Voices of the 1 in 5: Guest Post: So often, parents of children with learning and thinking differences feel alone on their journeys. At Understood, we’re building a community to change that.
In the following guest post, Jesse Coulter, mom of three, discusses her own experiences with her son, Turner, and how she navigated starting conversations with family, teachers, and pediatricians to help provide Turner with the support he needs to thrive.
It can be difficult as a parent to navigate how to support your child who has a learning or thinking difference. You want to do everything in your power to help them, but it can feel isolating and overwhelming. Who do you speak with? Who can help? I’m sharing a bit of my journey as I support my son who has dyslexia and ADHD.
My son, Turner, was in pre-K when his teacher let me know he was having difficulty with his writing and the alphabet. I immediately spoke with my sister who was a reading specialist, and she advised me to continue observation. But it was too early to know if he was dyslexic.
When my son started kindergarten, I advised his teacher of my concerns and asked her to let me know if she saw any issues with his learning. After a few months, she communicated that she felt Turner had a learning difference as he was struggling with sounds, reading, and writing. We talked in person and decided to wait until Turner was in first grade to have him officially tested by the school.
Once he entered first grade, I immediately let his teacher know I wanted to have him tested. Texas takes you through quite a few steps to have this done, and the process takes months. After much paperwork and a few meetings, he was tested, and it was confirmed he was dyslexic. As hard as it was to hear that, it also helped to know exactly what he was struggling with.
He was assigned a 504 education plan and began his dyslexia classes with a dedicated reading specialist during the week. He also had additional accommodations, including his teacher reading his test questions and answers.
Once Turner entered second grade, I started to notice a change in his behavior. He became less interested in schoolwork, and many days did not want to go to school. The relationship I had with his teacher and our open communication were key in the following months. She noticed that Turner’s self-confidence was extremely low at school, and she told me he often called himself “stupid.” That broke my heart. And it was a bit surprising because at home he was a different kid. He beamed with self-confidence and was always so happy at home. His teacher was seeing was a completely different side of him — one that I would never have had insight into without her. She also observed that he had a very hard time focusing in class, and that he was distracted easily.
I wasn’t sure what to do next, so I consulted a friend whose daughter has ADHD. She recommended her pediatrician, who was extremely supportive and helpful in their journey. I reached out to the pediatrician, and she provided me with paperwork for Turner’s homeroom teacher and dyslexia teacher to fill out. After the paperwork was complete, my husband and I met with the pediatrician to discuss their feedback as well as our observations of Turner at home.
The pediatrician then determined Turner did have ADHD and walked us through medicated and non-medicated options. We went home and reviewed all the different medications. There is a stigma around medicating children for ADHD, but after researching and having numerous discussions with parents of children who have benefited from medication, we made the decision to put him on a small dosage.
We notified his teachers and we watched for side effects. Within days, Turner’s teachers saw a drastic change in his behavior. He was able to focus and showed more enthusiasm for learning. My heart was full knowing that he was more confident and that this medication could actually help my child. To be honest, I wish we had done it sooner.
Turner just entered third grade, and I’ve spoken with his new teachers and advised them of his learning differences. I discussed the importance of open communication and how positive support in the classroom and at home will benefit his learning journey.
I don’t know what the rest of Turner’s journey will look like, but I know my husband and I will do everything in our power to get him the help, attention, and support he needs.
I’m thankful that Understood has created the Take N.O.T.E.® tool to help parents who aren’t sure where to start when they see their child struggling. Take N.O.T.E.® is a simple step-by-step tool that was developed in partnership with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to help parents figure out if the struggles they’re seeing might be signs of a learning and thinking difference. The four steps are Notice, Observe, Talk, and Engage. (Not everyone’s journey is the same, so these steps may not occur in this order.) The program is designed to track children’s behavior and provide next steps when parents think that their child may have a learning and thinking difference.
These steps on my journey with Turner — Notice, Observe, Talk, and Engage — helped me understand how I could best support him. It can feel like an overwhelming experience for parents who just want the best for their child. But you’re not alone. There is support for you and your child.
You can learn more about the Take N.O.T.E.® tool at understood.org/take-note.
And find more support among other families of children with learning and thinking differences at understood.org.
You can follow more of my family’s journey at Instagram.com/JesseCoulter.