Talking to teachers about your child’s learning disability is not always easy. Disclosing a learning disability that is not visually apparent such as Dyslexia, ADHD, or Dyspraxia can be scary. Myths about how disclosure might negatively impact your child may make you want to back down, but being clear with teachers about your child’s special needs can make all the difference. When a disability goes unspoken a child may feel like something is very wrong with them. Communication between parents and teachers makes the disability real and supports the child.
Here are seven things you can do to effectively communicate with a teacher about your child’s learning disability:
- Educate yourself: Before speaking with teachers, educate yourself about your child’s learning disability. When doing so, allow yourself the emotional space to cope with the fact that your child has a learning disability. It can be difficult news for a parent to hear. If you don’t manage your own anxieties and feelings about the matter before you move into action, you might misunderstand what your child really needs, which could prevent you from advocating effectively for your child.
- Approach the Teacher: Ask the teacher for a private conference and disclose your child’s disability to the teacher. Remind the teacher that the information is confidential. Explain that you are informing them of your child’s disability to ensure your child’s school performance is not impacted. If medication is being taken, inform your child’s teacher about specifics like side effects and duration.
- Listen to the Teacher’s Response: Some teachers will confidently tell you what happens next. Knowing that your teacher can handle this type of situation will allow trust to build between you. If the teacher does not respond helpfully, or seems unfamiliar with how to support learning disabilities, it might mean you need another school administrator’s support.
- Observe Your Child: Sure you see your child every day, but now put on your new glasses. Observe your child armed with the new information you have about their disability. Watch your child at home and in school to see how your child does during transitions, art activities, structured activities, while playing with others, or in a busy environment. Keep a journal of what you are seeing and check in with the teachers to confirm you are both observing similar things.
- Consider Accommodations: Once you know under what conditions your child performs best, you can work with your child’s teacher to make accommodations in the areas he needs more support. Some common accommodations include: more time during test taking, sitting towards the front of the class, having a quiet space to complete assignments, or having someone sit with him longer to explain things. Write down the things you are trying so you don’t forget. If they don’t work, you’ll want to try something new. Make sure you collaborate with the teacher on types of accommodations, as they may have new ideas and insights.
- Observe Again: Don’t wait too long after the accommodations have been placed to observe your child again. How are they responding? How are your child’s peers responding to your child now? What’s working and what’s not? Is the teacher seeing the same thing?
- Check-ins: Continue to check in frequently with the teacher about how your child is responding to the accommodations. Often parents get caught up gathering information about a child’s grades. In the case of a child with a learning disability, it’s important to discuss how a child is responding to the accommodations specifically.
When communicating with a teacher, the most important thing is collaboration. If you don’t feel like you and the teacher are communicating effectively, bring in other school officials to help. Having a learning disability doesn’t mean your child cannot do well in school. Give him the extra attention he needs initially and he will feel the rewards for years to come.
Patricia O’Laughlin MA, MFT, ATR provides psychotherapy services to couples, adults, teens, tweens, and parents. She has a private practice in Los Angeles, CA and specializes in the Psychology of Parenting. Patricia believes psychotherapy can help mothers and fathers find balance, and that coping with life’s demands can be easier. Visit her website, www.patriciaolaughlin.com or www.therapyforparents.com, for more information about how to talk to your child’s teacher when your child has a learning disability – and about her practice and her blog.