How I support my daughter with a mild learning disability

daughter with a mild learning disability

My eldest daughter, Emma, was diagnosed with a mild learning disorder when she was in grade two. We have had many assessments, Occupational Therapy visits, a session with a psychologist, an IEP put into place, and many, many struggles with Emma and her schoolwork load.

Emma is very smart. Her memory is amazing (as we notice at home when she brings up things we talked about doing two years ago!), but her schoolwork does not reflect her abilities. She does not have a formal diagnosis, but the school system does recognize her differences in ability.

It’s very frustrating – for us as parents, and for Emma herself – to know that Emma can do all the work required of her at school, and see her grades not reflect her knowledge. The disconnect between her expansive thoughts and getting her words onto paper or a screen means low marks and the potential for low self-esteem.

Read more about learning disabilities on the Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario website.

Because my husband and I work outside the home, we find it difficult to give Emma the amount of support she needs during our limited hours at home together. This means we end up doing homework in large chunks once or twice a week, or for hours on a Saturday. It’s not ideal, but it’s how it has to work for our family.

Ways I support my daughter with a mild learning disability, as a working mom:

Homework help

If you work outside the home, you are no stranger to the lack of time to get homework done. Yes, Emma is in grade six now, and should know how to get her work done. But unless it’s math or another quick response type homework, she waits to do it with me.

I am Emma’s scribe. I will sit with her and either print out her words onto her papers, or type up projects or long form answers in her shared school software. But, of course, I can only do that when we are home together.

Four nights a week we go to the dance studio so the girls can dance. They love it, and I don’t want to take that away simply because Emma needs more support at school and (perhaps) is not getting it. So we jam homework into any pocket of time we can, or we tell the teacher that it’s simply not done yet, and we need a little more time to finish.

Because Emma has an IEP she is allowed more time on projects, or can complete less questions or shorter projects than her peers, due to her disability. (I dislike using that word, but it’s either that or inability.)​​​​​​​

Read more about our IEP journey here.

Self care time

We all know how important self care is. We try hard to balance her school workload (which feels heavy because she’s so slow with output) with her downtime and fun. Luckily she takes after me. She loves to read and just spend some quiet time to help her recharge. But she also loves taking those dance classes, and socializing with her dance friends.

Related: How to survive being a dance parent (at a non-comp dance studio)

I am grateful for teachers who understand that kids should not have homework every night. Often Emma’s homework is catch up work that she did not get done during the day. She does not have a scribe at school (or at least not as often as she needs) so she literally saves that work for home. Some evenings her teacher gives homework like “enjoy the beautiful weekend and get outside”, and I absolutely love that. Yes, we still have to spend a little time on catch-up but usually it’s short unless there’s a big project due.

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Teach organization

Another large struggle we have with Emma is learning to be organized. She comes by this honestly, as neither my husband or myself are terribly organized people. But, when I was in school (and not managing a family, a house, and a job all at the same time) I was always on top of my work. Heck, I worked ahead when I could and I loved every minute of it!

Over the years Emma has gotten better at knowing what is due when, and asking more questions to help herself along the way. However, she still does not self-advocate as much as I’d like her to. We have tried using organizers, making her print out her homework (which doesn’t work because it takes her so long), or logging into the school system from home and printing out her project outlines. She does not have an affinity for any of these methods.

A technique that seems to be working is a folder with pockets on the inside. She is using this with some success. The front pouch holds To Do items, and back pouch is Complete or Hand In At School. We also went into her online system and created folders to help her keep her work sorted out. I haven’t had any recent messages from the teacher commenting on Emma being behind yet this year, so perhaps practice makes perfect!

Professional help

We did a six week set of sessions with a local occupational therapy clinic who specializes in children. Make Way for Me was amazing at helping Emma learn more about what she can do, and teaching her ways to cope with some of the anxiety that comes with learning struggles.

If we had unlimited finds, and more hours in the week, we would still have Emma in OT. She loved it. But the expense is unbelievable. We blew through our insurance in 4 sessions, and (of course) they recommend coming every week for as long as your child needs. Which could be forever, depending on their disability or diagnosis.

Emma also had sessions at school with the school board occupational therapist. They do not explore nearly as many techniques and situations as the private clinic, but if it’s free, I say let your child do it! They worked more specifically on her physical struggles of printing, and less on the anxiety and emotions that come with the literal struggle of a learning disability.

Our session with a psychologist was also done through the school. Having a psychology assessment was very helpful for us. It showed us what Emma absolutely excelled at, and where she was struggling. We were able to take this information and edit her IEP to support her more specifically.

If you have the means (financially, and in your schedule) to explore professional help, do it. It creates a much better overall picture of where your child needs more support, and maybe also where they will feel “smart” or more confident with their work. Learning techniques to overcome some of the obstacles your child may be facing will help will all aspects of their learning.

Show your kids how to help each other

This only works if you have more than one child. In my home, Emma is my eldest, and I have a daughter 2.5 years younger than her. Rose, my second daughter, has none of the challenges we are experiencing with Emma.

(That’s a post all on it’s own, about how we spend SO MUCH TIME with Emma on her schoolwork, and we practically neglect Rose because she knows what she’s doing and prints like a champ!)

My girls come home on the school bus now and are home for about an hour and a half before any adults are able to get home. I think that’s plenty of time to grab a snack and get homework done. And usually it is, unless something requires word output.

I have not seen Emma do math yet this year – yet she often tells me she had math homework and she finished it all on her own. I choose to trust her on this, and not waste more time by going over her work. She’s old enough to know whether or not she understands what is going on in her math units.

daughter with a mild learning disability

Emma helps Rose with math work when she can, and Rose actually does help Emma with some aspects of her work. Or Rose can be asked to go to another room and leave Emma alone to do her work with minimal distraction, which she is better at doing.

Explaining what you expect from the kids goes a long way toward them understanding how to best use their time – especially when some of it is home alone time.

Something must be working…

support my daughter with a mild learning disability

While we’re far from perfect, I am seeing a slight change in Emma and the way she approaches getting work done. She self-starts and does the “easier” work without being prompted, but she still leaves a the long-form work for me. And, she prefers my help to my husbands – perhaps because I’m the writer of the family!

Emma also gets to add her input and suggestions when we review her IEP every year. She lets us know what’s working for her, or what she needs more support with. I love seeing her take an active role in her learning. My hope is this practice in the elementary grades will allow her to function – with her concessions – in high school where the workload gets much heavier.​​​​​​​

I’ve written a few other posts about our struggles with school:

Do you have a child that uses an IEP or other classroom concessions? I’d love to hear about your journey – and your struggles. Share your story in the comments. Hearing how others cope is a great way to find new ideas to try.


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