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LD and Younger Siblings
Q: I have an 8-year-old daughter who is in special education and has been since she was two-years-old. She has a four-year-old sister who is extremely bright. The four-year-old is starting to read and the eight-year-old is not even close. The eight-year-old is just starting to recognize her disabilities and as the four-year-old gets older and reaches goals, I have noticed that the eight-year-old seems to be regressing; she is not trying and seems to give up easily. How do I continue to encourage the four-year-old without completely destroying the eight-year-old's self-esteem?
A: It's really hard for a child with learning disabilities when a younger brother or sister starts to pass them by. It's very important that both of your girls understand what a learning disability is. First of all, your eight-year-old needs to understand that she has a condition that makes it hard to learn, even though she is a smart child. She may find it helpful to attend sessions specifically for children with LD at conferences run by the state or local chapter of the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA). It might also be good for her to be in a group for students with learning disabilities. The guidance counselor in your daughter's school might run such a group, or a psychologist or social worker in your town may do this privately. It might be covered by your health insurance.
Your younger daughter needs to understand, as best she can at her age, the nature of her sister's disability. If she doesn't have a good understanding of the condition, she might find it hard to figure out why her sister is struggling so much to do what she can do so effortlessly. Without this information, she might make fun of her sister or feel sorry for her, neither of which will help. You might try reading a very good book about children with learning disabilities to both of the kids. It's called All Kinds of Minds, and it's written by Dr. Mel Levine.
Your daughter may find some comfort in knowing that many other kids have learning disabilities. If she can meet other students with LD it might help her understand that just because she is having difficulty reading, she's not bad or lazy or "stupid." If she's had a recent evaluation, ask the person who did the testing to explain the results to her in language that she can understand. You might want someone to do this every couple of years, as your daughter's capacity to understand increases with age. A learning disability is a life-long condition; the children who cope best are those who understand what it is and how to be successful, even though they have a learning disability.
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Jerome (Jerry) Schultz is the founding clinical director of the Learning Lab @ Lesley University, a program that provides assessment, tutoring, and case management services for children with learning challenges. Schultz holds a Ph.D. from Boston College, and has completed postdoctoral fellowships in both clinical psychology and pediatric neuropsychology.