You Can Raise A Child With A Learning Disability!

Raising a child with a disability, specifically a learning disability, is definitely an eye-opening experience.

By Cynthia Wassong

Most parents will agree that raising children is a very humbling but exciting experience. Raising a child with a disability, specifically a learning disability, is definitely an eye-opening experience.

Yes, many rewards come with it, but many sorrows and mostly fears come with it also. Mostly, fears of the unknown. Our son, Jeremy, who is now 29, was diagnosed with a learning disability when he was six years old. Twenty - three years ago my husband and I had never heard of a 'learning disability'. Educators were just beginning to acknowledge them and were trying to figure out how to teach these children. This is where the fear came in. I mean, if the educators did not know what or how to teach him, how were we as mere parents going to help Jeremy?

I attended every meeting with teachers, and counselors. I researched and researched his disabilities so we could understand what was and what was not happening in that brain of his. I went to conferences. I spoke to other parents with children with learning disabilities. Each child had a different disability. As parents we all felt lost and helpless to help our children. We were sailing on uncharted waters.

After awhile, I became more confident about how Jeremy should be taught. You know your child better than any one else. Stand up and fight for him. They have rights. Learn them.

Teach your child about his disability. After all, they live with it day after day. Allow him to attend the PPT meetings with you when you feel he is old enough to understand what is happening. Jeremy began to attend these meetings with me when he was eleven. They have to learn how to advocate for themselves. Empower him. Do not shelter him from their disabilities. Do not be ashamed of him.

Each child has special talents. For one child it may be drawing, for another it may sports. Find your child's strengths. Then find activities where he will excel using those strengths. This will help to build his self esteem. Jeremy loved to sing and act. We enrolled him in the local children's theater. There he blossomed. Yes, school was still difficult, but he always knew there was one place that was safe for him- the theater. No one judged him there. He was not different. Everyone praised him. He could do no wrong. After a week of school where he felt as though everything he did was wrong, the theater was a safe haven for him. Encourage your child to do what he loves to do.

We made sure that home was a good place for him. My husband and I tried to make sure to praise Jeremy when he brought home good grades. When he was having a difficult time, I tried to minimize it by saying, "So big deal. Everyone has a disability, Jeremy. I would love to sing. But you know I couldn't sing on key if my life depended on it! You, on the other hand have a magnificent voice! So, you see singing is my disability." Praise and love your child. Accept him. Home was also a safe haven.

Make your home safe from negativity. He receives enough of that at school. Be optimistic. Many times Jeremy was depressed and pessimistic. Do not allow him to pull you down. He needs you to be strong.

You will face many problems raising a child with learning disabilities. Do not stick your head in the sand and pretend that the problems will go away. They won't. He has problems and he needs you. Talk about the problems with him. Get him professional help whenever he needs it. You are the parent. Take charge.

Children with learning disabilities need a lot of structure in their life. They need to be 'grounded'. And, for this reason I bring up this last tidbit that I know helped our son. Our family was very involved in our local temple and we encouraged Jeremy to become a Bar Mitzvah. Yes, it was difficult but it was probably one of the proudest days of his life. For once he felt like he was an equal to other children his age. There were no special education classes or teachers. He also felt part of a community. People in the congregation adored him. So, the temple became another safe haven for him.

And, of course, one of the most important things you can give your child is a sense of humor. Show him it is all right and acceptable to laugh at himself. When you, as a parent, do something really 'stupid', admit it and laugh about it. Let's face it we all do 'stupid' things. Teach this to your child. Humor is a great way to laugh at oneself or at a situation. Laughing at a situation breaks the tension. It brings a family closer together.

There is hope out there. Do not despair. There are many fabulous teachers and role models for your children. And, more is being learned about learning disabilities everyday. Jeremy, like I said is twenty-eight years old. Today, he is a sales rep for a marketing firm.