As a queer person with a learning difference, I often wonder how different my schooling experiences would have been if I’d felt safe being myself. Being queer has become more accepted in society. But that wasn’t the case in the early 2000s. I was frequently teased and bullied. As a kid, I spent so much time trying to fit in.
It took time for me to see that it was impossible to change the parts of me that felt “unacceptable.”
Having a learning difference on top of my LGBTQ identity added an extra layer of confusion. My peers and even some of my teachers thought that I was less smart because of my executive function challenges. I experienced my gender differently from most of the boys in my class. Both realities made me want to hide from the world and stay silent. So I did.
If someone had told me it was OK to just be me, or if I’d been affirmed in my identity sooner, things might have been very different. I would have participated in classes more eagerly. I would have made more friends. And I could have formed a better support system.
Being queer and neurodivergent was difficult for me growing up. But it didn’t have to be so hard. The right support can make a huge difference.
Here are three ways you can support queer kids with learning differences:
- Listen closely — and be patient. Kids aren’t always able to express why they feel certain emotions. Asking open-ended questions and helping kids name emotions can help kids organize their thoughts and get to the bottom of difficult feelings.
- Affirm feelings. You might not automatically understand everything your child is going through, and that’s OK. Validating kids’ feelings, even those that might be confusing (or that might seem overblown) is key to helping your child feel heard. For example you could say “That sounds so hard.” Or “That made you feel really upset.”
- Be a safe space. It’s even tougher for kids to get to the bottom of what they’re feeling when they don’t feel safe. Kids who are queer and neurodivergent often worry, like I did, that they won’t be accepted. Make sure your child knows that you accept and affirm their whole identity. Sometimes, creating a safe space can be as simple as saying “I love you exactly as you are and I’m here when you need me.”
The adults who supported me — and the ones who didn’t — really made a difference in my life. I know firsthand just how important it is for adults to support queer kids with learning differences. Feeling supported and validated not only boosted my self-esteem but also helped me feel confident in my skin. And for me, that’s what mattered the most.
Learn more about ways to support LGBTQIA+ kids who learn and think differently.