The 5 Stages of Accepting Your Kid's Learning Disability

kid worried at school

Just because your amazing child has a learning disability doesn't mean they're any less amazing. But hearing your child's diagnosis for the first time can rock your world ... and leave you feeling confused and guilty. The truth? Your feelings are completely normal -- and so is your child.

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"This planet needs all kinds of minds to survive," says Rita Eichenstein, PhD, a pediatric neuropsychologist specializing in learning differences and author of Not What I Expected: Help and Hope for Parents of Atypical Children. According to Eichenstein, it's common for parents to go through a variety of feelings as they try to figure out what's next for their kids.

Here, the five stages parents you can expect encounter if you get the news.

1. Denial

As soon as hear, you may go into shutdown mode. "It's normal to have a fight, flight or freeze reaction," says Eichenstein. And because your brain's language processing is affected, you may not even think of questions for your child's doctor until 3 am the next morning.

What to do: "Don't stay stuck in a hole of fear," Eichenstein says. "Once you educate yourself about your child's condition, you'll start to become more calm." Find an expert you trust. "And if you don't like the first one you see, get a second or even a third opinion," she says.

2. Anger

Think "Angry Mama Bear." "We're wired to protect our babies," says Eichenstein. Expect your partner to be even more emotional, since this stage hits men harder.

What to do: Boost your tolerance level against strong emotions. "Eat a high protein diet, exercise, get enough sleep, eand pay attention to your caffeine intake," Eichenstein says. Feeling angry should be a temporary reaction to your child's news, "but never tolerate any anger that scares you or your child," she says.

3. Bargaining

Here's where we're prone to think that if we just dig deep enough on the Internet, we'll find a rare herb that cures autism or a neurotraining program that makes dyslexia disappear. As humans, we're prone to seeking out solutions, "but desperate parents will believe anything," Eichenstein says.

What to do: Keep an open mind, but "don't use your child as a lab rat," says Eichenstein. Assemble a crackjack team of therapists, teachers, tutors, and doctors to help your child succeed, then "try their solutions first," she says.

More From The Stir: Why I Won't Allow My Son to Use His Learning Disability as an Excuse

4. Depression

You're stressed, you're scared, you're wondering: Will my kid ever be okay? "Moms tend to blame themselves," Eichenstein says. Even though we shouldn't!

What to do: Cultivate some self-compassion. Don't be so hard on yourself. "Here's where friends can dig you out," says Eichenstein. Venture out of your comfort zone to find a support system of other parents. While no two children's experience will be the same, "sharing with other parents can be emotionally nourishing," Eichenstein says.

5. Acceptance

Finally! You're ready to accept your new reality, even if it's not the one you wanted. And there's a silver lining. "Positive changes tend to follow a crisis," Eichenstein says. You may experience improved relationships, for instance, notice you have increased compassion for others, or have more appreciation for what you have.

What to do: "Don't just sit back in your easy chair and watch TV," says Eichenstein. "Stay integrated and active in your child's life." Talk openly about their learning disorder and continue getting them help. You might even decide to become an advocate for your child's condition -- and help other parents dealing with their news.

How did you feel when you learned your child had a learning disability?


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