I am the mother of two extraordinary children, ages 10 and 13, who experience learning differences and attention issues. When we started out on this journey, we were scared and so was our daughter. We had little information to go on, as the diagnosis was unclear because she was so bright and was “performing just under grade level”. We found that although 1 in 5 children and adults experience learning differences, very few families were willing to discuss these topics for fear that their child would seem flawed in some way or that they would be perceived as bad parents. The first few years were very lonely and frustrating. I have a strong desire to change this perception. I truly believe that unless we start talking about these topics openly, the environment for LD children, their parents and the professionals who work with them will not allow any of us to reach our true potential. When I looked for resources in my state, I was astounded at how lacking they were. 20% of the population has learning and attention issues and the organizations dedicated to this population were sparse at best.
Early on, I noticed my daughter’s confidence slipping quickly, she became the victim of bullying in elementary school and found peer relationships a real struggle. Her anxiety was preventing her from sleeping through the night. I was told by the school that my anxiety was the cause. It’s true, I was anxious. I saw this intelligent, creative, free spirited girl slipping away and being replaced by a child I no longer recognized. What mother wouldn’t be anxious about this?
As a family, we don’t believe in complaining, we believe in getting things done. I joined the board of the PTA to see what I could learn and facilitate in our community and worked with the school to implement an anti-bullying curriculum and bring in a speaker on aggression among young school aged girls. I signed up to coach Girls on the Run, a nonprofit that educates girls about social and emotional issues, teaches them about reaching goals and culminates in the group running their first 5k race. The experience was fantastic for my daughter and for myself. Today, she runs track at middle school, is a driven student and an excellent self-advocate. It was a very bumpy road, sometimes it still is, but we as a family are in a much different place now. Over the years I have learned what questions to ask and how to ask them, what skills my children need to know to be successful that are not taught in school and when to get really creative to get the resources my children need.
My son’s experience was quite different. He was diagnosed early on, had the right supports and resources when he started school and has always performed at grade level despite his many challenges. I suppose the education we received from my daughter’s experience paved the way for him. I also believe that teaching him mindfulness meditation from a young age has had a profound effect on his experience.
A few years ago, I was invited by a friend to start a special education group in town to bring more resources and education to the community regarding the educational and emotional needs of children with disabilities. Although the group wasn’t solely focused on LD and ADHD, we were vigilant in bringing in speakers to explain the special education process and topics such as executive function, anxiety and bullying. For each workshop, hundreds were in attendance, yet no family would discuss the learning challenges of their particular child. The stigma around this is so debilitating to us all.
I later was accepted to a fellowship for leadership in neurodevelopmental disabilities. There, I made the decision to leave my corporate marketing career for good and put my experience to use by marketing for non-profits supporting children with disabilities and later organizations supporting public schools.
This journey has been so powerful for all of us. I would have never learned the things I have about myself without this experience. My children are strong, resilient and mindful. They have the traits they will need to succeed in life but these gifts are all hard won and will not be available to them unless they foster these skills every single day. But like I said, we don’t believe in complaining, we believe in getting things done.