Talking to Your Child About Their Learning Disability

talking to child about learning disability

My child has a learning disability. Should we talk about it? Should my child know? 

In a word, yes! Choosing the best time, place, and words will depend on your child’s age and situation, but being open and honest helps everyone! 

If you recently learned your child has a learning disability or challenge, take as much time as you need to process your own thoughts and feelings first. Parents describe this time as a mixed bag of emotions- including relief that the problem has a name and possible solutions, worry about the future, eagerness to learn more about what it all means…and more.

What your child needs most from you is to be reassured that he or she is loved, accepted, and capable. You are a team and will work together to figure things out, just like always!


Tips for talking to your child:

  • You may be feeling some pressure to get everything just right or to have all the answers today. No one does! Your child will feel and remember your love, tone, and attitude long after any memory of the exact words.
  • A formal invitation to sit and talk may be right for your older child; younger children may respond best to a more casual approach. Bring up the topic when the mood is relaxed and comfortable. You can even join whatever your child is doing and play together while you talk. 
  • Use words that they can easily understand.
  • Has school been hard lately? This is often the case. If you’re not quite sure how to begin, simply say or acknowledge that you see how hard they are working and want to help. Ask your child how things at school have been feeling lately.
  • Remind your child that they are still the same person with all the same wonderful qualities. However, the adults, teachers, and helpers now have much more information about how to help make learning better and easier than it has been.
  • Having a learning disability means that the learner’s brain works or processes differently. Instead of making a general statement about thinking differently, try using a more specific example from your child’s school day. For example: When you see a new word, your brain works differently than what happens when most kids read, and you need help remembering which sounds go with which letters. 
  • In most cases, the child does have some awareness of learning differently than some other children. Unfortunately, many very smart children incorrectly assume they are dumb, stupid, or just “bad at school” if they aren’t given a better explanation or reason. If your child’s disability has a specific name that helps describe why things feel difficult, don’t be afraid to use it! 
  • Leave space for questions. Some children will ask many questions, and some will ask none at all. Either response is okay! Encourage your child to think about it and ask questions another time.

Finally, try to avoid gearing up for one “big talk” – think of this as the start of an ongoing open topic of discussion. There will be many more opportunities as you learn and grow together!


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