HomeLearning DifficultiesFamily Support

How learning disabilities affect family dynamics

Page 2 of 2

By Betty Osman, Ph.D.

This story illustrates two points: The first is that parents, most frequently mothers, are the first to suspect that a child is "at risk" for learning, even before he enters school. They may not know to whom to turn for advice, though, particularly if their concerns are summarily dismissed by pediatricians, grandparents, and neighbors as merely "the anxious parent syndrome." The second point is that just as children need readiness to learn to walk and read, some fathers need time to accept and deal with the reality of a child's learning disability, particularly if they had similar problems when they were young. It is almost as if they were reliving those difficult years through their children — and it's painful.

As we know, family members are interdependent. It is a parent's response to a child as well as the child's qualities and traits that contribute to the personality of the family. Yet too often, parents blame themselves, attributing their child's difficulties to their inept or inadequate parenting. In reality, children are born with temperaments and personalities that contribute to their interactions with each of their parents — and their siblings, as well.

Just as teachers modify classroom curriculum to accommodate children with special educational needs, parents can adjust family life to enhance a child's self-image and strengthen the family system overall. To begin this process, parents need to become consumers — to educate themselves about the nature and manifestations of their child's difficulties. Merely knowing that a child or adolescent has "LD" is of little help to anyone.

On the other hand, specific information about what the child can do and where problems are likely to occur will foster understanding and acceptance. I have seen many parents who acknowledged that in their ignorance, they were angry and even punitive with their child before identification of the problems, attributing behavior to laziness, resistance, or even defiance. However, once informed, they were able to share the burden with their child with LD, understand and accept the feelings of their other children, and educate members of the extended family. Everyone benefits!

Comments from readers

"The biggiest contributor to family disharmony isn't the disabled family member.Its the inability of those in the family who aren't disabled to recognize the fact that the person that they begrudingly accept is disabled at the expense of everyone elses conduct but themselves.My sister has yet to grasp the concept that my very presence wasn't a preordained scheme to devalue or undermine her place on the family tree.My sister had twins after I had my first child and having endured brain damage and wasn't suppose to live its pretty miraculous that I'm a father today.My sister doesn't see it that way she sees it that I one upped her again.The sad residue to this petty and competitive nature is that my son won't see his cousins."