So your child was diagnosed with a learning disability. Make a plan forward but live in the present.

(It has taken me a long time to get here, let me give you the shortcuts)

I grew up in a household of academic high achievers. Ivy league graduates. PhD, MD, and JDs galore. Good old fashioned straight-A students. We took for granted that application and hard work would equal results at school.

When my oldest child was in the 1st grade, he was diagnosed with multiple learning differences. I was devastated. (I prefer “learning differences” to “learning disabilities”.) What I saw was a kid that was happy, had lots of friends, and enjoyed school. What his teacher saw was a child who struggled to learn in a “typical” way. This completely did not reconcile with who I expected my kid to be or how I wanted the trajectory of his life to go.

I spent several years in and out of a tailspin. I got angry with my child’s teachers, thinking they were inept. I spent hours going down rabbit holes on the internet related to his diagnoses. I put my son in any support or remediation that I could find — some of which were fabulous, and others that were…less so. I cried about all the things that I could not control and all the things I wished could be different. I’ll admit it, I even got angry at my child when homework or basic academic tasks were difficult for him.

You know what I did not spend enough time doing? Focusing on the present moment and all the positive things about my happy, kind child and our life.

Long story short, I got here. Most of the time, I focus on all the good things happening in the here and now. There are and still will be bumps in the path forward. But when a bump happens, I will once again walk myself through the steps below.

1Allow yourself to grieve. Accept that you need to grieve about who you wanted/thought your child might be. There is nothing shameful about this. The reality is, you do not actually know your child’s ultimate potential yet (in fact, you never did). It can take some time to get through this step. Sometimes you will think you are through this step and then another wave will hit. Allow yourself the time and space to grieve. You need to walk through the grief to get to the acceptance and the action.

2Understand the problem, but focus on the solution. When my child was diagnosed, I spent weeks online, reading everything possible. Familiarizing myself with the issues was good, but I reached a point of diminishing returns. I did not need to read over and over again about what made my child different. What I found lacking online was what to DO about it. It is important to understand the impacts on the way that they learn and their every day life. But the key to moving forward is to focus on solutions and actions specific for your child.

3Make a plan. You understand your child’s struggles. You want to help them. This is when you sit down and spend some time figuring out the near term plan (6 months, the next school year, etc). Triage the issues, and base it on where they are in the present. Is reading their biggest struggle? Look into a tutor trained in Orton-Gillingham, or audio books. Are they having trouble organizing their homework? An executive functioning coach will help. Is anxiety about their situation overshadowing all the other issues? Make addressing their anxiety the priority. The plan will depend upon your child. And understand that you can’t do it all at once, but you can move forward and make a difference.

4 Live in the moment. If you have taken the time to make a rock solid plan, trust yourself and your plan. If you start to worry if you are doing your best to support your child, revisit your plan and the order of priorities. Supporting learning differences is a long game, and you are not going to “fix” everything all at once or, ever. Something will come up that requires the plan to change, all by itself. A new school year, a new diagnosis, a new phase of life will likely require that you revisit the plan. Until that point, accept that you have a solid rationale for your current plan. You are doing your best and focus on the rest. Be open and allow for all the joyous parts of being a parent. Love your child where he is.

What supports have you put in place for your child’s differences and what are their strengths?