Sharing the Diagnosis, Self-Advocacy Skills

Why Share the Diagnosis with Your Child?

Understand Their Learning Profile

When a child (and a person of any age!) has an opportunity to understand how their unique brain processes information, learns, and remembers, it is like a mystery hidden deep within is finally revealed to them.

Understand Cause of Learning Challenges

When a child learns that there is a scientific reason for why some areas of ‘learning’ and ‘doing’ are challenging for them, they feel huge relief to discover that they are not ‘dumb’ or ‘just not trying hard enough’. They can separate the Learning Disability or ADHD from themselves and stop blaming themselves.

Discover Strengths & Aptitudes

A psycho-eductional assessment also reveals where their natural strengths and aptitudes are. This can give them the confidence to adapt their approach to learning and to explore new areas of interest.

Empower Your Child as a Learner

Psychologists make recommendations to families and school staff about specific strategies they can use to remediate or compensate for the student’s learning difficulties and also strategies that can be used to capitalize on their strengths. School staff, families, and students can use this information to develop an Individual Program Plan (Learner Support Plan).  All of this information empowers the learner to take control of their own learning and be more likely to meet their potential.

How To Explain the Diagnosis To Your Child

Use Language at Child’s Developmental Level

Words used to discuss a Learning Disability with a younger student will be different than those used with an adolescent. Be sure to use words the student can understand and pronounce and have the student repeat it back to ensure understanding. Only give as much information as you believe the student can handle.

Discuss at the Child’s Pace

It does not all have to be discussed in one sitting but rather may come up spontaneously in response to situations that occur at home or at school. It will be a process for the child  to understand his or her unique learning profile. For children who may struggle to accept their difficulties, professional counselling may need to be accessed.

“Demystify” the Diagnosis

Demystify the diagnosis by clarifying and correcting any misinformation (i.e., that they are “stupid”).

Emphasize Strengths

Emphasize strengths so that the weaknesses or challenges do not become the prime focus. Be sure to let the child know that they can learn, but may learn differently in some areas. When discussing strengths, give concrete examples and avoid false praise. When discussing weaknesses, provide a specific number to prevent the child from feeling overwhelmed.

Normalize the Diagnosis

Make it clear that everyone has strengths and weaknesses. It can be comforting for the child if parents and others discuss their own personal challenges and how they approached the challenges in a constructive way.

Be Positive

Provide this information in a positive and open way. Be sure your child knows that they have a support system available to help them succeed, and that they can ask questions about the diagnosis without fear of judgment.

Advocating for Themselves

After assisting your child to understand their disability, then your eventual goal is to help them advocate for themselves. This will be an ongoing process that will evolve as they mature and develop greater self-awareness. Here are a few suggestions for developing self-advocacy skills in your child or young adult.

Practice Communication Skills

Practice communication skills. This includes teaching about providing appropriate eye contact when speaking, how to ask for help, and how to be properly assertive in making a request.

Give Child Words to Explain his Disability

No matter the age of the student, it is important that they can describe their disability in easy-to-understand language. For example, “I have slower processing speed, so I need more time to complete assignments, but I will get it done.”

Individual Program Plan Meetings

Involve students in meetings with teachers and parents regarding the development of the students’ Individual Program Plan (Learner Support Plans), as well as for transition planning.

Strategies and Accommodations

Parents and teachers should discuss with the student the strategies and accommodations that can be put into place for them and the reason for each. For example, “You can use the assistive technology, Text-To Speech, to help you read your social studies textbook.” Over time, students will have a good sense what strategies and accommodations work well for them and advocate for themselves.

Post-Secondary Accessibility Resource Centres

For older students attending post-secondary education institutions, prepare them for meeting with the Disability/Accessibility Resource Centre. More information can be found at School and Learning; Post-Secondary.

Ask for Help

It is important not to downplay the fact that they will still likely experience frustration in their school or work environment from time to time. Reinforce to them that if they are feeling anxious, distressed or overwhelmed, to ask for help.
Help may be in the form of greater academic support, through the school or outside tutoring. Emotional support, such as counseling, may be needed at different times in their lives. If they develop the tools to cope with stressful situations, they will become more resilient. Resiliency means the ability to cope with challenges and stressful situations in one’s life.