areas of their life: personally, academically, occupationally, and socially. All of the participants had an improved self-esteem and felt "vindicated, validated and freed." They reported improvements in their lives, and they all experience resulting academic and occupational success.
How Do I Disclose a Learning Disability Diagnosis to my Child?
1) Prepare Your Discussion
- Manage your own emotional reactions to the diagnosis, before talking to the child.
- Make sure you know all about the learning disability including associated struggles and even some possible strengths associated with the condition.
- Compose a simple script before you begin the conversation about the evaluation results and any changes that might take place in school.
- Be prepared to explain what the learning disability is and what it is not in a sensitive and age-appropriate way. Avoid professional terms and use vocabulary that is easy to understand.
- Discuss the child's learning problems with him or her in a gradual, informal, and sequential way.
- Share that all people have strengths and weaknesses and then discuss some of your own challenges.
- Remind the child that they learn in a unique way that requires hard work and some different activities from classmates.
- Explain that learning can be a challenge and that it may take a little longer to master some skills than other classmates.
- Reassure the child that negative and fearful feelings are natural and understandable at first, but that in time, learning about their brain will help them to be successful in life.
- Provide inspiration by citing successful people, friends and family members that have similar problems.
- Emphasize the child's strengths and do not simply focus on deficits and difficulties.
- Remind the child that there is a strong and intact support system at home and at school.
- Talk about accommodations and modifications that he or she may need.
- Encourage the use of teacher-pleasing behaviors in response to receiving extra help.
- Finish the conversation by encouraging the child to ask questions.
How Do I Support my Child After Disclosing His or Her Learning Disability?
- Maintain open lines of communication with your child, so he or she can speak freely at home and with school personnel.
- Be prepared to spontaneously discuss incidents that may occur at home or at school in a positive and supportive manner.
- Share ways your child can compensate for any academic or social difficulties.
- Teach your child self-advocacy skills.
- Provide encouragement as well as positive and constructive feedback.
- Maintain a positive attitude and express optimism about the future.
- Keep expectations realistic but high. As children grow and receive remedial assistance, areas of difficulty can be overcome.
- Set goals that are attainable, even if this is only in small progressive steps.
In the long run, hiding a learning disability diagnosis from your child will create more difficulties and angst than it will save. In contrast, helping a child learn about their difficulties as well as their strengths is a critical step in developing and sustaining motivation, independence, and self-advocacy skills.