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My Daughter Learns Differently From Yours, And That's OK

There are so many misconceptions about children with learning disabilities.

09/08/2017 12:08 EDT | Updated 09/08/2017 12:11 EDT

There seems to be such a stigma around having a child who struggles with school. Everyone sets up the straight-A, teacher's-pet-type child as the ideal to strive for. We sometimes hesitate to share that our child has an IEP (Individual Education Plan) when we meet new people. We are not as forthcoming as we could be in our parent groups and PTA meetings. We want so badly for our kids to do well in school effortlessly, but as I open up more to other parents I'm finding out that while some cruise through school without any hitches, there are at least as many children who are struggling just to get by.

It was in Grade 3 that we finally brought our daughter in for a psych ed assessment. As we waited for the results, I was of two minds. On the one hand I, like every other parent, wanted the results to come back "normal" — "Your child is just a late bloomer, but they will naturally get caught up with their peers over the next few years." On the other hand, what I wouldn't give to have a concrete reason for all the struggles we were having and to have tangible ways to help alleviate that struggle.

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Well, the results came back and we found out that she has a learning disability, more specifically a processing disorder. So there it was. A diagnosis. After a diagnosis and some meetings we were given an IEP. And now we are a family with an IEP.

There are so many misconceptions about children with learning disabilities. Before we had a diagnosis I even believed some of those misconceptions myself, so I want to debunk one of the biggest ones.

Having an IEP does not mean that a child is not smart. In fact, my daughter tested as very intelligent, 75th percentile for intelligence in her age group. So if a learning disability is not a lack of intelligence, then what is it? The way I see it, a learning disability makes it harder for the person affected to get information from their brain to the paper in front of them. These kids often just learn in a different way from how schools teach. They process and share information in a way that is not standard to the education process.

I know that my sweet girl may not ever get As, but I've come to realize that I'm OK with that.

But you know what? Some of the most successful people of all time also struggled with learning disabilities. Albert Einstein and Leonardo Da Vinci, to name just a couple. Both of these people left a mark on the world and have given us such great gifts. Pretty good company to keep, I'd say.

Report card time is often hard for IEP parents. And not just worrying over what the report card might reveal. It's difficult seeing all of the posts on social media of people chronicling their kid's straight-A report cards. I'm not going to lie, it feels a bit like a gut punch when I see those posts. I know that my sweet girl may not ever get As, but I've come to realize that I'm OK with that. I'm OK with Cs if she's worked hard to get them. When your child struggles in school, the actual mark becomes less important to you as long as they've put the effort in. Besides, I'm pretty sure that no post-secondary institution is going to go back and check out their elementary school grades. So the pressure's off. For now.

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How do we cope emotionally with a diagnosis of a learning disability? Well, let me just say that once you start being honest about your child's struggles in school, it opens the floodgates of other parents sharing their concerns about their own child. You feel so utterly alone in this journey until you speak up. Until you stop feeling like it's your dirty little secret. Until you open up to other parents about your struggles. Then all of a sudden we are everywhere. And we're all in this together.

So, take a look around you. That parent standing beside you at school drop off? Her child is being assessed for ADHD. The one in the grocery store line ahead of you? He's wondering if his child has processing difficulties. The parents sitting a few rows back from you in church? Their child has just been diagnosed with dyslexia. We are all around you, but unless we are forthcoming about our struggles we will never know that we are not alone.

As I've gone through this journey I've realized that for every parent that's posting about straight-A report cards, there's another parent who is just trying to muddle through like I am. Like we are. It's time for us to openly share our struggles along with our triumphs. Aren't the triumphs after a struggle that much sweeter? And guess what? They're even sweeter when they are shared with others. Being the only one what has a child who struggles in school is a lonely place. So reach out, Share your stories. Yours might just be the story that someone needs to hear today. What's your story?

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