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How Our Learning Impaired Child Taught Us to Appreciate Rather Than Compare

25 Nov 2013 – 03:20 PM EST

Our son, Kyle, has Down syndrome. Kyle is 23 now, but he still lives at home. He is severely speech impaired, and because of compression on his spinal cord (which has been corrected with surgery), he has serious physical limitations as well. He occasionally requires the use of a wheel chair and often needs help with basic activities such as brushing teeth, shaving, and showering. Even without the physical challenges, however, Kyle’s mental impairments made learning difficult.

Sometimes my friends tell me they think that it must be very difficult raising a learning impaired child, or they say things like, “I don’t know how you do it.” While there are many challenges and struggles that come with raising a learning impaired child, the approach is not much different from raising any other child. Whether your child is typical, learning impaired, or faces other kinds of challenges, as parents, we all want the best for our kids. And with 8-10% of our kids facing some kind of learning disability, the most important thing we can do is believe in them. Just because Kyle’s needs have been different doesn’t mean we haven’t always simply desired for him to be as happy and as capable as possible.

The differences between raising a learning impaired child and a typical child were made more visible for us because Kyle has a twin sister. We have been able to mark those differences perhaps more clearly than most. From crawling and walking to riding a bike, Kira was able to progress quickly past her brother. As the kids got older, Kira became more independent while Kyle still relied on us for many things. Kira learned to dress and bathe herself; she learned to read and to communicate and eventually to advocate for herself. We have always had to be Kyle’s voice and advocate. We have attended countless IEP meetings; met with numerous teachers, aides, and therapists; and worked with a number of different medical specialists to ensure that Kyle has the care he needs.

What we had to learn to do — for our own sanity as well as for Kyle’s sake — was to celebrate his milestones without worrying about when they occurred or how they compared to others his age, especially to his sister. While Kira has moved away to go to grad school and pursue her dreams, Kyle remains at home with us. And though Kyle’s needs are more severe than some with learning disabilities, the challenge for most parents with a learning-disabled child is in obtaining the best possible services, resources, and education possible for their child. My advice? Never stop advocating for your child. You know him better than anyone!

Each of our five children is taking his or her own path. Although raising a learning impaired child like Kyle means providing more assistance and more intervention, we know he wakes up most mornings with a smile, he finds joy in each day, and we find joy in him. And for us, that’s enough.