I didn’t know much about ADHD, dyslexia, or auditory processing disorder (APD) when my daughter was diagnosed with all three. I had a hard time understanding her challenges. And explaining them to others wasn’t any easier.
I wanted my daughter to feel confident talking about her learning differences. But how could I help her with that when I didn’t fully understand how to do it myself?
The more I understood about learning differences, the more able I was to talk to my daughter about her own. I learned how to do it in a way that made her feel proud of her differences rather than ashamed. But it took hard work — from both of us.
My daughter, now 12, is comfortable speaking up about her learning differences. She wants to be accepted for who she is. And she knows she deserves to be. Here are four ways we helped her get ready to have these important conversations.
1. We found community.
Connecting my daughter with kids who also had learning disabilities was the first step. We believed she would feel better — and do better — if she was part of a community of kids whose struggles were similar to her own.
There are many ways to find a community. Some schools have lunch or afterschool groups. Neighborhoods often have playdate groups for families of kids with learning differences. And there are online groups you can join to meet other families. But we were lucky enough to have another option. We were able to move her to a private school for kids with learning disabilities.
At first, we wondered if we’d made the right call. But after school one day, my daughter told me how great it was to know other kids with dyslexia. She no longer felt alone and was now embracing her differences. She was even talking about them with her friends. My husband and I knew it was the right move.
2. We silenced the shame.
My husband and I wanted our daughter to know that she was just as smart as her peers. And that her learning differences were not a weakness. Over time, we saw that reminding her of this truth made her feel more confident and comfortable opening up about her challenges.
Normalizing her experience wasn’t easy at first. But practice makes perfect. And now as a family, we’ve all gotten used to talking about the strengths of her neurodivergent mind and how it works. We always praise her efforts in school far more than we praise the grades she receives — no matter what they are.
3. We modeled positive self-talk.
My daughter used to say things like “I’m not smart.” Or “I feel dumb around my friends.” Instead of brushing aside her negative self-talk, I’d listen to her and acknowledge her feelings. And then I’d point out all the qualities that made her special.
I also was careful about not being so hard on myself in front of her. Instead of criticizing myself for making a mistake, I’d acknowledge it and then try again. Seeing how I handle failure and get right back on track has helped my daughter to keep her cool when she’s struggling.
4. We role-played scenarios.
It may sound silly, but we act out real-life situations with my daughter. For example, we rehearse what she should say when she meets new kids at birthday parties or social gatherings. We talk through any worries she’s having ahead of time, so she can feel more supported and prepared.
Of course, we can’t prepare her for every scenario, but we’ve found it helpful to discuss as many as we possibly can. For instance, a few of her friends were teasing her for spelling a word wrong on the whiteboard at her dance studio. It hurt her feelings. We told her that if it happens again she could say that spelling isn’t her thing, but that at least she’s a great dancer.
I’ve learned that no matter how hard I try to protect my daughter, there will always be some people who just don’t understand her quirks. That’s the reality. But I also know that making sure she feels safe and supported — and knows I’m always here to talk if she needs me — goes a long, long way.
Listen as a mom shares how her daughter’s diagnosis changed her parenting. Get tips on how to talk to your family about your child’s learning differences.