My daughter doesn’t know that she has a learning disability. She doesn’t know because I never told her. I started to suspect that something was wrong when she was in sixth grade and still hadn’t mastered the multiplication tables or even how to tell time. I met with her teacher, who told me that my daughter was a hard worker and a perfectionist. She was a child who wouldn’t stop working on an assignment in class until she was satisfied that it was right.
But, the teacher continued, it took her much longer than the other children to finish her math worksheets. She had failed several quizzes, even though she was attentive in class and handed in all of her assignments on time. In turn, I told the teacher about the hours each night that my daughter spent on her math homework, about the frustration and the tears. I told her about the hours we had spent with flash cards, the time my husband spent with her every night helping her with her homework. Something was wrong; I told the teacher. I’m her mother, and I know. The teacher agreed to have her tested.
It wasn’t a surprise when we met with the specialists after the testing was completed and they told us that she had a significant learning disability in math. In some ways, it was a relief. It explained the lack of progress and enabled the specialists to recommend strategies and accommodations that would help her.
But I didn’t tell my daughter.
At the age twelve, she was already keenly aware that she was the worst math student in the class. The fact that she was a straight- A student in every other subject, a voracious reader, an outstanding writer, and had won the school spelling bee three years in a row made no difference to her. In her own eyes, she was stupid. I’m her mother, and I knew that learning this new fact would only confirm her negative self-image, and I was confident that the new strategies would help her.
So I didn’t tell her that she had a disability.
By the end of the year, she was starting to do better. The school arranged for her to meet each day with a resource teacher who immediately reduced the number of homework problems that my daughter had to complete each night. She taught me some of the teaching strategies she was using, and gradually the nightly homework sessions became calmer. By the end of the school year, my daughter had a B in math.
My daughter Is in high school now. Math is still hard for her, and by now she knows it always will be. She still says she is “bad at math,” but she is also aware of what she has accomplished. She knows that if she doesn’t give up if she asks for and accepts help when she needs it, she’ll do okay.
This year, she got an A in math, and she was thrilled. I was, too, but for a different reason. I know this A means that she has learned something far more important than just algebra and geometry. She has learned a higher truth, higher than mathematics – she has learned the absolute value of hard work, faith, perseverance, and confidence.
They told us when she was twelve that she had a disability, but I’m glad I never told her that. She then might have thought that she had an excuse for doing poorly, or for not working as hard as she possibly could, or for giving up. She might have though that she had a reason not to believe in herself, but she she would have been wrong . I’m her mother. And I know.
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