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When a Child Has a Learning Disability: The Parent's Grieving Process

Grief about a child's learning difficulties can sneak up on you. Find out how to process your feelings and use practical strategies for coping.

By Ann Christen, M.A., M.F.T.

It's nine o'clock on Wednesday evening. You've just barely managed to get your seven-year-old off to bed. You collapse in a chair, overcome with frustration, exhaustion, and a nagging feeling that something's wrong. Why does a simple math worksheet take three hours of work with your child?

You've just returned from a parent-teacher conference for your ten-year-old. The teacher suggested that your son might need testing and special help at school. His reading scores are really low, and he's fallen behind his classmates. In the pit of your stomach you're afraid, and yet you've suspected this for some time now. You're not really surprised at what the teacher said, but it's still hard to hear it spoken aloud.

Your eight-year-old daughter climbs into the back of the car with a scowl on her face. When you ask her about her day at school she responds tearfully and says that all the kids tell her she's stupid, that she hates school, and she's never going back. You struggle for something helpful to say. The ride home is a long one, and you're filled with feelings of guilt, sadness, and confusion.

It May Be Grief

If any of these situations seem familiar, you may be experiencing grief, a normal response to finding out that your child has learning disabilities. When someone dies you feel grief, but it also occurs as a response to any significant loss and gives rise to many different emotions.

Whenever there's a loss of hopes and dreams, whenever you confront the reality that "something is different, something is wrong" with your child, you experience grief. Feelings of shock, guilt, anger, depression, blame, and denial are common.

Coping with a child's learning difficulties involves many things, from testing and special help at school, to management techniques and accommodations at home. You spend so much time caring for your kids, ensuring that they have everything they need that often you forget to take care of yourself.

What You Can Do to Cope?

To cope successfully with child with LD in the family, remember that you have emotional needs as well. Whenever sadness or loss overwhelm you, accept those feelings and find a way to express them.

  • Talk about your feelings to a relative or close friend who's a good listener.
  • Join a parent support group, and share with others who may have similar experiences.
  • Participate in an online community.
  • Save some special time for yourself, time when you're not taking care of anyone else.
  • Accept that you're not to blame for your child's learning disabilities.

When you let yourself grieve, you can begin to heal and refocus on all of your child's wonderful qualities. You can appreciate her unique and special talents and accept her as she is.

Take time to enjoy your child, and remember to take care of yourself, too.

© 2008 GreatSchools Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally created by Schwab Learning, formerly a program of the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation


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