Raising A Family 'Of Different Minds'

Identifying your child with learning differences rocks a parent’s world. What exactly do these “differences” mean? What does this mean for our family as a whole? How do I help my child succeed in a school that doesn’t cater to him? How do we help him help himself as he gets older?

Amid these challenges, family life can begin to center around the “problem” child at the expense of other children, or even the spouse.

CW: From the marriage perspective, how does parenting a family with such diverse learning styles affect the relationship between parents? 
Maren: Well, you have to remember that either one or both of the spouses are possibly undiagnosed learning differences themselves. So they will have a lot of issues that they’re going to be bringing to the table. One being, do they really truly process what’s being said? A lot of times it looks like, “Hey, you’re not listening to me. Pay attention to me.” And a non-learning-different spouse, you don’t understand that they might have auditory processing [problems], you think, “Oh, he doesn’t love me” or “She’s not paying attention to me.” So if you [don’t] understand that that might be a problem, then that could be a really big issue.

Typically, the divorce rate among this population is huge because either spouse will go one of two ways. They’ll either say, “I’m out of here, I don’t want to deal with this,” or they’ll say, “Okay, they’ve got a learning difference and I’ll be patient and I’ll go the distance.” And that’s what you hope will be the case but it’s not always the case. So again, you have to communicate and you have to make sure that if you’re the non-learning different spouse, then you have to remember that less talk is more. So you can’t yack, yack yack, because the person can’t process what you’re saying. You have to just say what you mean and be very specific.

CW: Do you have any other practical suggestions for how parents can work together? 
Maren: You’ve got to have half an hour a day with no TV and no kids. So that usually means at night after everybody’s gone to sleep. And by that time you’re probably so tired yourself. But you have to buck up and get together and just talk with each other and get that game plan for the next day. “How are we going to deal with such-and-such today and what are we going to do for the others?” And it could be something simple. Don’t make your goals so over the top that they’re not going to be achieved.

[F]or your learning-different kid, let’s say that you have [a goal to…] do homework time from five to six. And in that time, Mom’s going to take over and Dad’s going to make dinner. … Okay, that’s a really good thing we can do today. But what about the other kids that come in and start disrupting when I’m trying to deal with that child? Dad says, “No worries, I’ve got that covered.” If you’ve got that game plan before that drama starts, then that cuts down on all of the yelling and screaming, all of the misunderstanding that can happen in that scenario if you don’t make that game plan.

[written by Katherine Britton]