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Anne Ford's memoir: The pain and joy of raising a child with LD

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By Anne Ford , Linda Broatch, M.A.

Q: Accepting that your child has a learning disability can be very difficult, even now.

Anne Ford: Yeah, I spent years in denial and it certainly wasn't very helpful. I think that parents should - they have to go through some denial - but get over it as soon as possible because it doesn't do you or your child any good. There have been great strides made in the area [of understanding and accepting learning disabilities], but there's still a long way to go. I mean, certainly in the area of public awareness it's been great and in early diagnosis. I know the National Center [NCLD] has developed a screening tool for very young kids, three-year-olds, to pick up any signs that they might have trouble in reading. So, in that area, I think they've made great strides.

But in other areas, I think that these kids have a hard time and are continually being called lazy and stupid. And that bothers me a lot. I mean there was an article in the New York Times two or three Sundays ago [April, 2003] in the education section about a mother who's going through the same thing today that I went through 20 years ago. And that is discouraging.

Q: You started out as a concerned parent and, over the past 15 years, have become a national spokesperson on learning disabilities. Was that a comfortable transition for you?

Anne Ford: No, I mean, I was very uncomfortable in the beginning. In fact, when Carrie Rozelle, who ran NCLD before me when it was still a foundation, asked me to take over as chairman, a couple months after I'd gone on the board, I said to her, "You must be crazy. I can't even stand up at a birthday party and say, 'Happy birthday'." I mean, I was so terrified of public speaking that I said to her, you know, "I'll take this job on one condition, that I never, ever, ever have to do any public speaking and that I never have to run a board meeting because I'd have to stand up and speak in front of the board and I couldn't even do that."

So she said, "Okay, that's fine. We'll work around that, and you'll never have to do any of that." And then like a week after I took over as Chairman they sent me up to Fordham University to speak in front of 2,000 people and welcome the late Senator [Patrick] Moynihan. So they threw it right at me. But for a couple of years, I was just terrified. And I still do not like to give speeches. I wasn't at all prepared for the job I took on, but I'd like to think I grew into it. I loved, loved my work. I loved every aspect of it.

And I didn't mind actually talking about Allegra when I was in front of LD organizations because I knew that they understood what I was talking about. The book is a lot deeper than that. It goes into Allegra's life and my life much more than I've ever talked about in public.

Q: One of those deeper issues for kids with learning disabilities is the whole area of social skills and friendships, which you talk about in your book.

Anne Ford: Yeah, and people don't realize. To me the social side of a learning disability is much worse than the other because not knowing how to get along in life outside school is a big problem for these kids. And it's all because they don't understand the rules of the game a lot of times.

Her friends were all adult friends. Her two [longtime] friends today, one is Ali Halpern; she's five years older than Allegra. She lived on the street that we lived on in New York. And she has been her best friend and is wonderful with her. She is not learning disabled. The other is Hillary Braverman, who was a skater, too. She is 37 and she is learning disabled. They're still friends. Hillary's actually married with a baby now.

Hillary's mother and I became very good friends, and that sort of helped the friendship between Allegra and Hillary, too. And she knew exactly what I was talking about. I knew what she was talking about. She and Deborah Harris were actually the only friends I had who had a child with a learning disability. But most of the time, [parents of kids who don't have learning disabilities] don't know what you're talking about, and you can't build your friendship on that.

Linda Broatch has worked for many years in nonprofit organizations that serve the health and education needs of children. She has an M.A. in education, with a focus in child development.