Do I Have a Learning Difference?


Do I Have a Learning Difference?

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Solo Moms and the mysteries of inherited neurobiology

Last summer, we enrolled our son in a camp for children diagnosed with dyslexia. He’d struggled in school for some time despite his high intelligence.

In a room full of parents surrounded by camp photographers, I kept hearing the same thing over and over again. So many parents were wondering if the trouble they themselves had in school was the result of a similar learning difference their child now faced. Phrases such as “I always hated school” and “School was never for me” echoed and reverberated around the room.

This led to a lingering question that was strangely shrouded in a cloak of relief. The question was simple, and its possible implications were profound: Could I have a learning difference?

For many, it was a eureka moment. The secret we had all kept and questioned might finally be answered and brought to light. Were we stupid? A resounding no, but there is evidence of strong history that runs through families where learning differences present themselves, and we are learning more all the time about how it might affect our children.

For a busy Solo Mom trying to get necessary services for a child who is neurologically atypical, there are many considerations. She may look to her own learning style as a child and see herself in her child. It is hard to see our children struggle, so she may struggle with feelings of misplaced guilt.

Set those feelings of guilt aside. There can be true gifts in having a learning difference. You and your child will discover what they are—together. Kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) who use adaptive skills to find these gifts can grow up to be emergency room doctors able to respond to 12 crises simultaneously.

If you think you might also have an undiagnosed learning difference, it is certainly worth exploring. There has never been a better time—we know more than we ever have. Indeed, we have taken the step to translation from “a difference” to a level of specificity that can invite real treatment options, both medical and nonmedical.

Begin by considering the impact of this learning difference in your life. For example, if your child struggles with ADHD and you suspect that you might also have ADHD, how does this affect your ability to function? Do you forget to pay bills? Struggle to stay organized? For a Solo Mom, organization can be a necessity, a lack of which can undermine the smooth functioning of a house. ADHD has an impact on the ability to learn and to process information. It is by no means an intellectual deficit.

If you feel as though your symptoms—those that might have been undiagnosed or glossed over—could amount to a learning difference, you have every right to consider treatment options. In the case of ADHD, there are many options for treatment.

Dyslexia/Dysgraphia is another learning style that runs in families. There is increasing research about how to best teach dyslexic students of all ages. Adults with dyslexia also may benefit from new information and techniques. There is a trove of news information now available as well as companion supportive technologies. It is never too late to benefit from exploration and treatment.

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) is a broadly defined category for people with different styles in communication. Often misunderstood, the symptoms for this are wide ranging. Many who are on the spectrum are shy and sensitive. Understanding how to best convey information to those students may involve some occupational therapy and other methods.

If you recognize your struggles—past and/or present—in your child, consider whether or not you might benefit from treatment or intervention, too. As a Solo Mom, an “all hands on deck” approach could help more than it would for other family units. And since the “hands on deck” include yours, taking all necessary measures to be your optimal self is advisable.

Begin by considering whether you yourself would benefit from an evaluation. If you think you might, ask your doctor to recommend a neuropsychologist able to work with adults, and reach out to professional associations with an expertise in this field.

I am here to tell you that when my son was about two and a half, I saw him run through a bowling alley. His sweet energy was engaging and a joy to see, but it also seemed way off the charts. There was something in me that knew right then that this boy had inherited my brain—my disorganized, sensory-addled, inefficient brain. Luckily for him, he is smarter than I am.

Over the course of his life, we have benefited from some experts weighing in. I remember one conversation with a neuropsychologist. She said that there were learning differences that did not fall neatly into one or another category, and I believe she described them as methods of learning that were sort of globally inefficient. Those who learn in this style tend to consider every single option thoroughly and struggle to think as “efficiently” as others because they have trouble winnowing.

In this style of learning, however, information is continually processed, and over time, these learners grow into creative thinkers. These children—as adults—tend to be out-of-the-box thinkers, which can be one of the gifts that comes from having a learning difference.

In facing our similar brains together, my son and I have a bond. We understand each other, and in doing so, we have learned to be patient with each other. My inherent understanding of his brain has made me optimistic about his future, and I have confidence that he, like me, will find the way to success.

His future will be bright, and I will stand by, proudly watching, with my similar brain aging and being challenged to know more, be more—and, yes, learn more.


Tara Shafer is the cofounder of Reconceiving Loss, an online resource center for families coping with pregnancy and infant loss. She is a contributing blogger to the Huffington Post, Psychology Today, and BabyCenter. Her work has appeared in the New York Times and on National Public Radio. You can follow her on Twitter at @reconceivinglos.

Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.


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