Raising Carly, My Child With A Learning Disability

A guest Blog post by Karen Laughlin, a parent educator at the Exceptional Children’s Assistance Center, the Parenting Training and Information (PTI) Center in North Carolina.

Karen Laughlin and Daughter Carly

Karen Laughlin and Daughter Carly

In hindsight, I may have been a bit over confident when my third child came along. After all, her older brother and sister were happy kids and great students. Yes, Carly was a quirky little girl and she seemed to need more “handling” than I was used to, but we always thought that was because she was our youngest. She was clearly smart, funny, and likeable…except when she wasn’t, but didn’t all kids have ups and downs? This changed abruptly when her third grade class was learning multiplication. While other kids were earning the cherry on top of the banana split on the bulletin board by mastering 9’s and 10’s, Carly couldn’t get past the 2’s and had only a scoop of vanilla ice cream in her bowl. No amount of drilling at home helped, and she came home crying about her almost empty bowl every night. I was at a loss—if working harder didn’t help, what else could we do?

Fast forwarding to the present, Carly is 19 and we’ve known since she was about nine that her brain works differently—she has been diagnosed with both a learning disability in math and ADHD. Over the last ten years, I’ve learned a lot about both of those conditions, about brains, executive functions, and the ups and downs of special education. This all helped me to understand how a learning disability affects much more than learning academic skills, and I’ve used this knowledge to help Carly understand herself and to explain her LD/ADHD to others.

My most important lessons have been lessons of the heart, maybe even of the soul. I’ve learned to dig deeper as a parent and find the patience and understanding that Carly needed so that home could be a safe space after a long, hard, and often discouraging day at school. I’ve learned that there is no “one size fits all” parenting style for kids like Carly, and that I needed to be flexible in my approach to her. I’ve learned that however confusing it is to raise a child who is uneven in her abilities, it is much more challenging and confusing to BE that child every day.

As Carly struggled with so many aspects of high school, I had to confront my own expectations for her future, and to accept that each child finds her own path, and her own sense of timing. There are many good paths, and I am a better person for learning this lesson.

When I asked Carly what I should include in this post, she didn’t hesitate to answer, “Tell them that their kids are trying, even when they wish the results were better.” Did I forget to mention that besides having trouble relating to numbers, my daughter is a compassionate, insightful, loyal, and articulate 19 year old?  These qualities, more than any academic strength, will bring her joy in life, and isn’t that what all parents want for their children?

Karen Laughlin and Daughter Carly
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A parent educator at the Exceptional Children’s Assistance Center, the Parenting Training and Information (PTI) Center in North Carolina.