How to Talk to Your Child About Learning Challenges

Open communication makes a world of difference. If you are talking about learning challenges with your child, you are doing things right. If you haven’t, you should know the most worrisome moments often arise before the conversation begins. Addressing learning challenges honestly and early may improve your child’s academic performance and self-esteem.

Be Excited To Talk About Learning Challenges

Talking with your child is the first step to understanding and addressing their learning challenge. However, Groves Academy understands that starting the conversation might be difficult. It could delve into tough topics like classroom struggles, self-confidence, and even social challenges like bullying. There may also be concerns about the unknowns: What will these talks reveal? Will my child be labeled? Could this negatively impact their educational opportunities? All of these thoughts are normal but should not dissuade you from beginning the conversation.

We advise parents to start talking about learning challenges early and include your child’s voice in the conversation. Be sure you hear and consider what they are saying. Successfully addressing learning challenges requires honest, ongoing communications where parents or families listen, learn, and improve.

Here are seven additional tips for discussing learning challenges with your child.

1. Begin With Your Child’s Strengths

Build up your child’s confidence before you rush into concerns about their learning challenges. Talk about their strengths, what they do well, and areas of life where they have repeated success. These could include subjects in school, activities after school, relationships, hobbies, and more. The purpose is to establish that your child is impressive in many ways. A learning challenge doesn’t change that. It only means they need different supports in certain areas.

2. Identify Where a Learning Challenge Might Exist

As much as possible, depending upon your child’s age, involve them in the process of identifying learning challenges. Discuss the things that are causing concerns and offer evidence. Your examples could be in the form of teacher feedback, how long it takes to complete assignments, grades, or other insights. Ask your child what challenges they experience. You may not agree on every aspect, but it’s important you both agree the situation can improve by working together.

3. Advocate for Support

There are multiple ways to improve student academic performance. Most start with being an advocate for academic support. If your child is old enough, encourage them to self-advocate with teachers, counselors, and school staff to get the help, attention, and resources they need. The need to self-advocate is significant if a student has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 Plan. It’s essential they know what supports are at their disposal and use them as needed. If your child is too young to self-advocate, model advocacy for them. Show them how and explain the process so they can do it on their own behalf now and in future years.

What other things might you or your child advocate for? The options could include diagnostic testing that leads to an IEP, 504 plan, or perhaps a specialized school or tutoring program. Short of that, you can pursue after school support with a current teacher, traditional tutoring, study groups, and other academic supports. Even improving sleep habits, diet, and adjusting when your child does their homework can positively impact academic performance. Make a list and include your child’s ideas. This brainstorming of ideas is a time of collaboration.

4. Become Knowledgeable Before Sharing the Diagnosis

Groves Academy provides evidence-based diagnostic assessments in order to determine whether academic difficulties are rooted in a learning disability. Knowing if your child has a learning disability can make all the difference in successfully supporting their learning needs.

Having a learning disability may mean your child’s brain takes in and makes sense of information differently. Therefore they need an individualized approach to understand, retain, and employ specific lessons. Your child can learn; the teaching and learning process just needs to be adjusted.

If a diagnostic assessment does reveal a learning disability, discuss this diagnosis thoroughly with the psychologist. It’s helpful to become as informed as possible before approaching your child with the diagnosis. You should also ask the psychologist to suggest books, reputable websites, and YouTube channels to deepen your understanding of the learning disability. You don’t need to become an expert, but you should be able to answer your child’s questions when discussing the results. Your ability to do so will help your child feel more confident and comfortable.

Receiving a diagnosis may be a powerful moment that often provides a great sense of relief. It may shed light on past academic struggles and help to explain ongoing learning challenges. A diagnosis reinforces that a student isn’t struggling because they are bad at school. Their challenges may be rooted in a defined learning disability that can be supported with the proper teaching methods.

5. Keep a Learning Disability Diagnosis in Perspective

A learning disability diagnosis is not life-changing; it’s brain explaining. The diagnosis helps your child understand how their brain works so they can adapt their learning habits moving forward.

When discussing a learning disability, use its official name. Encourage your child (if old enough) to do research. Discuss neurodiversity with your child. Also, ask your child to explain things in their own words to see how well they understood the diagnosis.

Then, give your child time to absorb the news. They will likely seek ongoing conversations. During these talks, reinforce what the diagnosis does not change: all of your child’s talents, interests, loves, strengths, and capabilities. The diagnosis won’t affect any of that; it will only improve those things identified as challenges.

6. Create a Plan of Action

It’s time to discuss your child’s options like an IEP, 504 Plan, individualized tutoring, specialized school, etc., and what’s expected of them.

Let them know things may get much better in and out of the classroom. Be upfront that these improvements will take work. You and your child will need to invest effort if the academic supports are going to be effective. Academic improvement is an ongoing, collaborative process, and the work will pay off. Having a learning disability doesn’t mean your child can’t learn something. It means they may need to learn it differently than neurotypical peers who don’t have a learning disability.

It is helpful to show examples of success to make your child’s goals feel attainable. Often, learning disabilities are genetic. Look for examples of family members with the same learning disability and show how they have succeeded in life. Or, look to notable inventors, artists, scientists, actors, and other famous people who achieved great heights while also sharing the same learning disability.

7. Your Community Can Be a Support System

Learning disabilities are common and nothing to hide. For example, dyslexia exists in up to 20% of the population. While it’s a highly personal decision, you may want to let other people know about your child’s diagnosis—especially those who interact with your child. These people could include teachers, coaches, instructors, mentors, extended family, and others. Parents are often amazed at how much support their community can provide. It could be beneficial to capitalize on their resources, connections, knowledge, and other supports.

Turn Learning Challenges Into Successes

It’s never too early to discuss learning challenges with your child. It’s a part of who they are and how they learn. But, don’t forget the other parts of their life too.

Continue talking about all the other positive things in your child’s life. Favorite shows, new friends, upcoming vacations, or hobbies. Not every conversation needs to include their diagnosis. Your child is so much more than a diagnosis. Celebrate every part of their world.

If you’d like more advice on talking to your child about a learning challenge or seek a diagnostic assessment, contact us at the Learning Center at Groves Academy.

Groves Academy is a nonprofit educational organization with a clear purpose. Everything we do, we do with the goal of transforming lives through education. Through scientific research and decades of experience, we are changing the way learning and literacy are taught and helping improve the lives of students with learning disabilities and attention disorders. From our school to the Learning Center at Groves Academy, we support neurodiverse learners.

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Meghan Miller | Director of Speech-Language Pathology, ADHD Certified Educator - M.S., CCC-SLP, ADHD-CE
Meghan has been working as a Speech-Language Pathologist since 2014. She is licensed through the Minnesota Department of Health, certified through the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA), and a Certified Educator for ADHD. Meghan started her career working with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and, through that work, found an interest in literacy instruction. As the clinical lead of the speech-language department, Meghan conducts speech/language assessments, develops curriculum focused on executive functioning and writing, collaborates with classroom teachers, and provides one-on-one and small group therapy to support students in reaching their full potential. In addition to providing services to students, Meghan has presented at the national ASHA convention, University of North Dakota, and at Groves as part of the Community Workshop Series.
Jenn Ehalt | Psychologist - Psy.D., LP
Jenn provides clinical assessment of learning and attention concerns as a member of The Learning Center's Diagnostics Team. After working as a therapist in college counseling for 8+ years, Jenn is excited to engage in full-time assessment as a way to help younger students proactively identify learning concerns, embrace their neurodiversity, and more readily access resources that will help them as they grow. Prior to working at Groves, Jenn was a full-time therapist in the Counseling Center at Gustavus Adolphus College for eight years. She worked with students experiencing a wide range of mental health concerns, including but not limited to depression, anxiety, adjustment and identity concerns, grief and loss, and disordered eating. Jenn is a member of the Minnesota Psychological Association. Her Favorite Book is "Crime and Punishment" by Fyodor Dostoevsky.
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