Four Tips for Parents Whose Children Learn Differently

Learning Heros cracking the code

One in five students struggle with learning and attention issues. So, if you suspect your child has a learning difference—such as difficulty focusing or reading, writing or doing math—you are not alone. A national survey of parents who know or suspect their child has learning challenges, conducted by Learning Heroes with support from Oak Foundation, offers some guidance. Here are four tips for parents who are on an educational journey with their child who has learning differences:

#1: Don’t Wait for Your Child to “Outgrow” Their Challenges

Seek help early. Having a formal evaluation is a critical step in getting and feeling supported. The younger children are diagnosed, the more likely they are to receive services.

#2: Ask Your Pediatrician

Parents cited pediatricians as the most trusted partner in helping them support their child with developmental or learning differences. The research found that parents are more likely to accept a diagnosis and pursue an evaluation if their pediatrician was the first to identify their child’s learning challenges.

#3: Be In the Know About the Services Your School Can Provide

Most parents reported their child receives some type of service from school—such as a teacher’s aide, counseling or classroom or testing accommodations. The more services their child received, the happier parents reported being with the school.

#4: Advocate for Supports at Home

Parents cite a range of supports at home that helped equip them to team up in support of their child’s academic, social and emotional skills, including guides on age-appropriate milestones, training on how to help and advocate for their child and parent support groups.

“My biggest advice to parents is if you see anything that you may feel is a difference with your child, it’s okay. Ask the question. Say something,” says Texas parent Onia Wallace. “It’s not a reflection of you. It’s not even a reflection of your child. I have two very special little ones who have proven time and time again that despite their diagnosis, they have not only continued to reach milestones but [go] so far beyond that. You just have to take a different road sometimes.”

To help schools and parents partner up to support students with learning differences, Learning Heroes launched a Communications Playbook. You can find the Playbook, more information about Learning Heroes’ national survey, Cracking the Code for Families of Children with Learning Differences and videos of parents describing their own journeys here.

Supporting Our Children to Find Their Passion, Purpose, and Voice

After being back in school for only a week, my 6th grade son came home and confidently announced “I signed up for track.” He beamed. And I felt a gush of relief that we sent him back to school in-person and opened up the doors to this new level of confidence and decision-making. 

New research released by Learning Heroes, delves into the power that afterschool, extracurricular and summer learning programs have in the lives of children. The research included deep listening among more than 2,000 K-8 parents and 1,000 K-8 teachers and out-of-school time (OST) providers nationally, between November 2020 and March of this year. Among the families surveyed, 65% enroll their children in one or more programs. Nearly half of those participate in a program focused on sports, the arts, or other interest-based activities. There are lots of ways to spend our family’s time and energy, but a clear majority see the value these opportunities offer our children, now and into the future. 

The good news is teachers and providers share parents’ enthusiasm for these programs and the positive effects they have on students–both in and out of school. In focus groups, teachers repeatedly shared that children who participate in activities outside of school are more successful in school. And this makes sense, because even if my son doesn’t win a single race, just signing up, showing up, and getting sweaty at every practice exercises safe and healthy risk taking. In the classroom, this translates to a willingness to take academic risks, like struggling through a tough algebra problem or making a mistake on an assignment and trying again. Along the way, he’ll learn teamwork, leadership and perseverance–all skills that parents, teachers, and providers agree are reinforced by participation in these programs.

What drives parents to sign their children up for out-of school-time programs? Learning Heroes found that parents see extracurriculars as their child’s own unique space where they can explore and cultivate their interests. These programs are distinct from school–where kids are one among many and everyone generally swims in their grade level ‘lane.’ 

Equally important is that out-of-school and summer learning activities expose kids to a range of important experiences they just can’t get at home. While there are lots of things I can offer my son–like our cherished time reading aloud before going to bed at night–I don’t need to become his track coach, too. Giving him that space to grow and find out what he loves–and even what he doesn’t–sends a powerful message: This is your time and space to be your unique self. The skills and lessons learned, the wins–and even the losses–are yours to keep as part of your life journey.

Unfortunately, Learning Heroes found that access to these programs is not equitably distributed. Families whose children are enrolled in OST activities report a higher socio-economic status and education level, regardless of race or ethnicity, than those who don’t send their children to any programs. So while I’m grateful my son’s middle school offered an array of virtual clubs this year, I wonder whether enriching opportunities like these are reaching all of the kids in our community who would benefit from them. Indeed, our school’s PTA could be a helpful messenger in getting the word out to families through our communication channels. And we can raise the equity question with our school leaders to understand what strategies they are taking to engage kids whose families might not be easily reached through traditional methods, like email and newsletters.

As we dream and make plans for what’s ahead this summer and beyond for our children, it’s a moment for us as parents to think about the program, camp or after-school activity that helped shape who we are today. I might even dust off a few memories from my track running days to share with my son as we support him to find his passion, purpose and voice.

Learn more at or connect with us on social media @BeALearninghero.