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Talking with family about your child's learning disability

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

Talk with siblings

Talking to the brother or sister of your child with LD may be the hardest job of all. Siblings often feel jealous of all the extra attention a child with LD needs — extra help on homework, tutoring, time spent at school — and may be quick to express anger or make comments that can hurt. Parents have to balance the demands of all their children, not just those with special needs.

When speaking to a sibling, consider the age of the child, use language that's easy to understand, and speak positively and factually. Reassure all your children that each one is special and loved and find ways to show them you mean what you say. The structure and positive discipline that help kids with LD function better can benefit all kids in the family. So have routines apply to everyone, and that way no one will feel singled out or left out!

Dealing with denial

You may feel sure a certain family member loves your child. So why can't she understand his special needs? You may gain insight if you ask yourself some questions about the person who's in denial.

  • Is she afraid for your child? Does she find it too upsetting to think about the problem and how it might affect your child's chances for success?
  • Does she feel guilty because she wasn't sympathetic enough to your child's struggles in the past?
  • How was she brought up as a child? How were individual differences recognized and addressed in her family?
  • Did she have trouble learning as a child, too? Since LD often runs in families, will she now have to face her own problem?
  • Did you overwhelm her with too much information? Some family members don't need to understand every detail in order to help.

If your spouse or partner denies the problem, it can put distance between your child and him. Your child may feel rejected if a parent accuses him of being lazy or stupid. Or your spouse may blame the problem on your family or your parenting skills. Either of these reactions can have a harmful effect on your child and your marriage.

If your spouse can't accept what you're telling him, perhaps another family member or a trusted teacher could help him understand. If communication about your child's problem doesn't improve, consider professional marriage and/or family counseling right away.

Once your spouse seems receptive, help him learn what LD is and what it is not. When he seems ready, help him discover ways to get involved.

As you reflect on possible reasons for each family member's reaction, you'll think of better ways to approach each of them. For instance, if your mother sometimes cares for your child after school, she may want to know some basic tips for helping him with his homework. But explaining your child's Individualized Education Program (IEP) may overwhelm her.

Remember that you had to work through your own feelings — some of them painful — to face your child's LD. Allow family members time and space to work through their feelings, too.

Kristin Stanberry is a writer and editor specializing in parenting, education, and consumer health/wellness issues. Her areas of expertise include learning disabilities and AD/HD, which she wrote about extensively for Schwab Learning and GreatSchools.