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Parent of a New Learning Disability Diagnosis

Your child has been diagnosed with a learning disability. Now what?

We know this moment can hold a lot of emotion and we are here to tell you that any emotion you’re feeling is valid. Whether you suspected a learning disability (LD) or are hearing about LD for the first time, you are going to have a reaction to the news that might be difficult to process.

Here are some suggestions that might help you. Take a moment to breathe. Try writing down all the thoughts, feelings, and questions on a piece of paper or journal. Talk with a family member or friend you feel safe talking with. It may be difficult to talk or ask questions at this point but there is support and resources when you are ready.

Here are some questions you may be asking:

  1. What is a learning disability? “Learning disabilities are due to genetic and/or neurobiological factors that alter brain functioning in a manner which affects one or more cognitive processes related to learning.” Learning Disabilities –
    • There is no prevention or cure for a learning disability.
  2. How is a learning disability going to affect my child at school? “Learning disabilities range in severity and may interfere with the acquisition and development of one or more of the following: Oral Language, Reading, Written Language, Math” Learning Disabilities –
    • Now that you know your child has a learning disability, you can begin to advocate and provide the supports necessary for success.
  3. What personal effects does learning disabilities have on my child? Some short term effects can include frustration and avoiding challenges, a lack of interest in school. Some long term effects can include low self esteem, anxiety, depression, social difficulty or aggression.
    • These may seem scary but the more you research, advocate and talk about learning disabilities, you’ll see learning disabilities as just another quality that makes your child unique. 

2.3 million students are diagnosed with specific learning disabilities (SLD). That means you are not alone! There are groups and communities to support parents, educators, and individuals with LD. Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA of America) has many resources including a membership to access their archived webinars.

How do I support my child?

The best way to support your child is to research. The more you know about the specific learning disability, resources available, and the legal rights you and your child have, the better you can advocate to get the correct support for your child. Get started with LDA of Wisconsin Resources and LDA America’s Resources.

Communication is key to bridge the school supports with the home efforts. Begin by talking with your child’s teacher or the special education department to find immediate ways to support your child until an IEP meeting can be held. Depending on your child and situation, find a method of communication that works for both parties to be kept up to date with daily or weekly progress. It may take some time to find the specific learning strategies and resources your child responds to and this communication is key to making changes happen quickly. Remember support happens at school and at home so find ways you can support their teacher by working on skills at home too.

Getting involved in the school is another great way to support your child. Volunteer in the classroom to understand more about the dynamics of your child’s education. This will be useful when communicating about the school day or talking about individuals they interact with.

Learning disabilities is a long road. Planning for the future may seem impossible right now however if you know college is a goal for your child, you can begin preparing them now. If you know daily life is going to be a challenge but independent living is a goal, you can being preparing them now. The support they need now is going to be different down the road. That’s why it is very important to know the goals you have now and how their resources are going to change.

How can I help my child understand their diagnosis?

Begin with being specific about their learning disability. What does this mean in their terms? No one wants to feel like they can’t learn and as a parent, it breaks our heart to hear them say “I’m bad at learning. I can’t do this.” Instead, what do they specifically need support with? Reading and math is too broad and they generalize this into all learning. Which skills can they do well and which ones should they ask for more help with? Don’t forget to emphasize where they succeed!

Build their self identify by showing them this doesn’t change who they are; they just learn differently like almost all kids do. They need to own their LD to properly advocate for themselves and ask for support and resources when they need it.

Build self confidence through social and emotional skills, and building up their strengths. Knowing kids with LD are more likely to experience anxiety and depression means we cannot skip this step. LD is not only focused on where they need help but should emphasize their strengths to overcome their challenges. They will need a strong foundation in their self confidence to persevere so begin today. Spend time outside of the home and classroom where they can interact with peers in play or discovery. Be attentive to their growth and celebrate them. You know the feeling of being recognized, let your child feel seen.

Help your child talk about their learning disability. Check out this video from Child Mind Institute to help them become more comfortable. Support them to be their own self advocate. Let them see you be there for them. Don’t let others put incorrect labels on your kids and be sure to correct them if this happens.

For example:

  • Individual – Your son is a struggling reader and often can’t stay on task.
  • Response – My son knows he concentrates better when he takes breaks in between chapters so he doesn’t get overwhelmed. He processes the information before reading more.

Encourage and motivate your child through obstacles and challenges. Being there for them is more important than ever.

How do I manage my emotions?

Lose the fear. LD Diagnosis helps your child get the support they need to be a successful learner. They will face challenges but remember they have their strengths too. Managing this new world comes with the ups and downs. You’ll have tough days and days where you celebrate. Take time for you when you need a break. As they say, “You can’t fill from an empty cup.” We know that’s easier said than done.

Know there was nothing you did – or didn’t do – to cause LD. Guilt is a natural feeling but one that doesn’t help. You did not “give” LD to your child nor could you prevent it.

Continue to write down your questions or thoughts. Daily journaling can be very helpful in taking your pulse to see if you might be coming overwhelmed. This is also a great way to find patterns in behavior, strategies that work but show slow progress over time, similarly strategies that are not working, and a great documentation tool for future conversations or IEP meetings.

If things progress to an IEP, BIP or 504, take detailed notes during meetings and ask questions if something doesn’t make sense. Review your notes later and follow up if you need to. It is your right to be able to record the meeting to review later but be sue to give plenty of notice to the team and refer to the Parental Rights Handbook about procedures. Bring your own observations to the meeting and come with an open mind. Your input is necessary to know your child and find appropriate supports for their learning. You’ll want to remember the strengths of your child during some difficult conversations. A helpful tool is to write down some mantras on your notes to read yourself during the meeting. Give yourself strength and your child a powerful advocate.

Lean into the support around you. Find someone you can talk with to help regulate your emotions, to talk through some tough choices, and to have your back when you’re having a rough day. Reach out to support groups. Not only will they validate your feelings, they will give helpful tips in managing this journey.

Looking for more?

For more information, check out our resources page!

LDA of Wisconsin Resources

LDA of America Resources