Parents often report multiple worries about having their child tested for a learning or attentional disorder. They may fear that testing or a diagnosis will have negative consequences, such as being labeled a “slow learner” or a “problem student” or being denied admittance to private schools or college. They may experience guilt for not having caught their child’s challenges earlier, for the pressure they placed on their children to work harder, or for having been so frustrated with their child. Further, they may fear that their child’s self-esteem will be impacted by thinking that their learning difficulty means they are “stupid” or “not as good” as other kids. Finally, parents may worry about how and if these challenges can be treated effectively.
This article is intended to raise awareness about the school testing process by 1) dispelling common myths and fears that often surround children’s diagnoses and 2) by providing accurate information about the benefits of accurate diagnosis. Misinformation about these issues frequently prevents parents from seeking testing prior to their child’s struggles hitting a crisis point. Instead, parents may resort to prolonged use of ineffective strategies such as tutoring, arguing with their child, and withdrawing privileges to foster motivation, before realizing that their child’s trouble with learning is deeper than simply being “lazy” or “unmotivated.”
It’s important to recognize that the benefits of identifying learning or attentional disorders can far outweigh the perceived risks. Many common fears are unfounded and parental concerns are often due to inadequate or misinformation. For example, many families don’t realize that there are laws in place to prevent discrimination and to ensure that children are able to access their education. In fact, an assessment can be incredibly useful in identifying an optimal learning environment in which students can thrive.
Additionally, many parents are unaware of the developmental nature of learning differences and of the many resources, both within school systems and the community, available to them. For example, rather than stigmatizing a child with a learning problem, a diagnosis can actually provide a framework in which parents and teachers can effectively understand and meet a child’s needs. Once a child is diagnosed with a learning or attentional disorder, there are empirically proven strategies available to support skill development in problem areas. With this comes improved academic performance and increased confidence, which can counter internalized messages the child has received of not being “smart enough.”
It is important to recognize that there are significant benefits to accurate diagnosis and treatment of learning difficulties. Parents should not be swayed by fears that their child will be stigmatized or discriminated against, and instead consider the testing process as an opportunity to build a supportive learning environment that can foster engagement, motivation, and success in school.