Disclosing The Diagnosis To Your Child: Harmful Or Helpful?

After the sometimes emotional and frustrating process that often leads to getting a child a psychoeducational evaluation, many parents are relieved to hear that there is a reason behind their child’s struggles.  That relief, however, may be quickly replaced by the overwhelming question, “What do we tell our child?”

Long ago, the prevailing advice was that labeling a child would hurt self-esteem and that (s)he was better off not knowing.  In the last several decades, a great deal of research has been done on the factors that help create resilient students with learning disabilities.  One of the major common factors was awareness of one’s diagnosis.   Struggling students know that they are behind and struggling, and until they can be given a reason why, they often internalize those struggles to mean that they are “stupid” or “bad.”  Informing a student about a diagnosis allows the student to blame the disability, rather than him/hermself.  The relief parents feel from a diagnosis is often felt by the student as well.

Once a child knows what’s going on, the process of working on and around the challenge can begin.  A student can learn about others with similar challenges and can learn strategies that may help overcome some of the difficulties.  It is never an easy conversation, but it has been shown to make a significant long-term difference in the success of children.

Some things that can be included in this conversation…

  • Learning disabilities are all about strengths and weaknesses.  Explain to the child that everyone has areas of strength and weakness.  Point out your own and those of others.  Be sure to highlight their strengths and provide ample opportunities for them to build their strengths and feel successful.
  • Introduce the child to the many people who share a similar diagnosis.  A simple google search can bring up huge lists of people who have attained great success with a learning disability.  Any family members with similar issues can share their stories.
  • Explain that having a learning disability does not mean that you cannot learn; it simply means your brain learns in a unique way that may require you to work harder in certain areas.
  • Focus on effort rather than accuracy.  Praise children specifically for hard work, rather than right answers. 
  • Be specific about describing the things that may cause difficulty so that it is easier to comprehend.  Rather than “you have reading problems,” explain the tasks that may prove difficult such as reading long stories in a short amount of time or working on word problems in math.
  • Creating open communication in the home on this topic helps children feel like they are supported and can share the burden.  Keep the conversation going and actively listen when they describe what is hard for them and what is going well.

Treating a diagnosis like a secret can make children feel isolated and ashamed.  By educating and empowering them, they will better be able to understand, self-advocate and overcome.   Positivity, openness, and unconditional love are the best way to build confidence and resilience in a child no matter what the issue may be.  

Do you have experience with this?  Tell us what has worked for you!

Still Have Questions?

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