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Learning Disabilities and Your Child — What You Need to Know

Dr. Meg Meeker

Dr. Meg Meeker

I’ve seen countless patients with learning disabilities come through my practice. I know the stress their parents feel. I know the stress they feel. Having a month dedicated to raising awareness about learning disabilities helps normalize them. As diagnosis accuracy improves, more and more parents are discovering their child has a learning disability or, as author and parenting activist Debbie Reber puts it, is “differently wired.”

Debbie Reber’s son Asher was four years old before they started thinking seriously about seeking a diagnosis for his behavior. She knew he was gifted intellectually, but he also had intense tantrums and difficulty regulating his emotions. He was diagnosed with a sensory processing disorder and ADHD among other things.

While on the journey with her son, Debbie realized she desperately needed support from other parents with similar kids. She felt alone in trying to figure out how to best parent Asher. This is why founded started TiLT Parenting, a podcast, and a community for parents of differently wired kids.

Her book Differently Wired: Raising an Exceptional Child in a Conventional World, greatly impacted me and my understanding of children with everything from learning disabilities to ADHD to autism. I recently interviewed Debbie on my podcast and you can listen to our full conversation here.

Debbie strongly believes differently wired children are exactly who they are supposed to be. They are not broken. And once parents realize this and are able to really get to know who their child is, everything changes for the better for the parents and the child.

Debbie has so much wisdom to share, and I strongly recommend listening to our full conversation on my podcast, but below are my top three takeaways from our conversation. If you are the parent of a differently wired child, I hope these encourage you. If you know someone who is the parent of a differently wired child, please consider sharing this with them and learning from it yourself. We could all use more understanding in the area of children with learning disabilities and ADHD.

1. Expect possibility, not limitation.

One of the most common mistakes parents of differently wired children make is limiting their child’s abilities. They limit their own expectations of their child and are quick to think of all the things their child can’t do instead of what he can do.

As you learn about who your child really is, focus on his or her possibilities. Debbie calls it using  your “strengths-based lens.” By focusing on your child’s strengths, rather than his limitations, you will not only give your child confidence, but it will improve your relationship with him because he will know you believe in him.

2. Be OK with parenting your child differently.

Parents try hard to treat each of their kids fairly, but when you have one child who is differently wired, you must parent her differently. She has different needs and learning styles. Debbie homeschooled Asher for six years because she knew he wasn’t getting what he needed at conventional school. It wasn’t a part of her plan, but it’s what worked for him.

Stay open to alternative learning methods for your child, expect her to need therapy—you may have to experiment with several different kinds until you find the right fit—and be patient. The path is not always immediately clear for a child with a cognitive disability.

3. Get support.

One of the toughest issues parents of differently wired children face is feeling inadequate and worried that they’re doing something wrong. The best thing you can do for yourself and your child is to find another person with a similar child and ask for help.

Parents with the same struggles can offer great tips, particularly if they’re older than you are. Parenting a child who is different from others brings emotional and physical stress. Find someone you can turn to for emotional support. A great place to start is Debbie Reber’s podcast and community TiLT Parenting. She couldn’t find the community she needed, so she started one herself.

Again, I highly recommend listening to my full conversation with Debbie here. If you are the parent of a differently wired child, know you are not alone. If you are not the parent of a child with a cognitive disability, use this month as an opportunity to educate yourself so you can better support your friends and community.

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