How to Support a Learning-Disabled Child

Need tips to help your child when they’re struggling with school? Keep reading.

Being the parent of a learning disabled child can be very challenging. Do you know what’s even more challenging? Being a child with a learning disability. It is important to keep in the back of your mind that your kid feels behind their peers, left out, and probably guilty for being behind and “not as smart” as the others.

But you can be there to support your child. Using positive parenting techniques, like focusing on the effort rather than the accomplishment, you can be your kid’s biggest cheerleader and help them when they are struggling.

In this article we’re going to touch on:

  • Active listening
  • Accepting a diagnosis
  • Identifying triggers
  • Keeping yourself level headed

Here are our tips!

Teacher pointing at a spot on a globe for a student
Having a learning disability means your child is struggling at school. Listen and ask questions to be a safe space at home.

Active Listening

As with any healthy relationship, listening is a requirement. But with a learning disabled or neurodiverse child, listening is an absolute godsend. You need to understand your kid’s needs and they need to know you’re there for them. Here are some ways you can support your child through strong communication:


When your kid is distraught, ranting, or hard to understand, repeat back to them what you understood from their words/actions. Something may have gotten lost in translation and they will likely correct you if you got it wrong. Not only is repeating good for memorizing, your child will feel heard, especially if their call for help was not explicitly verbalized.

Ask Your Child Questions

If you feel like exclusively consulting professionals, that’s not a bad instinct. But they don’t understand your child’s disability the same way your child does. Consult your child. Ask what they understand, what’s tripping them up, where they get lost, and what helps them calm down. Look for nonverbal answers as well. It’s okay to not know the answers, but ask your child what they need and they will tell you, even if it’s not verbally stated.

Look for Solutions that Fit Your Kid

It’s easy to search online for a one-size-fits-all solution (that may be why you’re here right now), but it’s not always helpful. The standard treatment for ADHD, dyslexia, and others will not fit everyone. Giving your child the same guidance as a random kid with the same diagnosis is absurd and won’t work. Try things out, see if they work. Use what does, ditch what doesn’t.

Advocate for Your Child

Ask for accommodations from the school, see if there are any tutoring options, check for alternative seating options. Advocate your child’s needs. You’ve been doing it for them all their life, don’t stop now.

Emphasize your Love

Having a learning disability can be isolating--it can feel like everyone is upset with you. Even if you don’t understand, you need to express that you love them regardless of their struggles with school. Tell them school is not everything, that things get better, that they are smart. I’m sure you would want someone to do the same for you.

A Diagnosis is not a Death Note

You may not want to get your child diagnosed by a professional. It can be very intense, knowing your child is different from others, in a way that will negatively affect them their whole life. But it is so much better to get the diagnosis early, when possible. You can better cater to their needs and request accommodations from schools. For this, it’s good to set your emotions aside and let the professionals find your child the help they need.

It may also be difficult to tell your child about their disability– it doesn’t feel good to be labeled as an ‘other,’ or feel confined by a medical term. But it is a good idea to tell them. Your child will feel less alone, knowing there are others like them, like there’s not something ‘wrong’ with them. Walk them through what they have and what that means. Explain that a disability is not a personal failure. Make sure they believe it, and believe it yourself.

Parents reading a book with their baby
Reading and writing can be stressors for your children. Understand which elements increase and decrease stress for your child.

Identify Triggers

What seems absurd to you may be a nightmare for your kid. Ask what makes them overwhelmed or stresses them out. If they rage while you help them with homework, ask if your presence makes things better or worse. Just like any neurotypical, your child needs support and their needs met. If reading assignments anger them, try healthy anger management skills or engaging their body so that rage doesn’t boil over and can be released safely. Or think of alternatives. If they struggle with reading, try graphic novels or audiobooks for their age group to connect with their peers. Practice could involve reading books closer to their reading level, but make sure that reading for fun is still, well, fun.

Make Processes

Do you find any tasks or chores confusing? If yes, you shouldn't expect your kid to feel differently. If not, that’s because you have years of practice they don’t. Be clear with instructions and make each household chore a process, rather than a single list item. Instead of telling them to “wash your plate,” start by saying “rinse your plate” and build up from there with the sponge, scrubbing, putting it in the dishwasher, etc. and show them how you like it done. It may feel like overkill, but if you were learning something for the first time, you’d probably want explicit instruction as well.

Child running towards parent in front of a mountainscape
Aiding your child is important, but means little if they can see through you. Project a strong front and check your ableist views.

Check Yourself

This last section is less about your relationship with your child, but your own emotions. It’s important to be vulnerable with your child and family, but they do not need to know that their learning disability is giving you a hard time. They’re having a hard enough time on their own.

Do You Really Believe That?

The title is what your kid will ask when you say that they can do anything, because to them it feels impossible. You need to believe it, or they’ll give up. This is a good time to work on some internalized ableism. Why are you distraught about your child’s learning disability? Do you think they are lesser because of that? Don’t just tell them that their disability doesn’t limit them, believe it.

Avoid Saying “It’ll Be Easy”

I know you mean well, but saying things like “It’s not that hard” or “you’ll figure it out quickly” can feel like a betrayal if it proves to be untrue (which it very well might). It can also make your kid feel like something is wrong with them, feel guilty, or like a failure overall. Go over the steps with them, say things closer to “anyone can learn this with enough effort” and acknowledge the work they put into tasks, not just the finished product.

Those are our tips!

The most important thing is making your child feel loved and helping them grow into who they need to be. Pay attention to your kid’s needs, make sure they know they’re loved, and talk to their teachers. Remember to take care of yourself too.

Lydia Rosenstock
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