For parents of a young child with a learning disability — including attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD) — especially one recently diagnosed, looking so far into the future may seem an impossible feat, especially when his or her present problems are so overwhelming.
In the years following my daughter Allegra's diagnosis, I was weighed down by all the doctor’s appointments, tutors, school meetings, and, most of all, by the realization that my child’s life had taken a drastic and unexpected turn. I went through the same phases of denial and anger and sorrow we all experience, and I could barely think about the coming year, much less a future far down the road.
But the future came, and soon after reaching a level of acceptance about having a young child with a learning disability, I faced the new reality of having a teenager with a learning disability. I could no longer focus only on the day-to-day.
I had to start thinking hard about the future, and the early years that I once thought were so traumatic and difficult now began to take on a glow of nostalgia. I didn’t have to worry about college or careers or marriage back then, because things were going to change, everything would be different, and I had plenty of time.
The Bittersweet Transition
Every parent goes through it to some degree. Some mothers tell me how it saddens them to see their son or daughter pass from 12 to 13 years of age, knowing childhood is at an end. Others look upon this as a hopeful time, a new phase in their continuing adventure as a parent. Those of us with children with LD rarely view the transition from childhood to young adulthood as an exciting adventure.
For us, this time is so fraught with emotion that Kristy Baxter, the head of The Churchill School, in New York City, calls it a “second grieving process.” “At Churchill,” she told me, “we have a meeting with the parents of every student to discuss the child’s future after graduation. We meet at the end of tenth grade if the parents are anxious, or the beginning of the eleventh grade if they’re not.”
“Some students already know they want to apply to college, get accepted, and then take a year off. Some know they want to go to an art school. Some know they want to go directly to work and not go to college at all.”
All students need to transition when high school ends. Their world changes, as does the way they make their way through the world. Until now, the parents have made all the major decisions. In school, the demands were teacher-based. Very soon, the students themselves will need to make decisions and choices.
If students don’t show up for classes in college, what happens? A truant officer doesn’t come looking for them. The school doesn’t call their mothers to find out where they are. Overslept? Too bad. They get an F. The same goes for work. Yes, an employer might give a warning or two, but the responsibility for showing up and performing a job rests on the shoulders of the employee.
Transitions are a way to help students ease into their new reality as young adults. It’s an anxious new reality for parents, too. I can tell you that, even though things might appear bleak from where you now stand, it’s not as bad as you might expect. Here are some important points that will make your child’s transition — and future — a lot less bumpy.
A Simple Plan
All high-school students with LD are covered by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)—until they leave high school. After graduation they are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The greatest difference between the two laws is that IDEA guarantees the right to an education, while ADA guarantees the right to equal access to education. IDEA also has direct bearing on the transition to college, because part of its stated purpose is to “prepare [students] for further education, employment, and independent living.”
This article comes from the October/November 2007 issue of ADDitude.