Speaking to your child about their learning disability 

Relief is often the first reaction of many parents when their child is diagnosed with ADHD. Relief, along with grief, disappointment, and of course, worry for the future. In time, as you learn about ADHD, comes understanding, empathy and compassion for the condition your child lives with. But how do you tell your child about their diagnosis? Some parents may even wonder if they should discuss it at all with their child – for fear of labelling, to protect them from feeling different, and concerns that the child will use the diagnosis as an excuse for inappropriate behaviour or lack of effort. 

We explore this sensitive topic and compile the best strategies to empower you to have these difficult conversations. 

Should I tell my child about their learning difficulty? 

Yes, say ADHD experts, because the chances are, that they are already aware of it. Similarly, a diagnosis may bring relief to them, knowing that their difficulties are caused by the fact that they learn differently and that other people have similar problems and challenges. It’s also comforting to know that they have an identifiable, common, and treatable condition. They are less likely to feel embarrassed or ashamed about it. As they learn about their disability, they can inform others, and they will eventually learn self-advocacy skills, which is one of the best tools that you can give your child as they progress to adulthood. 

If you avoid speaking to your child about their learning differences, your child may hold many misconceptions about the disorder, or make incorrect assumptions about themselves – think that they are unintelligent, or unlikeable, for that matter. Furthermore, it fosters a sense of denial in the family, which can hinder you and your child (as they grow) from getting the help that they need. If they don’t learn to speak up for themselves, for instance, in the school context, ADHD can look like laziness and or disobedience, which can cause them to be disciplined rather than helped. 

When do I tell my child about their diagnosis? 

According to Edward Hallowell, a psychiatrist who specialises in ADHD, a child who is old enough for psychological testing is old enough to learn the results1. Generally speaking, sooner is better than later. But how you approach it, depends on their age. 

How do I go about speaking to my child about their ADHD? 

Here are a few points to help you navigate these discussions: 


Think of it as an ongoing conversation 

Sharing a diagnosis is not a one-time discussion; think of this as a continuous, informal, and sequential discussion that will take place throughout your child’s life. The conversations will change and grow over time as they do. Start with basic information and let their questions guide you. 


Make sure your child feels loved and accepted. 

ADHD is only one part of your child. Explain to them that ADHD has nothing to do with their intelligence and their capabilities. 


Keep it simple, honest and age-appropriate

When your child asks questions about their condition, keep your answers honest and age-appropriate. If they are young, sharing neuroscience behind the condition or the latest medical research would go over their heads, so answer simply, for instance: “This medication will help you concentrate”. ADHD may be described to a five-year-old as “wiggly,” but you can introduce more clinical terms for an older child, such as “distractible.” Provide small, digestible amounts of information in a series of conversations. 


Keep conversations matter-of-fact 

Your child is learning about their abilities and potential from your behaviour. If you’re emotional or express sadness or anxiety over their future, you are essentially influencing the way your child will feel about themselves. Present information in a matter-of-fact and stay away from giving long lectures. 


Encourage your child to ask questions and listen to their concerns

As your child grows (whether into puberty or adulthood) there will be new issues, and questions to address. Listen to their concerns and fears, be empathetic and validate their feelings rather than brushing them away. Let them know who else they can ask questions to – your doctor, other members of the care team or any other trusted adults. 


Help your child identify what to say to others 

Other people – kids, family members or adults in the community – may ask your child about their condition. If they choose to respond (they don’t owe anyone an explanation), help them identify the right words in response. Developing a script can help them feel more comfortable. Ask your child what questions people ask, and put together a standard response, such as, “I have ADHD that’s why it’s hard for me to focus at times.” 


Focus on your child’s strengths 

To build confidence in your child, recognise their skills and talents and remind them of all the things they can do. Speak to your child about their specific strengths and the things you love about them. ADHD doesn’t stop them from succeeding at school even if they may need a bit more help in reaching their goals. 


Focus on your child’s strengths 

To build confidence in your child, recognise their skills and talents and remind them of all the things they can do. Speak to your child about their specific strengths and the things you love about them. ADHD doesn’t stop them from succeeding at school even if they may need a bit more help in reaching their goals. 


Get support for yourself and your child 

To help build your confidence when speaking to your child, consider the following: 

• Seek out a community of parents (in-person/ virtual) who can relate to your situation and offer personal advice. This will help to combat your isolation and inexperience. 

• Get special insights from the professionals in your child’s care team. 

• Read articles and listen to interviews, videos, and podcasts of ADHD-diagnosed adults describing “what they wish their parents knew” or “what they would say to their younger selves”. 

• Ask your child if they would like to join a group for other kids with ADHD, which could be very affirming. Finding other kids who also struggle with learning issues can boost their self-esteem and helps bust the stigma. 


Don’t let your child use their diagnosis as an excuse 

ADHD is not a reason to stop trying; it means that with the right treatment and support, your child can thrive! 

In conclusion, Anna Stewart, the author of School Support for Students with AD/HD, said: “If we want and expect our sons and daughters to be self-determined adults, we have to teach them how to advocate for themselves. And in order to advocate for themselves, they have to know their strengths and weaknesses, how they learn, what they need to learn and how to engage with others. And if they have a disability, I believe they need to know what it is and how to manage it.” 


1. ADDitude. (2022). What Was Your Reaction to Your Child’s Diagnosis?. ADDitude [Online]. Accessed on 20 February 2023. Available from https://www.additudemag.com/additude-asked-what-was-your-first-reaction-after-you-or-your-child-had-been-diagnosed-with-adhd/ 

2. Churchill Center & School. (n.d.). Explaining Learning Disabilities to Your Child. Churchill Center & School. Accessed on 16 February 2023. Available from https://www.churchillstl.org/learning-disability-resources/explaining-learning-disabilities/ 

3. Jacobson, R. (2023). How to Help Kids Talk About Learning Disabilities. Child Mind Institute [Online]. Accessed on 16 February 2023. Available from https://childmind.org/article/how-to-help-kids-talk-about-learning-disabilities/ 

4. Lavoie, R. (2021). The Best Way to Explain Learning Disabilities to Your Child. ADDitude [Online]. Accessed on 16 February 2023. Available from https://www.additudemag.com/telling-your-child-they-have-a-learning-disability/?utm_source=eletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=school_january_2023&utm_content=011823&goal=0_d9446392d6-94be017d11-312517610 

5. Morin, A. (2022). Talking to Your Child About Their Disability. Very Well Mind [Online]. Accessed on 16 February 2023. Available from https://www.verywellfamily.com/talk-to-your-child-about-his-or-her-disability-4142685 

6. Siwek, A. (2009). Talking to Children About LD. LD Online [Online]. Accessed on 16 February 2023. Available from https://www.ldonline.org/ld-topics/self-esteem-stress-management/talking-children-about-ld 

7. Stewart, A. (n.d). Should You Tell Your Child about Their Disability or Diagnosis?. Empowering Parents [Online]. Accessed on 20 February 2023. Available from https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/should-you-tell-your-child-about-their-disability-or-diagnosis/ 

8. Wade, A. (2018). How to Talk to Your Child or Adolescent about Learning Disabilities and ADHD. Foothills Academy [Online]. Accessed on 16 February 2023. Available from https://www.foothillsacademy.org/community/articles/how-to-talk 

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These articles are for information purposes only. It cannot replace the diagnosis of a healthcare provider. Pharma Dynamics gives no warranty as to the accuracy of the information contained in such articles and shall not, under any circumstances, be liable for any consequences which may be suffered as a result of a user’s reliance thereon.

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