A common issue that many parents ask about is when they should tell their children about their differences. There is no single answer and each family may take a different approach. Particularly after having their child tested, parents want to know how to talk to their child about the results. This article represents one parent’s version of how they handled this issue.
Reprinted from Kveller, October 14, 2014, written by Samantha Taylor:
When my very bright son’s grades started to plummet, we decided it was time to find out what was going on. In an attempt to help him, we subjected him to a sleep study, neurological exams, academic exams, and psychological testing. At the same time, Joey was struggling with skills for the standardized tests, so he was taking multiple practice exams and being pulled out of class to work with a reading specialist.
He was patient, and handled them all like a champ. Occasionally he’d ask about the testing. We’d give him a simple but truthful answer, and move the conversation along by talking about Minecraft.
After a few weeks, his questions started to change. Instead of asking what the tests were all about, he started to ask if there was something wrong with him, or if he was different than the other kids in his class. I noticed his self-esteem wasn’t doing so hot, and at homework time there were tears. He started to call himself stupid.
When my husband and I got the results of the testing, we were pretty surprised.His scores were off the charts high for memorization, spelling, and math. However, his scores for reading comprehension, specifically language processing, were extremely low. The team at school decided that he would benefit from 90 minutes per week of language therapy with a Speech and Language Pathologist.
On the way home in the car, it hit me. We need to tell him the results. His ego is deflated, and it shouldn’t be. He’s 9, and doesn’t need to know all of the specifics, but this kid has gifts. He needs to be reminded of that. He also needs to understand that he has a deficit, and he’s going to get help for it.
After consulting a mental health counselor (who had worked with us before) I was prepared to tell Joey all about the test results. My husband and I practiced the language we would use. This was a delicate situation; we wanted to handle it properly.
I wanted Joey to know that this conversation was special, so my parents came over to watch the other kids. My husband and I got in the car to take Joey to his favorite Italian ice place and have the talk. On the way there Joey asked if he was in trouble, what we were going to talk about, and why his brother and sister were staying at home. I didn’t want to have the conversation in the car. The way I had prepared was to talk to him face to face.
We got our desserts and sat down. The talk went something like this.
“Joey, the reason we are here is to explain all of the testing you’ve been going through. We want you to know that we got all the test results, and thought we’d share them with you. You have an amazing memory. Your math scores were at the 6th grade level. Your spelling scores were at the 9th grade level. You have an amazing brain. There’s one thing you need help with. When your brain reads something, sometimes it has a hard time understanding what you’ve read. That’s why you’ve been pulled out of class to work with the reading coach. Now you get to work with another teacher to help you get better at that skill. This is just like someone who needs glasses to help them see better. You are an amazing kid with an incredible brain, and we just wanted you to know that. Do you have any questions?”
“Nope,” he said, in between bites of cherry ice.
“Really? You don’t have anything to ask us?
“Nope, I’m good,” he said.
My husband gave me that “let it go” look. So I did. I let it go. The conversation quickly moved onto Minecraft.
That night as I was tucking Joey into bed, I just couldn’t help myself. I asked him again, “Did you have a chance to think about what we talked about this afternoon? Do you have any more questions?”
“No,” he said. “Thanks for telling me. Do I have to take anymore long tests?”
“No, Joey,” I said. “That’s all done.”
“Cool, goodnight Mom.”
Sometimes I forget that he’s on his way to becoming a young man. He’s turning 10 next month. We can no longer expect that he’s not going to be curious about anything out of the ordinary. From now on, I’ve learned to keep him in the loop from the beginning. The thought that he assumed he was dumber than the rest of his class because of the excessive testing breaks my heart.
There comes a time when you realize your kids aren’t babies anymore. I’m going to start talking to him like the little man that he is slowly becoming before my eyes. With parenting there’s always room for improvement, and there’s always room for Italian ice.
Your child has become more difficult to manage, has fallen behind in school, or is finding it impossible to make or keep friends. You know something’s not quite right, but everyone keeps telling you it’s just a phase. She’ll grow out of it.
But that niggling feeling remains.
“Is my child…normal?”
It’s a tricky question and may not have a right or wrong answer. Over the years, the definition of normal has shifted. Children whose parents and teachers once labeled them “lively” or “quirky” or “daydreamers” now receive diagnoses of ADHD, autism, or other specific conditions.
Dr. Allen Frances, the author of Saving Normal, is battling against the surge of diagnoses that seem to be growing with each edition of the Diagnostic Manual. The most recent edition, DSM 5, was just released in May, and was met with some criticism due to the increase of some diagnoses and removal of others. He maintains that some labels seem arbitrary and that human behavior is diverse, colorful and… human.
He may have a point. Today, experts estimate that 12% of school-age children and as many as 20% of teenage boys are diagnosed with ADHD. The number of school-age children who may have a learning disability is estimated at around 20%, and 1.5% (a number that’s growing) are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
No wonder parents are getting more and more terrified that their kids may not be “normal.”
Here’s the quick answer to that earlier question: No one is truly normal.
There’s no such thing as a “normal” child. We’re all — children and parents alike — “magnificently flawed”, as Anne Lamott notes. Cultivating compassion and self forgiveness are important components to working through our perceived flaws. While we inherently try to forgive our children and make excuses for their difficult behaviors or struggles, the question remains: is something wrong? Is my kid going to be ok?
The challenge for today’s parents is recognizing when your child’s behaviors or abilities are different enough from those of other children that it impacts his life in a meaningful way. And some conditions need to be identified early because early intervention can be so important for a great many children.
And, some conditions may make it more difficult for your child to progress through school, at least with his self esteem intact.
So how do you know your child is in this category?
3 Signs That It’s Time to Check Things Out
If you’ve experienced any of these situations, you might want to consult with a specialist to ensure your child’s future success:
1. Your gut tells you something’s wrong. Your doctor keeps telling you, “Wait and see.” Your friends keep reassuring you that “He’ll grow out of it.”
But you still feel, deep down, that there’s something different about your child.
I’ve seen many kids over the years in my professional capacity, and many of them have had a mom (or dad) who refused to ignore that kernel of doubt. That gut feeling kept them pushing for an answer, even when others told them their kid was fine.
Teachers may dismiss your concerns in the hope that, in time, your child will catch up. Don’t let them dissuade you from seeking help if you have doubts. Early intervention can make a big difference in your child’s life, both now and in the future. Trust your mommy gut!
2. Your child frequently comes home discouraged, hates school, or makes statements like “I’m dumb.” Kids are more astute than we sometimes give them credit for. They can see the academic hierarchy of their class and figure out where they stand in relation to their peers.
If your child is consistently distraught about school, starts becoming school-phobic, or is so socially awkward that she’s avoided or ostracized by other kids, it’s time to get her some help. That help starts with a professional evaluation to rule out (or start a treatment plan for) learning disabilities or other conditions.
3. A teacher or other caregiver has suggested an evaluation for your child. Note to parents: Teachers really hate to identify kids as having a problem. With their heavy workload and so many other kids to worry about, they’d much rather hope for the best and move students along.
No teacher wants to carelessly worry a parent, so a recommendation for evaluation by your child’s teacher should be taken seriously. Find out exactly why she believes your child needs help. If you choose to hire a psychologist for your child, these details may help with his or her analysis.
Above all, don’t ignore the signs or your own feelings. Getting help for your child early on may make all the difference in his success in school and beyond. In future blogs, I will talk about different avenues of professional help.
Have you ever wondered if your child is normal? What did you do to get help for your child? Please share your story in the comments below!