Learning Disabilities and Mental Health; What Parents Need to Know

Parents of children that experience disability often grapple with constantly having to watch their children struggle. They often catch themselves saying “ why does it seem like NOTHING comes easy for him? “ and as parents when our children struggle, we do too. When our kids hurt, we hurt. And mostly, we want to “fix” it, whatever “it” is for them, that is our job right?

Specific Learning Disabilities, and specifically Dyslexia, have seen some advocacy groups  bringing awareness and impacting changes in the laws over the last few years. And while significant strides have been made in the area of education and awareness, there is still a huge component to Specific Learning Disabilities that continues to impact the children and families that experience them.

Huntington and Bender reviewed the literature from 1984 to 1993 on the emotional well being in adolescents with specific learning disabilities. The conclusion; that adolescents with learning disabilities have a less positive academic self-concept, experience higher levels of trait anxiety, and have a higher prevalence of physical complaints. Adolescents experiencing learning disabilities had high rates of depression and alarming rates of suicide.

Martínez and Semrud-Clikeman found that students with learning disabilities (LD) expressed more loneliness, more victimization, and less social satisfaction than their non-LD peers. This led as well to their observation that students with LD suffered chronic low levels of anxiety and depression relative to their non-LD peers.pexels-photo-278312.jpeg

How do we help our children with learning disabilities? More importantly, how do we address the inevitable emotional challenges that accompany the struggles that our children face everyday?

My argument would be that while none of this is simple, Advocacy is the most important solution.

Here are six important ways to advocate and L.I.S.T.E.N for your child:

  • Label and Identify. By identifying and intervening as early as possible, children can make significant strides. For example, if your child has been diagnosed with Dyslexia, use the word “Dyslexia” when speaking with your child. You will be surprised at how relieved they will be to know that their struggles have a name and most importantly, they are not alone.
  • Inclusion: Include the child or adolescent in discussions with teachers and school staff around their specific needs (when they get to an age in which they can articulate them). Even if you as a parent are leading the discussion, you are modeling for your child so that they will continue to identify and express their needs later. Bring them to their 504 or IEP meeting starting around fourth grade (this of course depends on the child).
  • Success: Find out what your child loves and allow them to experience success. Do not opt out of activities such as sports or art to do more tutoring, or focus on more academics. Keep your sights on the big picture and keep in mind that experiencing success outside of the academic environment can impact their social lives as well as foster resilience.
  • Technology: I’m not talking about screen time here, but technology is our friend when it comes to support for children with LD. Use the supports available and get your child proficient in speech to text software, audio books (http://learningally.org , https://www.bookshare.org/cms/) and the apps that have been created to make it just a little bit easier.
  • Education: Once a diagnosis is made, it is really important to educate yourself, your child, and those people working with them about their specific learning disability and how it has an impact on their lives. For example, find a list of amazing people who identify with being a Dyslexic learner… this is so powerful.
  • No Excuses: Here is my tough love moment. While Specific Learning Disabilities suck, your child is intelligent and capable. It is totally ok to have a pity party once in while; keep them limited in duration and frequency. Your child needs to know that they are going to have to work harder than most and that is going to make them that much more resilient in the long run.
  • See also the DE-STRESS model 

When we encourage our children to be confident in identifying and speaking up for what they need, we level the playing field in education, and in life.

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Visit my website at: www.nicholscounselingllc.com

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