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New Year Reflections on Parents of Kids who Learn Differently

Posted: January 29, 2015

January New Years Blog - 2015
by Elizabeth Corsale,  MFT
Pathways Institute, San Francisco, CA


I have been reflecting on what I’ve learned from the many parents of kids with learning and attention differences I’ve met this past year. Here are some of the things I’ve learned:

1. Seeing your child or children struggling to learn can be traumatic.

Parents don’t often realize they have experienced trauma, which can be defined as the psychological, physical, neurological and emotional experience of a bad thing or things happening that you have absolutely no control over, such as having a child that cannot learn to read.  It’s not your fault,  but you as parent cannot change it, even though you do have to address it.  Parents have also been exposed to secondary trauma: their child’s trauma of going to school day after day and failing. 

Parents need tremendous support to understand it’s normal to experience it as traumatic, and to tell and retell their trauma story as many times as they need to integrate the experience into a deeper understanding of themselves, their kids and the world around them.

2. It can be harder and often painful for these parents to let go of their kids and let them have the expected ups and downs of life’s experiences. 

These parents saw their kids fail at inflexible educational systems starting in preschool and they have honed their parenting protective instincts to include constantly stepping up to help their kids. Therapists, teachers and advocates need to honor this instinct in parents and not alienate parents by calling them codependent or overprotective.  

Parents have to be supported to let go little by little.  Often it helps to set their expectations and let them know they are going to feel anxious, they may slip grabbing back control, doing for their kids what their kids are ready to do for themselves and they can expect to have some grief when they do let go. It is so important to keep encouraging parents; slowly they will learn their kids are going to to be okay and they are going to be okay.  And it really is okay for parents to feel okay.

3. Parents need to be encouraged to talk to other parents going through the same kinds of experiences.

This can be hard because these parents are so often overwhelmed and feel like they can’t spare an hour or two a week or month to take care of themselves in this way.  Again the approach needs to be gentle and encouraging.  Let them know the world won’t fall apart if they join a group, talk to a therapist, go to the gym or go out on a date.

4. Parents of kids with LD are often the most compassionate and understanding people I have ever met. 

They don’t shy away from life’s painful or scary experiences.  They are often first to celebrate the successes and joys of life. They experience profound psychological and spiritual transformation.   They understand that “life happens” and they need on-going encouragement and support to figure out how to stay resilient so they can stay healthy, happy and whole for themselves, their family and community.

5. They often have a wickedly fierce sense of humor.  Thank goodness!  They need to call on it daily!

6. Many often give back, such as all the amazing people who work and volunteer at Parents Education Network.

It is a great honor to work with the parents of kids with learning and attention differences.  I am lucky to learn so much from them about how to keep going in the face of extremely challenging circumstances.  These lesson go well beyond learning and attention differences - they apply to all kinds of hardships and losses one will face in the course of a lifetime.  And finally, these parents are deeply humble as they almost always say their challenges are nothing compared to the challenges their children who learn differently face daily.

If you are parent and reading this now, give yourself an internal high five for making it through another year and being an inspiration.  Wishing you a very wonderful and Happy New Year!

…...Give me the strength to lead the way
Send me the words I need to say
Use me to guide them day by day
This is a mother's prayer….
by Melissa Manchester