An Unexpected Gift: Raising a Child With a Learning Disability
As we learned more about our son, it felt like we were unwrapping a precious gift. Each testing day brought new insights into how his amazing brain worked.
As parents, we never want to see our children struggle in school or in life. When we send our children to school we have hopes and dreams for them that we don’t often verbalize. We want them to “fit in”, get good grades, behave, pay attention, have good friends, and enjoy school. Our expectations grow as our children pass through elementary, middle and high school. But what happens when your child begins to struggle academically, socially, or behaviorally at school or in the home?
Our youngest son, Matthew, began grade 2 with enthusiasm and energy, but that quickly faded as the work became more demanding. We began to notice that he had a tummy ache every morning and that he was complaining of headaches. His reading and math skills were not progressing.
His teacher and I became concerned and we began talking regularly. Referrals for Learning Assistance and Speech and Language Assessments were sent out, but Matthew was not considered “low enough” to enter our school’s Learning Assistance program. Yet, Matthew continued to struggle in class.
The symptoms persisted: can’t follow directions, has a hard time focusing in class, works slowly, reads slowly, is easily distracted, and on and on. We knew something was wrong but we couldn’t put the pieces together. We had a giant jigsaw puzzle dumped on the floor with no box top to follow. But we just didn’t know what we were looking at. How could we help him if we didn’t know what was wrong?
We felt helpless
As a mom and dad, we were aching for Matthew. We felt helpless because we didn’t know where to start. Being trained as an elementary school teacher, I felt frustrated that we would have to go outside the school system to have Matthew assessed. What I was not prepared for was how God turned this whole situation into a beautiful gift.
At first, both Ken and I struggled with a million questions. Would Matthew succeed in school? What does all of this mean for his future? How can we help him? Did we do something to cause this problem? How is he going to feel? Why does it have to be Matthew that struggles? However, after extensive testing through an educational psychologist, a speech and language pathologist, and an audiologist, a wonderful picture of our son began to develop.
A precious gift
It was as if we were unwrapping an incredibly precious and rare gift. Each testing day brought new insights into how Matthew learns, how he takes in and processes information, and how his amazing brain is able to compensate for weaknesses in one area by developing other areas.
Through much dialogue with the professionals involved and his teachers at school, we were able to bring to the school some concrete ideas that when implemented would make a world of difference for Matthew, and probably other children in the class. As a teacher, I have always looked for different ways to engage students in the learning process. I recognized that each child brings to the classroom differing learning styles, but through this process, I was blown away by the incredible detail God designs into each of our children.
Our children are a wonderful gift from the Lord, and it is in His infinite wisdom that he creates our children uniquely. I will never read Proverbs 22:6 the same way again. “Train a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not turn from it.” Every child can succeed if he/she is trained with their unique style in mind. They can succeed in school, in relationships, in their spiritual life and in their family life.
Here are 10 ways to support a child struggling in school:
1. Remember that God has specially chosen you as your child’s most important teacher.
You are their first and most important advocate in the school system they are in. You are capable of communicating vital information with those who will teach and interact with your child. And, of course, you know your child the best.
2. Build a great relationship with your child.
Take the time to talk to your child regularly about what is happening in school. When you have an open line of communication, concerns, struggles and stress can be identified early. When an area of concern becomes known, you have a natural forum to begin to process it with your child. A great relationship takes BOTH quality and quantity time.
3. Become a student of your child.
Take a front row seat in the life of your child and learn about their personality, their learning style, how they deal with stress, their strengths, and their preferences.
4. Build good communication with your child’s teacher.
Do not wait to bring concerns to the teacher. Early intervention into learning issues is to your child’s advantage. There are many amazing teachers in the system, who are more than willing to partner with you in helping your child succeed. Excellent communication between home and the school can alleviate a lot of your child’s stress.
5. Listen to your instincts.
If you feel your child is struggling, gently but firmly pursue assistance for your child. (Remember, honey catches more flies than vinegar.)
6. Make sure your child understands and knows their strengths.
You continue to help your child build confidence and the ability to take risks when they are encouraged and supported in something they are good at. Consider things like team or individual sports, music, art, etc.
7. Build a network of people around you who can provide information, strategies, and support for you and your child.
It is amazing the connections you will make once you start asking questions and talking about your concerns. Many professional services are covered by extended health plans.
8. Pray, pray, and pray some more.
Pray that God will give you the necessary insight and wisdom to help your child succeed. Believe me, some days prayer was the only way I could hold it together. Pray that God will bring the right people into your child’s life.
9. Communicate regularly with your spouse.
It is critical that you are both on the same page when it comes to your child’s development. You both need to know what is working, and what is not.
10. Learn from your child.
Learn to see life from their perspective. Matthew has taught us how to look at the simplest of things and to be able to admire the color, the shape, or an interesting detail.
There were so many blessings wrapped up in this unexpected gift that God gave us. The first recognizing Matthew as a unique individual. Through the reports we got, the individuals involved in testing and assisting Matthew, and his teachers, we were given specific and vital clues to tap into the way that Matthew learned and processed information. Now that we are using strategies that match Matthew’s strengths, he is flourishing. He has found new wings and is once again taking risks in learning and in social situations.
The second gift is that Matthew’s stress level has come way down. The first day he went back to school after the results of the testing came in, he did not want to go. He was worried, he was feeling stupid and he was frustrated. I explained that what was happening to him was not his fault; he was not dumb. I expressed to him his strengths and explained that there was part of his brain that needed to catch up to the rest of him. I told him that his teachers knew what the problem was and that they wanted to help him. He looked at me with tears in his eyes and said “Mom that’s perfect; I don’t have to worry any more.” (My eyes were not dry either.) He walked out the door and I have not heard another word about him wanting to miss school.
Sharing our journey
Lastly, God has brought so many people into our lives with whom we’ve been able to share our journey and suggest some good resources to. Matthew’s teachers have been absolutely amazing as well. I have called one of them Matthew’s personal angel for the past year. I am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that God places people into the lives of our children at critical moments.
It has been a year of both challenge and blessing and I don’t believe our journey is over yet. We will keep unwrapping this precious gift that God has given to us. Some days it seems like Matthew has to work harder than any of our other children to accomplish normal school work, and other days his imagination and creativity just shine. I can hardly wait to see what God has in store for him in the future. I’m sure I will be amazed at how God is able to use all of this for His glory.
Used by permission of FamilyLife Canada. Copyright 2003.