Five Difficult Feelings Parents Have About Their Child’s Learning Disability

Often children get diagnosed with learning disabilities after some amount of time of difficulty at home, in nursery school, or in public school.  Parents or teachers have recommended an evaluation. The report comes back with a description of how your child learns and participates in the classroom as well as in social and family situations. A good report points out strengths and weaknesses and gives useful recommendations about how to be helpful to your child in and out of school.

Sounds good, right?  With a good evaluation, report, helpful educators and therapists children begin to do better and even thrive.  I want to focus on what parents experience when they confront their child’s difficulties, such as ADHD, a specific learning disability like dyslexia, Asperger Syndrome, nonverbal learning disability, or something else entirely.

Instead of feeling relief that they are at the beginning of remediation, many parents feel some uncomfortable feelings.  In my work as a Parent Coach I find it important and rewarding to give parents a place to acknowledge and come to terms with these feelings.

Shame:  Let’s face it—parents often feel that their children’s accomplishments reflect on them.  It hurts to find out that your child has an invisible difficulty that is interfering with her education and likely her friendships as well.  Even if you requested testing because you suspected a difficulty, most parents still hope to find out that there’s no problem and just a simple adjustment in school or life will help.  Maybe just an after school tutor.  Now that you know that there is a problem that can be managed but not necessarily be fixed, you might feel ashamed, as though there is something wrong with you that your child has a learning disability.

Anger:  I think that people tend to be more aware of this one.  Many people feel angry at school personnel for not understanding their children and causing unnecessary pain.  And one can be angry at your child (even if it isn’t rational) for having a problem that makes daily life more complicated.

Sadness:  This is a big one, especially when parents first get the news that there is a problem.  It is sad to accept that your child has a problem that will not go away.  This difficulty will probably affect your child’s life in some degree forever.  It changes the future for you and your child, and you need to rewrite the family narrative.

Fear:  What will the future look like?  I have often had parents sit with me and ask, “Will she be able to go to college?” “ Will she ever leave home and have a job?”  Often when children are struggling enough that people get an evaluation, the child may look very impaired.  After all, there are probably no services in place.  As a result, parents worry that things will never change or get better.  They have no experience with this new world of parenting a child with a learning disability.  With the people I see, I tell them that they just need to keep working to get their child the services she needs and not to give up on a bright future.  It will be a different future, but it does not need to be bleak.

These are uncomfortable feelings that are a normal part of coming to terms with your child’s learning disability.  It is helpful to accept the feelings as you move along to advocate for your child.  In next week’s blog I will talk about ways parents can take care of themselves to manage these feelings and become effective advocates for their children.


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Photo Credit:  Keltron (So far behind,  I’m in front of me!)


8 Responses to “Five Difficult Feelings Parents Have About Their Child’s Learning Disability”
  1. JoAnn Jordan says:

    It is difficult to separate ourselves from our children having needs which we can’t meet without assistance. The label is helpful and sometimes limiting. Expectations (our own, the child’s, the specialists) can be set based upon that label. Personally, I think we all have an area of special ability and an area of weakness. The challenge is to look at the abilities and the strengths and use those as a point to build upon.

  2. dr.cstone says:

    Dear JoAnn,
    Thanks for your comment. I like your point of view. I have long thought that “special education” is a misnomer. It’s all education, right? And so true–we all have areas of strength and areas where we need help, just some more than others.

  3. I’ve definitely seen parents (and caregivers for my elderly clients) experiencing all of these emotions, as well as shame and guilt about feeling these emotions. We wrap ourselves in knots, don’t we? Thank you for giving permission to feel these difficult emotions in difficult circumstances.

  4. dr.cstone says:

    Hi Rachelle,
    Thanks for your comment and the reminder that there are many complicated situations in life that lead to these feelings–and the shame and guilt about the feelings. My next blog talks about ways to cope with the “knots,” as you say.

  5. Carolyn,

    I think that naming these feelings and reminding all of us that they are normal is incredibly helpful. When we name the feelings, we open avenues to healthy coping and to managing the shame and guilt. Thanks for being part of that process.


  6. dr.cstone says:

    Thanks for your comment. It is very helpful to people to understand that they aren’t alone with these feelings. Stay tuned for the next blog about finding help in community.

  7. Hi Dr Carolyn! Another nice post about families with special needs. It is very healing to identify these feelings and then learn good coping mechanisms. thanks for your insights. take care, Kathy

  8. dr.cstone says:

    Dear Kathy,
    Thanks for your kinds words. The first step is to acknowledge and accept the feelings (as with any challenge).