The pronouncement that their child is LD can launch parents on an emotional roller coaster, say the experts on learning disabilities.
At first, parents may deny the diagnosis and rush from one doctor to the next, hoping that new tests will produce different results. Then they are likely to become angry, blaming themselves because they didn't parent right and the school system because they didn't teach right and their children because they don't try hard enough.
Bargaining may include the false hope that greater efforts--better parenting or better teaching--will miraculously "cure" a disability that tends to persist to some degree even in adulthood. As the reality of the struggles and obstacles facing an LD child sink in, parents may become depressed.
One mother, who went into counseling to resolve her anger, expressed her feelings like this:
"It's hard to admit, but one of the reasons I wanted a child was so I could feel better about myself. I was ready for a successful and popular child, and I got a son who is always in high gear, doesn't fit in with the mainstream kids and brings home 'D's' on his report card. But once I learned to accept my own weaknesses and strengths, I could accept him and I could help him."
Says New York education therapist Betty Osman, author of Learning Disabilities: A Family Affair (Warner Books, 213 pp., $5.95) and No One to Play With: The Social Side of Learning Disabilities (Random House, 164 pp., $12.50):
"A child has to be encouraged to accept his learning difference as a fact of life that has to be dealt with. Parents may want to hide this knowledge from their child, but he is the first to know something is wrong and his fantasies are usually worse than reality."
Other pointers to parents:
* Be realistic about what you can expect from LD children. "Judge their age not by the number of candles on the birthday cake," says Osman, "but by their level of social maturation."
* Capitalize on an LD child's strengths so that he can experience success in some area, whether it is collecting bugs or delivering newspapers.
* Minimize the disorganization natural to many LD children by creating a structured home environment: Post rules of the house, set up routines such as "put everything you need for school in your backpack the night before."
* Encourage independence and resist the temptation to overprotect an LD child. Children must learn to deal with the natural consequences of their actions.