In my more than 35 years in education, I have taught kids with learning differences (LDs), prepared teachers to help their students with LDs learn, and spent a great deal of time with successful adults with LDs finding out what makes them tick. Perhaps my most meaningful role, however, has been as a father of a daughter with LDs. I learn as much from her as she learns from me.
All parents will tell you that the depth of love for their child is beyond anything they had ever experienced before. Many of you are probably dealing with relationship issues in one form or the other. There are usually ways to work through these issues, but that does not necessarily mean a happy ending. It is my hope that you all will one day experience the joy of being a parent. Being a parent is a learning experience where parents gain valuable insights. My daughter, Chandra, has taught me many good lessons in her 14 years, some of which I will share.
Lesson 1. You are not an LD - or an ADD or a VCFS
You are who you are. LDs do not define you. Chandra is clearly and insightfully aware that she has difficulties particularly with reading and spelling. She knows that she can be distractible, impulsive, and inattentive. But if you ask her who she is, she will not start her reply with “LD” or “ADD”. She identifies herself through the kind of person she is – kind, compassionate, spirited, and sassy, to mention a few characteristics. She may tell you that she is ethnically Indian. If it becomes relevant, she’ll tell you that she is not a good speller or may not be the most organized person in the world. She owns her LDs and knows how to handle them, but she has no need to broadcast this to the world as the primary defining characteristic of who she is.
Lesson 2. Self-awareness might be painful at first, but it is worth it
Although her parents and her teachers knew Chandra had LDs when she was little, I chose to wait until she was in fourth grade to share those terms. She did not like it. She knew that kids with LDs and ADD stick out a little, not something any self-respecting nine-year-old wants to do. I worked with her to de-stigmatize the labels, to remind her that many kids with LDs or ADD grow up to become successful, and to emphasize that these characteristics did not define her as a person. As she has matured, she has been able to own her LDs without being overwhelmed by them.
Lesson 3. Self-awareness leads to adaptive behavior
Stay with me on this; it’s not as complicated as it sounds. As my daughter has accepted and learned about her learning style, she has developed some approaches to school and homework that show her understanding of her special needs (and I mean “special needs” literally, not the euphemism of special education). As I mentioned in a previous blog, Chandra has turned herself into a hard worker, maybe the hardest worker in her class. She knows she will probably not get the best grade, but she will not get the worst. She gets John Wooden, arguably the greatest coach in the history of basketball, who said, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” She has learned tricks of the trade for her studying. Making individual index cards works well for her. She has learned to follow the rhythms of her body and mind. After a summer of not taking ADD medication, she has decided that it helps her in school, and that on some days, a 5 milligram tab of Ritalin before starting homework in the afternoon is a benefit.
Lesson 4. Define your own success
School is not easy for Chandra. Reading, writing, and spelling never will be, and issues of attention will be there for the rest of her life. But she has learned that she can compete in school. That is success by our definition. She feels good about her work ethic and discipline. She should. As I have written, many successful adults with LDs credit their drive, determination, and persistence to a childhood of not having a choice about working hard. Finally, my daughter has found other interests that maximize her strengths, minimize her weaknesses, and that she just loves. For her, that is running, and she even lets her dad coach her. So, I’ve gotta run, literally. In fact, it may be hard for me to keep up with Chandra as she runs on the road to success.
You can learn more about being successful in Henry’s book, Self-Advocacy for Students with Learning Disabilities: Making It Happen in College and Beyond, available from most online retailers. Email Henry at email@example.com or give him a call at 410-857-2525.