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Monday, January 13, 2014

How to Deal With Relatives Who Don’t “Believe” in Learning and Attention Issues

From NCLD.org
The National Center for Learning Disabilities

By Dr. Laura Tagliareni
January 5, 2013

“Oh, it’s only a stage. He’ll grow out of it.”

Have you heard that line before? Or maybe you’ve heard a relative whisper to someone about you, “She has such a hard time controlling that child.” As a psychologist, I’ve been asked many times, “Aren’t boys supposed to be rambunctious?”

These comments or any form or disapproval or disbelief from another parent—let alone from a family member—may feel quite disheartening, particularly when you know the facts about learning and attention issues and the other person may not.

When you get these kinds of comments, take a deep a breath and try not to be defensive. Instead, try to talk with your mother or whoever is doubting you. Keep in mind this person may be coming from a well-intentioned place and may not want to see flaws in your child. Sometimes generational differences can be a factor. Issues like ADHD may not have been as well known or as widely discussed when you were a kid.

There may also be an element of denial. Maybe your child reminds your mother of her own learning challenges or perhaps she feels guilty for not recognizing that one of her kids was struggling with learning difficulties. Sometimes it’s easier to blame your parenting skills than to try to understand your child’s challenges.

You may never know why your mother doesn’t believe you. Regardless of the reason, here are some suggestions on how to move forward in a way that will be most helpful for your child.

Try to Establish Common Ground

Many people aren’t very familiar with learning and attention issues. Try to relate to people who are skeptical by talking about when you first learned about these things: “I didn’t know much about learning issues or ADHD when I was growing up. The only boy I knew who had a learning challenge wasn’t in our class for most of the day, and I recall seeing one class in the basement for children with special needs.”

Then, talk about how much has changed since you were a kid. Today schools try to keep children in regular classrooms as much as possible. Researchers know a lot more about the best ways to teach kids with learning and attention issues. There are even special schools popping up that are just for kids with dyslexia and other language-based learning issues. Explain that pediatricians now know ADHD is very common. A recent study estimated that 11% of children in the U.S. has been diagnosed with it.

Try to reassure your mom that these advances in science and technology are good things. They’re helping kids who a few decades ago might have slipped through the cracks and suffered in silence or been mislabeled as a bad student.

Explain that learning and attention issues are not a sign of low intelligence, and mention a few famous people who have learning and attention issues, including Oscar-winning director Steven Spielberg (dyslexia) and singer Beyoncé’s sister Solange Knowles (ADHD).

Bring in Reinforcement

Offer to take, for instance, your mother to the next meeting with your child’s doctor, teacher or learning specialist. It might be easier for her to accept information that’s coming from a neutral party. You can also encourage her to read about learning and attention issues online.

Keep the Focus on Your Child

Remind your mom or anyone else who is doubting or undermining you that the best thing for your child is to feel loved and supported. No child would ever choose to have learning or attention challenges. There’s also nothing you or your mom could have done to prevent this from happening to your child.

Stress the importance of your mother’s role in your child’s life, how much influence she has and how much your child will need her love and support as he grows up and becomes more self-aware of any learning differences.

Explain that when it comes to ADHD or learning differences, there is clear evidence that families who embrace a child’s strengths and weaknesses have a higher chance of bolstering self-confidence and self-esteem than families who are not as supportive.

Lastly, make clear that with the right kinds of help, your child can be happy and successful. Talk about how learning and attention issues are formal medical conditions. Just as your mom wouldn’t ignore a child with diabetes or a broken leg, she needs to take these seemingly invisible disorders just as seriously.


Dr. Laura Tagliareni is a pediatric neuropsychologist in New York City and a clinical instructor at NYU Langone Medical Center. She works with children and adolescents facing a broad range of developmental difficulties, complex medical conditions, emotional challenges, and learning differences in her private practice. Areas of expertise include comprehensive neuropsychological and psychoeducational evaluations, individual and group therapy, bereavement and educational guidance and advocacy.

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