Parenthood is a joyous phase of anyone’s life. But along with it are some challenges that every parent has to overcome. Being a parent means being a vigilant observer. Observing your child’s developmental milestones and progress can be fulfilling but also anxiety provoking. As your child progresses from play school to kindergarten, it becomes crucial to observe it’s social growth, but once the child reaches formal education set up, a parent faces new set of challenges. This is where the real work begins.
Learning disabilities are neurologically-based processing problems. These processing problems can interfere with learning basic skills such as reading, writing and/or math. They can also interfere with higher level skills such as organization, time planning, abstract reasoning, long or short term memory and attention (1). Early assessment, diagnosis and intervention can help the child cope with the disability in a more efficient manner. However, this disability is often referred to as an ‘invisible disability’ due to its insidious way of functioning. It does not visibly manifest itself until the child reaches formal school age.
Parents can experience shock, confusion and also anxiety on hearing such a diagnosis.
Parents of children with learning disability have been reported to suffer great stress and frustration due to increased burden of care. The stigma associated with any kind of learning disorder can put a lot of pressure on parents to hide and brush off the diagnosis. This can only cause more academic stress for the child and the parent.
Research has also found that this stress can have adverse effects on mothers, being primary caregivers. It can predispose them to mental shock and anxiety and depression (2). A study done in Mumbai found that most mothers of children with LD have already developed mild anxiety levels by the time this hidden disability is diagnosed. These anxieties can be addressed by counseling to ensure optimum rehabilitation of these children (3).
It is of utmost importance for parents to gain control over their situation. The moment a challenge feels within their control, it becomes easier to manage and reduces anxiety. For this, parents need to undergo psycho-education. They need to equip themselves with information about the specific disability faced by their child, the precautions that they need to take as a parent, their legal rights and about support groups around them. It is of utmost importance for parents to seek professional help in remediation and therapy. They need to know their own and their child’s rights regarding education, examinations and admissions. Knowing the affliction would lead to better understanding of the intervention needs.
But self care is also important. Dealing with a child with extra needs can be stressful for both the parents. It can also affect their marital life. It has been observed that caregiver stress can often lead to marital disintegration. It is, therefore, recommended for parents to seek couple therapy to maintain their marital harmony and also to be able to deal with the challenges as equal partners. Taking care of oneself should not be ignored. Mentally fit and strong parents are better able to deal with their child’s learning disability. Open communication, de- stressing and maintaining harmonious family dynamics can help the child cope better with their academic stress.
It is also advisable for parents to not feel alone in this challenge. There are ample resources available in India. There are centers and groups dedicated to therapy, remediation and support for families with children suffering from learning disability. Parents should make the most of this. They should reach out as things can get overwhelming. Meeting other parents going through the same emotional path can give encouragement and comfort.
Finally, stress and anxiety is only felt when one feels that things are beyond their control. Parents are, therefore, advised to secure control over their situation. They need to have a problem focused coping approach. They need to set goals for their child and themselves, make strategies and implement them. They need to take control of their child’s educational needs and better equip them with necessary life skills. It would make their journey less stressful, while enjoying their parenting efforts.
- Abasiubong, F., Obembe, A., & Ekpo, M. (2006). A controlled study of anxiety and depression in mothers of children with learning disability in Lagos, Nigeria. Niger J Med, Apr-Jun;15 (2):124-7.
- Karande, S., Kumbhare, N., Kulkarni, M., & Shah, N. (2009). Anxiety levels in mothers of children with specific learning disability. J Postgrad Med, Jul-Sep;55(3):165-70. doi: 10.4103/0022-3859.57388
Vaishnavi Kamat: Assistant Professor of Psychology and Acting Head of Department at Smt. Maniben M P Shah Women’s College of Arts and Commerce
Ms Vaishnavi Kamat is an Assistant Professor of Psychology and Acting Head of Department at Smt Maniben M P Shah Women’s College of Arts and Commerce. She has ten years of teaching experience. She has contributed extensively for conducting various outreach programs in college. Her work has focused on taking mental health to rural, marginalized sections of society. Her areas of interests include counseling, assessment, cognition and health psychology. She has published various papers in national and international journals. Currently she teaches undergraduate and post graduate students of Psychology.