Fashion designer Dana Buchman refuses to brand her learning-challenged daughter as disabled-and she wants to educate others to do the same
Learning Curve continued...
In A Special Education, Buchman is unsparing in describing the
mistakes she made. A critical one: silence. "We've only recently gotten
better at talking about Charlotte's learning differences," she says. When
the girls were younger, Buchman and her husband didn't know what to say, or how
to answer questions, when it became clear that little sister Annie could do
things-like read books, play board games, and participate in sports-faster and
easier than big sister Charlotte. Today, Buchman wishes they'd started talking
You can make conversations about learning differences appropriate for your
child's age, says Ann Miller, MSpEd, assistant director of education at the
Stephen Gaynor School, a leading New York school for children with learning
differences that Buchman's daughter attended. "Don't put labels on a child
too early. For your children, 'dyslexia' or 'auditory processing disorder' are
just words without meaning. Just begin by talking with them about what's easier
for them to do and what's more difficult." As your child gets older, she
adds, you can talk about how people have different learning styles, and what
those learning styles might be.
"Just make learning differences a part of normal conversation. Say: 'You
learn differently than other children, and we're going to stay on top of it and
work with it. You're smart and beautiful and you will be a success and have a
happy life, but you learn differently.' Spouses should talk to each other, you
should talk with the child, and with their siblings. It takes away the poison
and the anxiety, and you can learn to become more comfortable about it so that
learning differences don't become a source of shame, embarrassment, or
Buchman also advises parents to teach their learning-challenged children to
be their own advocates. "I've known parents who are unwilling to admit
their children have difficulties, who do their homework for them. You have to
support your child, but the child has to become a student of her own
disabilities, learn what's hard for her, and how to speak out."
A Lesson From Charlotte
It was only in learning to cope with Charlotte's learning differences,
Buchman says, that she finally came to terms with vulnerabilities of her own.
In the high-pressure world of New York fashion, Buchman had created a persona
she now dubs "Perky Perky"-focused, driven, with all her confusion and
anxiety hidden under layers of armor.
"I began to realize how much we had in common. Recognizing
vulnerability, imperfection, and messiness in Charlotte, I was able to say,
'Hey, I have that too,'" she recalls. "It was easier for me to say that
it was OK that Charlotte wasn't an 'A' student-it was harder for me to say that