By Ann Hansen
As parents of children with learning differences, we know we have our work cut out for us. Raising confident, responsible kids often seems impossible as we wipe away their tears of frustration while they stand on the sidelines watching their peers accomplish goals seemingly unattainable to them.
My eight-year-old son Nolan is dyslexic. It’s difficult to watch him struggle because he always tries his best. As I think back on my own childhood, I remember being very much like him. Maybe that’s why I put so much effort into finding ways to buffer the challenges he encounters. I try to show Nolan (a born pessimist) the positive side of every situation. For example, I’ll say:
I also find timing is of the essence. If Nolan isn’t attentive, we set his work aside until he’s more “on the mark.”
Nolan is talkative, over-sensitive, and has a difficult time adjusting to change because he’s very anxious. Although tall for his age, Nolan is immature socially and physically. This zaps his confidence. However, these traits don’t detract from his outstanding work ethic and creativity.
We allow Nolan “space” to entertain his interests. Right now it’s plumbing -- you read it right -- plumbing! He spends countless hours digging up the yard and installing copper pipes in every direction. He loves it, and he’s proud to impress his friends with his endless knowledge of plumbing supplies. My husband Kevin is a pipe fitter, so Nolan’s interest has a family connection. On weekends, they review Nolan’s hand-drawn blueprints. They solder and install pipes, then they test the final job. Our home is usually in disarray, but allowing Nolan to succeed at anything is well worth the small inconvenience. I believe he enjoys plumbing because no one judges his work. After all, don’t we all need a little of that freedom?
Nolan prefers his father’s company when they’re fishing or tackling a job around the house. But I’m Nolan’s companion of choice when it’s time to do homework or if we just need quiet time. He tags along with his older brother, Drew, but also enjoys the company of his younger cousins.
You don’t need to spend a fortune to entertain your kids. During the winter we’re outside as much as possible enjoying physical activities like sledding, hiking, and ice-fishing. Warm weather brings opportunities to camp, swim, or float down a nearby river. I believe keeping active reduces stress levels and teaches the importance of healthy living.
Our entire family enjoys “down time” spent outdoors. And for Nolan, it’s a needed respite from the effort he puts into his schoolwork. Nolan loves to explore the outdoors. In fact, he often entertains his classmates and teachers with stories about his “finds,” such as an old fishing lure, a snail shell, or a sighting of a migratory bird.
I realize Nolan’s education is important. It can’t be the sole focus, though. If it were, we’d all be depressed. A friend of mine who also has a son with a learning difference keeps asking herself, “Why did this happen to my son?” My response is, “If you truly feel that way, think about how a parent of a child with leukemia or cerebral palsy feels.” Having a learning difference is life-changing, not life-threatening.
When I reach the end of my rope, I try to consider things may not be as bad as they appear at the moment. Nolan’s struggle may last a lifetime. It’s important to take things day-by-day and not become overwhelmed by thoughts of his future.
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