What Every Parent Should Know About Learning Differences

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Learning Differences

Twenty-four hours past deadline and I’m meeting friend for coffee. Don’t look at me that way. It’s not like I haven’t tried. I started days ago. I’m so many hours into staring at this screen I’m embarrassed to total them. And, yes, if you need to know, I DO count every moment spent “liking” back-to-school photos as part of the process.

All day Tuesday I got nowhere. Wednesday, I got up at 3 a.m. to have this in my editor’s inbox when she arrived. I took my kids to school and opened the file again — and still nothing. Oh, I wrote some words. I wrote all the words I needed to fill a post. Then I did us all the gigantic favor of sending them to the trash.

Sometimes you need to walk away.

I went out into the perfect sunshine of this day with the leaves just starting to turn at the tips, and sat down in a little café where I drank an Americano and spent two hours talking to my friend — and I did not feel bad about it. Not one bit. OK, maybe a little bit. OK, a lot.

This is your brain on ADHD.

Sometimes, no matter how badly you want to do something, your brain just isn’t on board. It doesn’t matter that you’ve taken the meds. It doesn’t matter that you know the work is due. Somewhere inside your mind, there’s a switch. You don’t control the switch, you don’t have access to the switch, you can’t touch the switch. Until the switch flips on its own, you will get nothing done.

Don’t bother willing it to flip. It’s not moved by your desire.

If you have ADHD, you know that this is how it works. This is truth. If you don’t have ADHD (lucky, lucky you!), but your kid does, it’s essential that you understand.

Telling me (or him or her) just to focus is exactly the same as telling me to take out my contacts and see. I can’t.

Except on the days that I can. (Not see without my contacts, I can never see without my contacts). Some days, I can work, no problem, though. I just sit right down and bam. I know. It confuses me, too.

This is another truth about ADHD, about all learning differences. Some days are better than others.

Some days I read slowly and remember nothing, and reverse numbers in my head and generally just get things very, very wrong. That’s my visual perceptual disorder at work and maybe a hint of dyscalculia. Some days, I’m OK just like you.

Think that’s frustrating to parent, try living it. We expect consistency. We believe if a child does something once, it’s proof that he is capable of doing it always.

Wrong. This is not how brains with processing differences work. It just isn’t.

Learning differences are tricky.

Sometimes they look like laziness. But they aren’t. If your kid’s grades don’t reflect his smarts, pay attention.

The hallmark of learning disabilities is a gap between intelligence and achievement.

The refrain of every parent-teacher conference my mom attended was: “She’s really bright, she just doesn’t apply herself.”

Nobody wants to fail. Not me, not you — and especially not kids. Trust me, she is applying herself. It just may not look the same as you applying yourself.

If your 3rd or 4th or 7th or 9th grader, the kid who was always a fabulous student, is suddenly falling apart in one subject (or all of them), he may have a learning disability. Learning differences that never had an impact can suddenly become apparent when the workload and expectations become heavier.

Do not ignore these signs.

If you think something is off, trust your gut.

Request an evaluation through your school district. Put it in writing. Public schools are legally obligated to test (and provide special education services for) any child with special needs within their boundaries, even if the child goes to a private school.

Not all evaluations are created equal. Schools can use multiple diagnostic tests — and not every test identifies every disability. If you don’t believe the results are accurate, request or contract an outside evaluation.

Don’t be afraid of labels. Trust me. Lazy, sloppy and careless are far more damaging tags than visual-processing disorder, dyslexia or ADHD. Labels don’t limit kids, inaccurate judgments do.

Learn to advocate effectively. Your kid needs you. Getting schools to provide the services and accommodations that she’s entitled to receive takes a very specific language. Learn how to advocate effectively. Check out Wrights Law (www.wrightslaw.com).

Accommodations are forever. My oldest niece graduated with a Ph.D. in neuropsychology last month at age 27. (Way to go, Bethany! You rock!). She had the same accommodations in graduate school that she’d had in middle and high school.

Learning differences and ADHD do not mean your child has no future — but they are forever. We don’t outgrow them. They are always a challenge. We can learn to cope with them and we can often compensate for them, but we cannot make them disappear.

Forgive us if our coping sometimes looks a lot surfing Facebook when we are supposed to be “working.”

I swear, we are applying ourselves.

Photo credit: Getty Images

More from Holly Goodman

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Summer is Long, Pace Yourself: How to Survive Your Tween’s Summer Vacation

On Kids’ and Independence: Are We Parenting to Our Kids’ Past Instead of Our Present?

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