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My daughter is 13 — in her adolescent prime — so less and less of my sage guidance breaks through each day. Academically, she struggles with several learning differences, ADHD – Inattentive Type, auditory processing disorder (APD), and dyscalculia. There is SO much I am proud of her for accomplishing and still, SO much I want her to know and work toward. But how best to tell this to a headstrong teen?
With Valentine’s Day in mind, I wrote her a love letter of sorts with a few pieces of motherly advice. Handing her my letter would probably make her feel embarrassed, so I’m contemplating slipping it under her bedroom door — the one that separates the house from the music booming behind it! Maybe, just maybe, she’ll read it — if not now, one day in the future when she needs it most. Here’s what I’d like her to know.
You Are Not Alone
Did you know that about 1 in 10 kids has an ADHD diagnosis? Or that approximately five to seven percent of children have a math learning difference, and another five percent have APD? To compare, only two percent of people have green eyes (like your dear ol’ mom!) and less than 12 percent of people are left-handed (like your dad!). The specific statistics don’t matter — what does matter is that you are part of a world where everyone has unique qualities and traits, and there is always a way to find commonalities with another person.
It’s OK to Ask for Help
Everyone needs help at different times in life — even people without learning differences. We’ve tried to teach you that it’s important to advocate for yourself and to continually re-assess your IEP modifications. They are in place to help you succeed. Ask questions when you’re unsure. Speak to a teacher when you need extra support. Call a friend when you need to talk.
Remember, You Define Yourself
Over the years I’ve talked to you a lot about labels and how some labels, such as those that come with an IEP, are needed to get the in-class accommodations like extended test time or use of a calculator.
Other labels — the negative ones that sadly exist in our world — may be inappropriately applied to you by those who simply don’t understand how different brains work. On days when you may be feeling “less than” — as those days will happen — remember that your brain was wired just the way it was supposed to be. If you tweaked even one neuron or connection, then You would not be You! Choose your own definitions of yourself, evolve them, tweak them, embrace them.
We All Bring Something to the Table
While I hope those around you learn to appreciate and respect your learning differences, I also hope that you will be respectful of the ways they learn and contribute to the world. Everyone thrives at their own pace and has their own distinctive gifts.
It is perfectly natural to feel jealous or envious of how quickly others may catch onto a new concept or finish a project, but try not to give into those emotions or dwell on them (as I have done). Instead, turn to admiration. Let healthy competition challenge you to grow. You are a visual learner and that is a strength. Find your sweet spot in teamwork.
Lean In, Lean Back, But Never Give Up
When a homework or job assignment seems too tough to handle, it may be easy to let others do the grunt work or to simply back out. But that’s not the answer. It’s not OK to use your learning differences as an excuse to avoid trying or to give up. Each experience, whether you succeed or fail, counts. Each time you try something, you learn how to do it better the next time. See things through and, I promise, you’ll be so glad you did. And, on those occasions when you have given something your all, and recognize that it’s simply not for you, it’s OK to lean back and let someone or something else take over. The important thing is that you try first, and that you always approach tasks with meaningful intention.
Don’t Just Live to Learn, Love to Learn
As you grow older, I hope your love of learning will grow, too. You have always LOVED school, despite its many challenges. From your first day of kindergarten, when you walked right into the classroom never turning back to wave goodbye to your teary-eyed mom, to proudly standing by your science fair project in elementary school, to your excitement over new social study topics in middle school, you have always had a passion for learning. In fact, math — your most challenging subject — is your favorite!
Keeping on top of math and other core subjects will may get harder when you get to high school and go off to college, but I know you will live each day with a curious and open mind. Educators, scholars, and even your grandparents often talk about the personal rewards reaped from being a “lifelong learner.” I hope that at each stage of your education, and beyond, you will continue to seek out learning new things, but perhaps most important, that you will hold onto your love for learning.
Overall, I hope these nuggets of advice will give you something to turn to when you need a little extra support. I am your biggest fan. You will go through many ups and downs during your school career, as well as in your life outside of school.
Remember that these hills are a normal part of your path forward and that you always have your family as a home base when you need it. The truth is, we know that your learning differences are your learning strengths and we cannot wait to see how you will use them.
Updated on February 12, 2020