We all know parenting is tough. But when your child is diagnosed with ADHD or a learning disability, it gets even tougher. Thankfully, these days there are organizations like Understood.org that provide helpful insight and advice for parents.
Recently, Understood.org produced a series of short-length videos where parents opened up about hard topics like diagnosis, stigma, frustration, and judgment. The series is a free educational resource called “Real Parents, Tough Topics,” and it gives a public voice and platform to parents of kids with issues like ADHD and dyslexia.
I watched the series and I truly appreciated these parents open up about raising a child with unique academic challenges to help other parents.
You can view the series on YouTube at Real Parents Talk Tough Topics or watch the videos below.
Here are the seven questions I asked the experts and their answers…
Question 1: For parents, talking to certain people about their children’s struggles can help, but talking to others can be hurtful. Should parents discuss their children’s challenges with family members or other parents at school? Who should they talk to—and who should they not talk to?
Rayma: Acknowledging and putting a name to your child’s struggles can be positive for him. She already knows she is struggling. For many kids, having challenges recognized for what they are—named and accepted by others—takes the mystery away and makes them less scary.
You might want to share your child’s issues with others if her challenges will be apparent in certain circumstances. For example, if a child has dyslexia and is uncomfortable about reading aloud, you could tell relatives so they won’t ask her to read a passage at a holiday dinner. Perhaps they can ask her to help with decorations or food prep instead. It’s a good idea for significant adults in her life to be aware of her needs so they can work with her or work around the difficulties. However, if she is a talented soccer player, her coach probably doesn’t need to know that she struggles with reading.
Amanda: Talking about your child’s issues can be very personal. You’ll want to feel confident that the people you speak to will be supportive and nonjudgmental. You may have to gauge that on a case-by-case basis. As with any conversation, if you’re not sure the person you’re talking to will keep a confidence, you may want to be careful about how much you share.
Question 2: Should parents keep their children’s challenges off of social media? Or does trying to keep learning disabilities a secret make it seem like the parents are ashamed of it?
Mark: Face-to-face sharing in a “need to know” situation would be preferable to announcing a child’s challenges via social media.
Amanda: Social media is tricky. If your child is old enough to be on social media, you may want to talk to him about how much information he’s OK with your disclosing. To protect his privacy, you may want to have an “initials only” rule when you talk about your child. Keep in mind, too, that he may eventually be on social media himself and see what you’ve said. So, if you’re having a particularly tough day and need to vent, social media may not be the best place to do that. As we all know, it lives on the Internet forever.
On the other hand, if you’re looking to educate people and build support groups, social media can be a great way to connect. Just be cautious of your privacy settings and make the rules clear ahead of time. For example, “What we post here stays here” is a good rule to begin with.
Mark: In discussing your child’s needs with others, be sure to highlight his strengths, too! While your child may struggle to read, write or pay attention effectively, he will undoubtedly have a number of strengths. Talking about these strengths can reinforce for other people that he is just as smart and engaged as other kids. Point out that while he struggles in specific areas, there is a plan in place and a team helping him to be more successful with these issues.
Amanda: I’d recommend coming at the conversation from a perspective that you’re not ashamed of your child’s issues—and that because these issues are probably common, you’d like to talk about them with others to get support and build understanding. And it’s important to talk about the good stuff and the mundane stuff, not just the challenges. Your child needs to know that his issues don’t define him. When you tell people about the things you’re proud of, it makes that so much clearer.
Question 3: In one of the videos, the parents discussed the issue of how children with disabilities will at some point think or say, “I’m not smart.” They gave examples of what they’ve said to their own children. Can you give some more suggestions for what parents should and should not say to their children in response to that statement?
Try to be as specific as possible when responding to your child with learning and attention issues when she says she is not smart.
- “I know you find schoolwork a struggle at times. You are however, incredibly smart.” (Mark)
- “Who is the only one who can fix the computer when it won’t work? You!” (Mark)
- “Who is the only one who was able to train the dog to sit, stay, come, lie down and give us his paw? You!” (Mark)
- “Who is the math wizard around here? You!” (Not all kids with learning and attention issues struggle with math.) (Mark)
- “Who figured out the new navigation system in the car when no one else had a clue? You!” (Mark)
- “Who was able to find the circuit breaker that tripped when even Dad couldn’t? You!”
- “Who helped Grandpa at Thanksgiving when he couldn’t get the grill started and saved dinner for all of us? You!” (Mark)
DON’T SAY THIS:
- Never say: “You’re just as smart as other kids” without adding some evidence that is true and that is specific to your child. (Rayma)
- Never say: “Don’t worry. You’re smart. This stuff will get easier when you get older.” Learning and attention issues do not go away. Simply getting older without the correct interventions will not solve academic issues. (Mark)
- Never say: “You’re really smart—you just need to work harder.” Kids with learning and attention issues are usually working very hard already. (Rayma)
- Never say: “You’re really smart—you just need to get more organized and finish things.” Many kids with learning and attention challenges struggle with executive functioning issues and need help learning how to organize themselves and study. (Rayma)
- Never say: “You’re really smart—you just need to pay attention a bit better.” The problem for kids with attention issues is that they often pay attention to everything and can miss the target information. (Rayma)
- Never say: “This is easier than you think. Just go back and try it again. You’ll see it is not so hard.” Just because a parent feels a child should know something it does not make it so. Kids with learning and attention issues might be able to handle a very complex assignment and but often struggle with a fairly routine tasks. (Rayma)
- Never say: “Just read the directions again. They’re not so difficult to understand. Take it sentence by sentence. You’ll get it.” Kids with learning and attention issues often misread directions or miss key information so it is important to have a child paraphrase what the directions say after reading them to be sure he understands what to do. Just having him reread them may still result in his faulty understanding. (Rayma)
Amanda: In addition to knowing what to say and what not to say, remember that kids are so much savvier than we sometimes give them credit for. They know when you’re not being genuine. Insincere praise—“You’re the best baseball player I’ve ever seen!”—may make your child start doubting you. He may wonder why you’re not telling him the truth. Worse yet, he may worry that you don’t have the knowledge to accurately assess his abilities or that he doesn’t have any legitimately praiseworthy talents.
Question 4: Should parents of young children with learning disabilities be thinking about whether or not their children will go to college? As their children get older, how should parents talk about and plan for college or vocational schools with their children?
Rayma: Parents should take an active role in transition planning for their children. As someone who is aware of your child’s strengths, talents, issues and needs, you are in a good position to help her explore the various postsecondary options that will prepare her for a career.
Parents can encourage their children’s aspirations while also anchoring them with reality. For example, if your daughter wants to be a veterinarian because she loves animals, but she struggles with math and science, you might want to do some research together to find out about the typical coursework required to become a vet. Since she is good with animals, perhaps she would enjoy volunteering at a shelter, taking a dog-walking job or interning at a grooming salon to find other ways to interact with animals. These experiences may lead to discussions about postsecondary options that include her love of animals and that are well suited to her particular strengths and talents. Maybe she’ll have a career training therapy dogs or designing better zoos.
For children with identified learning and attention issues, transition goal setting is built into the IEP by age 15. However, opportunities to discuss career pathways and to guide your child’s interests toward appropriate postsecondary options present themselves at a much earlier age. Parents and kids can have ongoing conversations about future plans. Your child might want to be a fire fighter at 5, an astronaut at 8 and a computer coder at 13. Each aspiration presents an opportunity to discuss what that job entails—what kind of preparation and skills are needed and what strengths she would bring to that role. As a child gets older, a career counselor at your child’s school may have even more insights about which careers might be a good fit, as well as knowledge about how to prepare for them.
Question 5: If a child has been diagnosed with ADHD and the doctors, teachers and parents all agree that medication would help, how can a parent encourage a child to take the medication if he or she doesn’t want to? Or should the parents not even try to get the child to take medication if the child is hesitant?
Mark: This should really be a team approach including parents, medical professionals and the child. Choosing to have a child take medication is a big decision. How you support the child depends a lot on his age.
Rayma: It’s important to let a young child know that medication is likely to help him concentrate and pay attention. A young child also needs to know that his parents feel it is safe but want his input about the effects of the medication (as well as input from his teachers and other school staff). Some medications have side effects for some children. Parents need to encourage kids to tell them about any side effects they experience.
Mark: As kids move into adolescence, they may worry that medication will make them less spontaneous, less funny, etc. A child may be concerned that his personality—who he is—will change. He may think that his friends won’t like him anymore. It’s important for parents and professionals to explain that medication won’t change who he is, and that there are potential significant benefits of taking the medication. For instance, kids may have improved attention, the ability to stay focused longer, get organized more easily, and remember to turn in their assignments.
Rayma: When talking to older children about medication, they need to know the reason for the medication. Knowing how ADHD medication works and how it may specifically benefit him may be helpful. Kids also need consistent and specific feedback on how parents, professionals and teachers see that the medication is helping. Ultimately, the combination of a good intervention program and medication will generally help produce the desired outcomes for kids with ADHD.
If a child is hesitant to take medication, it’s important for his parent(s) and medical professionals to discuss the concerns with the child. If all parties feel it could be very helpful, then it’s important to assure the child that it will be done on a trial basis, seeking input from the school and him directly to monitor the effects. The parents and medical professionals should also assure the child that the medication is safe to take.
Question 6. Should a child with ADHD and learning disabilities who really struggles and hates school be forced to do homework after school? Or should he or she be able to do other non-academic activities?
Amanda: Choosing homework or non-academic after-school activities doesn’t have to be an either/or situation. In fact, for many kids with learning and attention issues, that outside activity is a great way to build self-esteem, make friends and find their passion.
For instance, my older son, who has learning and attention issues, is an amazing photographer. He’s not that thrilled about doing homework. Once we came up with a plan with his school about how much homework he was to do, and when, he also became the school’s yearbook photographer. He goes to all the games and events, which has allowed him to meet other kids in a way that he’s comfortable with. He has found something he’s great at and loves to do, and now he has an incentive to get his homework done.
See this article… 9 Ways to Help Your Child Explore Strengths and Passions
Rayma: Homework, when used appropriately, can be a wonderful reinforcement of skills for kids with learning and attention issues. Most kids need some help with homework at times, but homework is generally not easy for kids with learning and attention issues. They need to organize, initiate, stay with the task, hope that they wrote the assignment down correctly, hope that they remember the directions, and then stay focused and actually complete the task despite being distracted by siblings, the TV, or even their own thoughts.
Mark: If parents and the school agree to tackle the homework with a comprehensive approach, it’s more likely that the child will eventually develop the necessary skills to get most of it done independently. For example, a comprehensive plan might include completing the more difficult tasks at school where the child could get some help. For many kids with learning and attention issues, doing some of the more difficult homework at school—with adult supervision and troubleshooting—can be a big help. Then they can get the less difficult homework done at home. The goal is that eventually, as their skills get stronger, kids will do all their homework at home.
If possible, have a designated, quiet space at home where the child consistently does homework. Try to keep this area free from unnecessary stimulus and interruptions. Store the materials the child needs in the space so she doesn’t have to hunt for a pen or her calculator.
Here are some ideas…
Rayma: Choosing the best time to get homework done is an individual thing. Some kids need some downtime when they get home. They need to decompress, have a snack, ride a bike, shoot hoops in the yard, play a video game, play with the dog, hang out, etc., before doing homework.
Other kids prefer to get it done right away so they can enjoy the rest of the day without it hanging over their head. Sometimes it helps to let kids choose the time for a trial period and see how it works. Your child may choose a time that is not particularly productive. She may need your help with adjusting the time and determining why one time works better than another.
It may be useful to build in some downtime during homework tasks so your child can recharge. Each child is different and it takes some trial and error for them to figure out what schedule and location lets them be most productive.
Question 7: Should a child with learning disabilities be held back one or more grades at school?
Rayma: The decision to have a child repeat a grade should not be made lightly. As part of a thoughtful decision-making process, you’ll want to consider the child’s age, maturity, and physical size, as well as the social fit of the new group.
You’ll also want to consider whether repeating a grade will just mean doing the same material in the same way, or if there will be differences. Kids who will be taught the same skills in the same way without any different support in place generally don’t benefit from repeating a grade.
The social ramifications of repeating a grade can be hard for a child. The entire team working with the child should look at what might be done differently if the child were to move on to the next grade. Having a better integrated plan, with more explicit support and necessary resources, may be a better solution than having the child repeat a grade.
Amanda: As a former teacher, my first question if retention is being considered would be this: Why are we considering it, and what support is currently in place? If a child is going to be retained, it shouldn’t be simply because of a learning disability. A student doesn’t outgrow a learning and attention issue, so it can’t be remediated by another year of the same curriculum being taught the same way. It’s best to first look at the plan that’s in place. See what could be changed to provide more support and resources, and consider how that can go up to the next grade with a student.
This article may be of help… Repeating a Grade: Pros and Cons.
As a parent, my first question would be: What are the social and long-term implications of this? If my child has friends he would leave behind and is going to be much older and bigger than the other kids, I’d be concerned that these things would outweigh the benefits of repeating a grade.
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Disclaimer: Please do not consider this post to be medical advice. I am a blogger sharing my personal opinions and the quotes I received from Understood.org. This post is not sponsored.
Written by Susan Carraretto, co-founder of 5 Minutes for Mom
Talk with me: @5minutesformom and Facebook.com/5minutesformom
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