Following Your Heart for Your Learning Disabled Child

My son was in kindergarten when my heart first told me something was wrong. I started asking questions. I was told he was completely normal. My heart kept telling me something was wrong. I kept asking questions. And the road I was on suddenly diverged into two distinct paths. Those who cared enough to help me and those who didn’t.
I bounced around between these two paths, trying to find my way, trying to know whom to trust, whom to seek out for help, whom to follow. The harder I tried to do the right thing, and follow the right path, the more I stumbled and fell.
When my son was in seventh grade, he crashed, emotionally and academically. I stumbled along and reached out to another diagnostic agency. I sat in the office of Watson Institute in my son’s evaluation interview and, with tears in my eyes, I told them that if they didn’t help me, I was going to lose my child either to suicide or to his ever increasing risky behaviors. They listened. And they helped. They diagnosed him with uncommon disability issues that finally made sense for his difficulties. They recommended a cognitive behavioral therapist to treat his depression “from not being properly accommodated” at school.
At the same time we started therapy with a good therapist who cared, I met the woman who handles disability issues at my local school district’s high school. I had no reason to trust her, because I had had my son tested through the school district when he was in first grade and had been lied to about his test results. I had been told he had no disability, despite the fact that he qualified under our county intermediary standards. But she seemed to care about her job and I was desperate for information. I started asking questions. She helped.
Slowly my son’s school began to realize what he needed at the same time I began to understand what I could ask for. I began to have hope. I began to believe.
The problem, though, with believing when you are the parent of an LD kid is that you aren’t the one that has to believe. Your child is.
My son has never learned to believe. I have thought, during the last two years, that there were times when believing was within his grasp. He finally has all the tools available for him to have a real chance to level the playing field, but he still can’t find his way onto the path I plowed for him. He is an angry, desperately unhappy, floundering mess and I am helpless at this point to influence him. He may someday get it together, but it will be too late for his best opportunities. He may also never get it together, and that possibility is just a little too much for me to bear.
I’m sharing this because I want other parents of LD kids to know that you have to keep testing your child until the answer you get makes sense. You have to keep asking questions until you understand what your child is entitled to. And then you have to demand what he is entitled to, no matter how many people try to keep your child from getting the help he needs. You have to keep advocating for your child every day, no matter how emotionally exhausting it is. But just as important, you have to win these battles before it’s too late. Before your child is in middle school and is too ashamed of what his peers will think to ask for help. Before your child doesn’t believe you when you say there is always a compensation, we just have to find it. Before your child wanders into adolescence alone and afraid and not believing in himself. The path to finding out what is wrong can be long and challenging. But don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t a race, because it is. It’s a race you have to run every day from the moment your heart tells you that something is wrong. And, most importantly, it’s a race you have to win at any cost.
For help with LD issues, please contact the National Center for Learning Disabilities and your local bar association (they can direct you to legal help regarding your child’s rights).

Posted in Learning Disabilities, Parenting, Pre-teens, Teens, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

PiBoIdMo for the UnPiBoIdMo-able

I am always fascinated by the flurry of activity surrounding the writing challenges of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month), and PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month). It seems funny that it’s theoretically easier to write a poem every day than it is to write a picture book. I confess, however, that if I had to choose between writing a full picture book every day for a month or a complete poem, I would take writing the poems as the easy way out. Not that picture books or poetry are my strengths, but getting a “complete” (albeit bad) poem down on paper would be easier than a complete (very) bad picture book.
But PiBoIdMo is all about ideas. That should be easy enough, yes?
The person who says that it should be easy is also the person who thinks that writing books for kids is a cute thing to do in your spare time. The truth is, good picture books are difficult to write. Incredible picture books are, well, incredible to write. Within 300 to 1000 words, you must create a compelling protagonist who faces a significant challenge or challenges to achieve a meaningful goal. Your story should be funny, surprising, clever, and, most of all, meaningful (at least to the 2-6 year-old crowd) (and did I mention it needs to be meaningful?) And don’t forget that you want to make it multidimensional so that parents and other adult readers won’t throw the book into the nearest bonfire when they are asked to read it for the fiftieth time in three days.
Try coming up with an fresh idea to support all that for thirty days in a row. Now you are doing PiBoIdMo. So, I confess, I am not. It seemed too far beyond me as I struggle to keep up with my teaching job, a presentation I had on writing at a local college this month, and my own writing.
But every day I get my email from the blog of Tara Lazar, who concocted this whole crazy thirty-ideas-in-thirty-days thing, and I get to enjoy all of the motivation that goes with this amazing challenge. I haven’t come up with any new ideas myself, but I have dusted off a picture book manuscript that had come back with a personal rejection from a slush pile last month. It’s a story I’ve worked on for many years (more off than on) and that has seen many variations. After getting some critique feedback this summer, I had sent it out with high hopes. When it came back with the rejection, I felt really discouraged. The editor told me it was sweet and funny, and that one image was hilarious, but she hadn’t told me what she didn’t like. So I went back to my summer comments and thought about them some more. Had I fully addressed the concerns of the critique comments? I realized that I hadn’t. There was still work to be done. So now, with a little inspiration from PiBoIdMo, I am sitting down once again and making sure I work a little harder, a little better, and maybe just a little faster.
So, if you are struggling with your picture book manuscript, or you have one (or more) sitting on your hard drive that you know you could do something with if you just had the right inspiration, or if you think you could come up with some fresh ideas but need a little kick start, then check out Tara’s blog at Writing for Kids While Raising Them. It’s too late to register for the official challenge for this year, but it’s never to late to write great books for great kids.

Posted in Books, Picture Books, Uncategorized, Writing | Leave a comment

Happy Halloween

To celebrate Halloween, here’s a poem to share with your favorite little ghoul. Enjoy!


The moon is just a crescent
hanging low against the trees,
The leaves are wild and crackling
tumbling on the breeze,
And my black cat is rushing home to me

The clouds are rolling fast now
the night is gathering steam,
But here the fire sizzles soft
it’s time to stop and dream,
And my black cat is rushing home to me.


Posted in Halloween, Poetry | Leave a comment

Playing Like a Girl

My daughter plays hockey. She loves it. She especially loves to play goalie, although she also likes to play forward. She’s a pretty good little goalie, too. Good enough that, when a boys’ peewee team from her organization needed a goalie, they recruited her, even though they had a boy goalie willing to play.

To be fair, it isn’t just a boys’ team. There are three other girls on it. There are really two types of teams through high school: coed and girls only. Girls only hockey exists because, ultimately, the girls are forced out of the coed teams because of the brutality of the checking. Most girls are not physically willing or able to play coed hockey at the bantam level (13-14 years old) and above because that’s when checking kicks in. So even though it may technically be a coed team, most parents of hockey playing kids, including myself, refer to these coed teams as boys’ teams.

I was worried about my girl playing on a boys’ team this year. I was worried because I have seen boys’ teams who did not treat their girl players very well. I have seen boys target girls on the opposing team. I have even known of parents encouraging their boys to “go after” girls on the opposing team. Moreover, because my daughter is a goalie, I worry about boys who might shoot high on her trying to hit her in the head to intimidate her. Or just plain hurt her. Some people in hockey call that “buzzing the tower.”

So every time my daughter goes out on the ice, I wonder what I should say to her (besides “protect your head at all costs.”) The first game she played this year against another coed team, I made her tuck her pony tail into her jersey. “Don’t make it obvious,” I told her. Maybe I’ve been around the military too long, but I still remember the signs in a recruiting station in Dorchester, England, that my husband and I saw when we were there in 1995: “Travel inconspicuously” and “Don’t let anyone know you are a Royal Marine.” The Brits were well versed in avoiding terrorism long before we caught on, thanks to the I.R.A. When my husband deployed to Iraq, he drilled force protection into me. Tell no one who doesn’t need to know that you have a weakness.

My daughter is navigating a man’s world. She is worth 77 cents to every dollar her brothers can make. She will go to college in the wake of shocking revelations about the pervasiveness of sexual assault on our university campuses, so much so that the federal government has stepped in. She will walk down the street and get cat-called and no man who watches it will stand up for her. She will know to never walk alone at night, no matter what. She will know to never accept a drink from someone she doesn’t trust, literally, with her life. She will know to always vet the boys who want to be part of her life before she trusts them. She will know that she needs to be able to support herself, and her children, in the event she chooses unwisely. She will know that she will always have to do more, work harder, and be braver than any man in her life.

But she will also know that she is an advocate. For herself and for every other woman who doesn’t have a voice, or who allows her voice to be silenced or subjugated to the policies of people who try to make her a second class citizen. She will know that she should be proud to be a woman, in every sense of the word, because women are mothers and leaders and teachers and givers. She will know that she descends from suffragists and scholars and artists and free thinkers. And she will know that she must conduct herself in a way that lifts up women everywhere and inspires the girls who come after her.
So when my daughter went out on the ice this weekend with her team at a tournament in Cleveland, with her pony tail hanging down the outside of her jersey, I had only one piece of advice for her. I told her to play like a girl.


Posted in Parenting, Teens | Leave a comment

My Top Six Tips for Motivating a Child with LDs

First,let me preface this list by saying that it is not scientifically based. I am not forming this list from a series of studies, or even one study. Rather it is based on my own experience raising two LD kids and being LD myself. I have in no way reached a guaranteed, 100% success rate with motivating my boys, and this continues to be a learning process for me. But I have found certain things to be indispensable, and here they are:

1. Understand that your child has a built-in shut down defense mechanism for when the going gets tough. I cannot stress the importance of this enough, it is the one piece of information that is simply indispensable to raising a child with LD. When you are frustrated because you see your child giving up too soon, or throwing out answers to your questions without even processing your questions, or dropping his pencil in disgust while telling you it’s not important whether he completes his homework, this is a defense mechanism. Even when your child knows the answer, he may shut down because it simply feels so overwhelming to them to keep moving forward. This is particularly difficult to work through as a parent because your child is shutting down instinctively, not because he’s given his situation considered thought and he believes shutting down is the best solution. He may not even realize he does this.

2. Use this understanding to gently but firmly walk your child through the shut down process to reach the other side, which is successful completion of his or her homework. This may take more fortitude than you ever believed you had, but if you react negatively, it will only fuel your child’s defense mechanism to shut down. Tutors are a great way to alleviate some of the tension between you and your child if you can afford it and can find someone you feel is qualified. If you cannot access a tutor, take a break for a few minutes. Change your child’s focus and help her relax by thinking about something she enjoys. When the break is over, offer positive feedback by reminding her that you understand this is difficult but that anything is possible with a little patience and perseverance. As the Brits say, keep calm and carry on.

3. Be willing to hold your child accountable if they aren’t willing to do the hard work. I know, this sounds contradictory to number 2. But all kids are lazy sometimes, and for kids with LD, there is even more incentive to be lazy because they have to work so much harder than other kids do. Sometimes when your child tells you that other people make fun of him, or when he says he can’t do something, you just have to give some tough love. Use your inner parenting thermometer to judge when to indulge them with nurturing patience and when to say “I know it’s tough, but we’ve entered a no excuses zone….” Arm yourself with anecdotes about successful people who have overcome LD to hold up as role models to your child. You can find these lists on many websites including or by searching for celebrities/politicians/business people/etc. with learning disabilities through a search engine.

4. Don’t forget to praise your child, and that praise includes letting them know that you understand how much harder they had to work for their success than non-LD kids. Your child knows he’s different. He sees it every day in the classroom as he watches his peers. His peers probably know he is different, despite your child’s best efforts to hide his differences. He knows he has to work harder. Acknowledging this difference is part of the process to show your child that being LD is okay. Failing to acknowledge your child’s efforts won’t insulate him from the knowledge that he is different. It will only make him think that being different is bad because you don’t talk about it.

5. Be consistent and honest. Sometimes your child with LD will be really, really angry with you for making her do the hard work. Remember that she needs somewhere to release all the anger and frustration of dealing with her challenges, and you are the safe place for that. You are the person who will still love her no matter how much she acts out those frustrations. It is the most painful part of being the parent of an LD kid, with the exception of seeing them sometimes not reach their potential because of their LD. You may need to give her some space to pout or scream, but when she’s in a calmer place, talk to her rationally. Be honest about her disability. Ask questions about how it makes her feel if she’ll talk about it. But let her know that your expectations are still high and that you believe she can achieve them. And stick to your guns when it comes to requiring them to work with the support you have in place, whether that is extra time with their teachers, meeting with tutors, taking summer classes, etc.

6. Understand that most specific LDs and behavioral disabilities come with developmental delays. For example, my son with a profound global executive functioning disability is developmentally delayed in several areas of maturity. Most boys will begin to understand in ninth grade that their performance in high school is important enough that they will begin to buckle down to maximize achievement and by the end of tenth grade, as one of my son’s teachers told me, “the maturity fairy has come.” But as I have been advised by a special education director, for LD kids, this realization is often delayed and may not kick in until eleventh grade or beyond. As a parent, there is nothing more frustrating than seeing your child, capable of so much more, unable to maximize success because he just doesn’t have the maturity yet to apply himself regularly and thoroughly. You can support your child with the tools of LD support (educational plans, teacher involvement, tutors, assistive technologies, etc.) but you cannot make your child understand a developmental concept that his brain is not physically ready to understand.

These are my top tips for dealing with the motivational aspects of LD. You may find it helpful to tie your child’s efforts to rewards, but not all children are well motivated by reward systems. Give your child options to control their development when you can (you can take this class or you can meet with a tutor one-on-one over the summer; or you can let me help you study your vocabulary or you can meet with your teacher at such and such time, etc.) Experience is a great teacher and you never know who might have the perfect solution for your situation in their toolbox. Don’t be afraid to seek professional help through a cognitive behavioral specialist (licensed psychologists who understand LD issues) or from an organizational “coach.” Every state has an office of support for parents of LD children, funded through the Americans with Disabilities Act, that you can access to get information on these types of services, or you can check with the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

What are your top tips for increasing motivation in an LD child?

Posted in Executive Function, Learning Disabilities, Parenting, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Summer Reading Fun for the Picture Book Crowd

If you have young children in your life and are looking for fun summer read aloud picture books, here are some of my recommendations:


A Frog in the Bog by Karma Wilson This one is just so much fun to read.

Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell, A very humorous read about being true to yourself.

Six Dinner Sid by Inga Moore Sid will have you cheering for him!

Ella Takes the Cake by Carmela and Steven D’Amico Beautifully illustrated, this is a heroine that every kid can enjoy.

Senor Don Gato by John Manders Senor Don Gato is simply an amazing guy.

Belinda the Ballerina by Amy Young Belinda’s big feet are so much fun.

Night Cat by Margaret Beames A great book to read when the lights are low!

Olivia Forms a Band Olivia in the summer is as sparkling as the Fourth of July.

Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson Karma Wilson really knows how to make a read aloud gather steam.

Slinky Malinki Opens the Door by Lynley Dodd Another hero you will cheer for.

The Color Kittens by Margaret Wise Brown They are just so darn cute.

Click Clack Moo: Cows that Type by Doreen Cronin You can never trust cows. Especially once they get their hooves on a typewriter.

Henry and the Buccaneer Bunnies by Carolyn Crimi Some swashbuckling fun.

Madeline and the Bad Hat by Ludwig Bemelmans If you can’t enjoy the guillotine lines, there is seriously something amiss with your sense of humor.

Cat Up a Tree by Ann Hassett An oldie but a goodie.

I hope you enjoy this selection with a child near and dear to you! Happy Summer reading!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Connecting in the Digital Age

Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that I am an active supporter of environmental and human rights causes. My Twitter feed is littered with retweets of news and opportunities to speak out from various environmental and human rights organizations. These things matter to me.

I have been very vocal, also, about my own journey with being learning disabled and raising two learning disabled kids. So when the hashtag “YesAllWomen” popped up on Twitter, I was moved by the comments other women were making regarding issues of women’s rights that have been in the news lately with the abduction of 200 schoolgirls in Nigeria and the firing of a prominent editor after she asked for equal pay. It struck a chord in me, and made me think of all the little, and sometimes big, ways in which I have experienced discrimination or sexual harassment as a woman over the years. And I tweeted about a few of them.

I was genuinely surprised by the response these tweets generated. For the most part, I put my tweets out there and they make a tiny splash at best. These tweets were getting immediate reactions, being retweeted and marked as favorites. I didn’t think my comments were remarkable in any way, but they seemed to strike a chord in other women and occasionally men.

And then a man retweeted a tweet that I had posted about my experience of being LD and it being dismissed when I was a kid because of the attitude that “girls aren’t good at math.” The man who retweeted my comment thought it was “LOL” for me to complain about it. He mocked the whole thread of the hashtag, but two of my tweets he particularly singled out to ridicule.

It’s been a very long time since I’ve been bullied by a non-family member. The last event of bullying by a classmate or stranger that means enough to stick in my memory is of a night my college roommate and I were walking home from a bar and we were followed and harassed by some girls who picked on us because they were a different race and didn’t like ours. We kept walking and they let us, but I still remember how intimidating they tried to be.

So when I saw that my tweets had been mocked, I was surprised not only by my own surprise that my tweet could be met with ridicule, but that I had such a visceral reaction to the ridicule. For me, being LD has had a huge impact on my choices in life and therefore my outcomes. It has shaped every part of who I am and what matters to me. And watching my sons struggle with LD is even more painful than having been through it myself.

When I looked at the man’s other tweets, it was easy to see why he would mock me. His feed was full of far-right statements, both social and political from Second Amendment gun issues to hate speech about anyone who didn’t support ultra-conservative political candidates. I know these people exist. I have seen their use of hate speech and insults to express their views. It didn’t take long for me to distance myself from the man or his comments.

But my reaction to the idea that LD could be something to mock, and the feeling of vulnerability that comes from the need to step away from his attempts to marginalize what has been so destructive in my life, has been profound. It is not the individual bully we react to. The man who made these comments is not of consequence in my life, he holds no power over me. But the deep sense of unfairness, of a need to fight against my emotional trauma being marginalized, is like a beast inside of me that has to be calmed.

It’s not just bullying that leads to this kind of response. As an attorney working for a personal injury firm in my early days as a law student, I often saw families who had lost a loved one to someone else’s negligence desperately clinging to the need for that loss to be acknowledged. People tend to think of plaintiffs in personal injury suits as money-grubbing, vicious people who will sue anyone they can. There are people like that out there. But the vast majority of our clients cared much more about their loss and pain being acknowledged, especially the pain that their loved ones had suffered, than about the money. The money was just a way to get that acknowledgement. When they did get the acknowledgement, when a defendant was able to admit to doing something wrong that had caused so much pain, the money became a tribute to that acknowledgment, and even in some ways distasteful to the families that had fought for it for so long.

So I thought about this reaction I’ve been having and it reminded me in a flashback way of what it felt like when I was sometimes bullied in middle school and high school. It reminded me of the raw anger at the unfairness of being bullied I felt then, because I still feel it. This man’s ridicule of me was small and unfair and twisted. But now I have the words I need to marginalize those who would try to marginalize me, and I can use those words in my writing, both in my fiction and in this blog, to fight back. And this makes me feel not only empowered, but honored to be a writer, especially for kids and teens. If my experience can be written about so that it helps even one child or teen who also knows the pain of being LD, then I am proud to be a writer. I want to be a writer because I want to open an email someday from some kid who has struggled as I have and read him or her say “I felt this, too, and I needed to know I am not alone.”

As my friend Lillian says, Write On. Because we don’t have to be afraid to connect in the digital world. Our writing speaks for itself.

Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Ruminations on Mothers’ Day for parents of LD kids

With the exception of my birthday, a random day on the calendar, I don’t have any holidays that celebrate me. I’m not a Veteran. I’m not Irish, technically at least. I do count quite a number of Irish immigrants as family, but there is no blood between us. They are the kind of family you make rather than grow in an uncultivated garden. I don’t even qualify for labor day since I don’t have an employer.

So the idea that there is a day set aside to celebrate me at all, let alone the work I do to try to raise other human beings to be happy, healthy, productive people, should be something I embrace. My husband, who has a very successful career, was once disappointed when he brought home yet another accolade and I made the lukewarm reply, “that’s nice.” In a very hurt, rhetorical tone he said “Boy, you just aren’t proud of me at all, are you?”

I knew I should be more excited for him. But it was the fourth or fifth Super-something title he’d brought home in a month and it simply underscored, highlighted, and italicized how little what I do is appreciated. No one has ever given me an award for being the best-throw-up-cleaner-upper or a certificate recognizing my achievements in being the only person in our house who can push the disgusting bathroom trash down so that it doesn’t overflow. No one celebrates my achievements when I successfully calm a nightmare or FINALLY make a teacher understand why my learning disabled child can’t do things the way the teacher wants him to. No one celebrates me for providing a proper funeral, despite a muddy hillside and clay soil, for my daughter’s beloved cat before racing down to the animal shelter before they close to get a “new” cat. Only on mothers’ day do we generally take the time to thank our moms for all the things they do for us like this, the things that won’t make it into the newspaper or provide us a nice plaque for our wall. I should really, really love Mothers’ Day.

Mothers’ Day for me, however, is an annual reminder that two of my kids have specific learning disabilities. It’s a day that reminds me that, no matter how much I love my kids, no matter how much I wish I could give them a wonderful life, there are limitations to what love can do. One of my LD kids has had to really struggle to be properly diagnosed and accommodated. He struggles with developmental delays that make him less able to accept his condition and deal with it directly. He is a volcano of frustration and fear and resentment and the only safe place for him to pour all that hot lava inside of him is on me. So he does. And there isn’t enough love in the universe for me to fix his world, no matter how much I wish there were. I’ve given him all the tools at my disposal, and now he needs to roll up his sleeves and use them. It’s not an uncommon story for parents of kids with LDs.

I enjoyed posts from my friends on social media about their wonderful kids giving them a wonderful Mothers’ Day. Two of my wonderful kids did go out of their way to let me know that they love and appreciate me. But for me, Mothers’ Day is truly a reminder that sometimes the hardest part of being a mom is to shoulder the pain of your kids, even when they resent you for it. Sometimes it’s dosing some tough love because you’re pretty sure that’s the right thing even though it hurts enough to break your heart. There are no awards for it. No accolades or plaques. Sometimes there is not even a thank you waiting at the end of the long road ahead. Just a lot of worry that they may not figure it out before their best opportunities expire. But you’re still their mother, and you still love them, more than your own life. So you do the hardest work of all and let them hate you. I’m just not sure I need a day to remind me how hard that is.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Celebrating National Poetry month with Book Spine Poetry


My book spine poem…what’s yours?





Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

National Poetry Month

In honor of National Poetry Month, I wanted to share a poem that I learned when I was a teenager. It remains a favorite of mine. Although it’s fairly simple, and, in the second verse, a bit pedantic, it surprises by reaching into the depth of human importance and puts it all into perspective:

Song, by  Christina Rossetti (1848)

When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
And if thou wilt, forget.

I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
Sing on, as if in pain:
And dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
And haply may forget.

What are some of your favorite poems?

Posted in Poetry, Uncategorized | 2 Comments