Talking to Your Child About Having a Learning Disability

Your child has gotten a psychoeducational or neuropsychological education, and he received a diagnosis of "Specific Learning Disability." How do you discuss this with your child?

A diagnosis can be empowering

Until that point, your child may have thought he was “stupid.” Receiving a diagnosis signals to a child that he's not alone, and that there is a name for what he's been experiencing.

Ideally, evaluators offer a short debriefing session after the diagnosis. This allows the evaluator to help explain what is a learning disability, and they can also share your child’s strengths with him. Children are often more receptive to this list of positives from a professional since they may believe you have to tell them they’re smart because you’re their parent!

A diagnosis, alone, does not guarantee services. In public schools, that is obtained via an IEP, and you can learn more about eligibility here. However, a diagnosis can help you advocate to get your child the appropriate supports to succeed. This can be encouraging news for children: They were struggling because they were not getting the right help.

A diagnosis encourages support and community

Sometimes children worry about fairness. I’ve had students ask me about whether or not it is fair for them to receive extended time on a test, for example. I like the band aid analogy for this: If a child’s friend falls down and gets a cut, it does not mean the whole class needs to get a band aid on their knee. It’s not unfair for his friend to get a band aid, just as it is not unfair for your child to get supports in school to help them learn.

As your child is beginning to understand what his disability means to him, focus on the positives!

Students with learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, are generally better at “spatial reasoning, interconnected thinking, narrative reasoning, and ability to reason well in dynamic settings,” notes Brock Eide, a learning disabilities specialist and co-author of "The Dyslexic Advantage." With support, your child can become a more self-aware learner.

A diagnosis means your child is not alone

No matter what your child’s age, show him role models who have learning disabilities. Check out this extensive list of famous people with learning disabilities, from a range of career paths.

Also, since learning disabilities are genetic, there is a high chance that there is someone in your family that has one. Even if that’s not the case, given their prevalence (about 15 percent of the population), you likely have a neighbor, coworker, or friend who has an LD. It’s exciting for kids to know that "Uncle Jack" has a learning disability, too. Uncle Jack may even have a cool job, like a music engineer, which plays to his strengths of creativity and interconnected thinking. It is powerful for your child to see people succeeding who have the same diagnosis.

Lastly, have your child read one of these inspiring stories about other children with learning disabilities. The list has a nice range of fiction and nonfiction, with lead characters that include boys and girls (and turtles, and demi-gods ...).

Having a learning disability does not need to define who you are. Some children become self-advocates and are inspired by their diagnoses. Others take time to accept that they need help in certain areas, or may take a while to realize their strengths. Your job is to help them along that journey, and be supportive throughout.

Sources:

Eide, B. L., & Eide, F. F. (2011). The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain. New York, NY: Plume.

GreatSchools Staff. (2002). Famous People with LD and AD/HD. Retrieved from Great Schools.

Goldsmith, B.Z. Recommended Reading for Children With LD. National Center for Learning Disabilities. Retrieved from: NCLD.

Venton, D. (2011). Q&A: The Unappreciated Benefits of Dyslexia. Retrieved from Wired.