NCLD: Building Self-Esteem in Kids when Talking About LD

NCLD: Building Self-Esteem in Kids when Talking About LD

Shadow Project Board Member and founding member of Decoding Dyslexia Oregon, Diana Sticker, is featured on the National Center for Learning Disabilities Blog for her insightful article on how to talk to children about LD. Diana draws from her personal experience as a mother whose daughter has dyslexia to provide tips to other parents.

Talk It Up: Eight Ways to Have Self-Esteem Boosting Conversations About LD can be found here: 


Or read a copy of the article below:

Talk It Up: Eight Ways to Have Self-Esteem Boosting Conversations About LD
By: Diana Sticker, Parent Contributor,
Published Date: May 8, 2013 1:48 PM
Talk It UpWe loved our drive to school each morning. It gave us time to chat about the upcoming day’s events. But in 4th grade our morning routine changed. My daughter became anxious and teary eyed on the way to school. She frequently had stomachaches. Some days she complained about being overwhelmed in writing class. Many times she refused to go to school. This was unusual. She was a bright, hardworking, creative and enthusiastic student. But unknown to me and her teachers, she was struggling to keep up. Over time I started to recognize the root of the problem:dyslexia.As parents, it’s overwhelming when we begin to realize that our child has a learning disability (LD). We find ourselves in an unexpected world with a steep learning curve, dealing with our own feelings about the diagnosis while ensuring our child gets appropriate services through new means such as IEP or 504 plans. When we began this journey, I tried to keep central the goal of restoring emotional well-being and self-esteem regardless of how well she learned to read, write or spell.But I was unsure of how to talk my daughter about her LD. Her self-esteem was already low and her anxiety high. For many, encouraging a child to talk openly about their LD is thought to be the first step in teaching them how to advocate for themselves. But I found limited information on how to begin talking about LD. How do you break the news to your child? By trial and error, here is my personal sketch of what worked for our family.

Begin by talking about specific challenges or behavior.

Calling the disability by its true name is important for complete understanding and helps children learn how to advocate, but is not necessary at first. Begin by talking about your child’s specific challenges or behavior — not the disability’s name.

Gradually have ongoing, age-appropriate conversations.

Choose words and concepts that your child understands. Keep in mind that this is a long road and the goal is to have many ongoing, age appropriate conversations.

Talk about learning differences.

Introduce the concept of learning differences, before talking about your child’s LD. The goal is to speak about challenges comfortably, normalizing the concept of differences. Kids benefit from a clear understanding that we all have strengths and weaknesses. Without our differences the world would be a very boring place.

Increasingly share in-depth information and terminology.

As time passes, begin sharing in-depth information and accurate terminology for your child’s struggles, increasing the level of detail over time. I started to introduce basic ideas on how the dyslexic brain works to my daughter. To take the focus away from my child, I talked about myself. “I read slowly because I need more time for the pathways to reach the reading areas of my brain. But I can do it!” Eventually, with the help of books and online sources, we discussed the unique attributes of the dyslexic brain and how it processes written language. You know best how much and how quickly to share. The goal is to have balanced discussions that help your child understand their LD, as well as their abilities.

Move little by little, one day at time.

Talk about their LD gradually — little by little, one day, one week, at a time. Do more listening than talking and answer tough questions as they surface. Drop the conversation for a while, leaving time for reflection. Then try talking again. Self-awareness comes in waves. Allow conversations to come up where ever they rise, pausing if interest fades. Our best talks were whiletraveling in the car!

Find connections with people who have LD.

In your conversations, bring focus to other people, like family members or famous people who struggle with LD. I talked about my difficulty with spelling, how it makes me feel and how I deal with it. I revealed that other people in our family have dyslexia like us, including grandparents and cousins. Share information about others so they may not feel alone. It doesn’t matter whom you talk about, as long as it’s someone with whom your child has a connection. Kids can even connect with characters in their favorite books—check out NCLD’s book list for some great books for kids with LD.

Eye to Eye has a wonderful mentoring program that pairs kids with college or high school students who have similar LDs. Through mentorship, this organization strives to build self-esteem and encourage the skills necessary to be a self-advocate. Check out the FAQ section on their website for information on how to find a mentor for your child.

Always talk about their strengths.

Our kids have amazing abilities. Enroll them in activities that foster their natural talents. Remember to celebrate and talk with them about their gifts and accomplishments. Let them have the time each day to shine! This will help your child define themselves by their ability, not by their disability.

Discover online resources.

Every child is so different, and there is no one correct way to talk about LD. For other online tips, check out these articles:


NCLD’s Your Child’s Social & Emotional Skills section is another great resource for parents.

Talking with your child about their LD can be eye-opening. One day, before our family comfortably used the term ourselves, a friend inadvertently spoke to my daughter about her dyslexia. Later, I asked how it felt. She said “Oh mom, I know I have dyslexia. It just means reading and spelling are harder for me, but I don’t mind. Besides, I am good at the fun stuff!”

Blog - Social MediaDiana Sticker is a former research professional with a Master of Public Health from Johns Hopkins University. She and her daughter have dyslexia. Diana is a Board Member of The Shadow Project, a nonprofit that partners with special education teachers to close the achievement gap for children with learning challenges. Also, she a founding member of Decoding Dyslexia Oregon, a grassroots parent movement that strives to bring dyslexia awareness to public schools.

May 2013 Newsletter

May 2013 Newsletter
Newsletter • May 2013
The Shadow Project
Jacqueline, 7th grade, has been involved in the chess club since the 3rd grade


“I have been able to earn many books from the Shadow Store. Reading is one of my favorite things to do. Reading helps me keep busy and out of trouble. It helps me think clearly.” –Skai, a Shadow student


Stephenson Students
Our Scholastic Hero, Traci.


Help us put 1,500 new books into the hands of special education students next month. Gifts of $100 or more will be matched!


Stephenson Students
Students ask Arielle questions about high school.




Shadow Students Prevail at Chess Tourneys

We are thrilled to announce that both a former and current Shadow Project student recently earned top honors (and trophies!)

Jessica with the King and Queen of Chess

at the Chess for Success State Tournament and the 2013 Girls Play Chess Tournament. Jacqueline, a 7th grader, was part of a middle school team that qualified for the state tournament, and helped the team to a 3rd place finish! Jessica, also a 7th grader, took home a 2nd place trophy for her performance at the Girls Play Chess tournament. Both young ladies have been participating in their school’s afterschool chess club for a number of years. The game of chess requires dedication, patience and perseverance, something both of these stellar students have exemplified in both school and in their chess careers. Our sincere congratulations to both of them!


Our Scholastic Hero
Students in The Shadow Project earn books for making progress toward their academic and social goals. For many of the 1,300 students in program who come from low-income homes, owning high-interest books such as Diary of a Wimpy Kid or the fact-filled Scholastic Book of World Records is out of reach. In fact, books earned through The Shadow Project are oftentimes the only books these children have at home. Thanks to Traci Smith of Scholastic Book Fairs, The Shadow Project is able to fulfill student and teacher requests for popular titles. Traci knows what a difference reading makes for students in special education and helps us collect exciting and culturally relevant books that our students love! Traci has been helping The Shadow Project engage eager readers for six years. We are so grateful for her support!


Be a Book Buddy!
Help us reach our goal of buying 1,500 new books for our special education students next month. Donate $100 or more now and your gift will be matched! That means your $100 gift buys more than 50 books; $500 puts nearly 300 books into the hands of newly-enthusiastic readers. You’ll be providing culturally relevant books to our students, that is, books that positively depict characters with dyslexia, ADHD, autism or speech impairments.

Want to help select books? Join us in June for one of two planned trips to Scholastic Warehouse in N.E. Portland. For more information, please email our Assistant Director Lena Teplitsky at


Inspiring Shadow Students
Shadow Project volunteer Arielle Schnitzer recently visited Harrison Park students in The Shadow Project to talk to them about her experience as a teenager with learning disabilities. The students were eager to hear about high school and receive tips about how to deal with learning disabilities at school. “Our students could certainly relate to the challenges that Arielle has faced and felt hopeful that they too could navigate the school years ahead!” said teacher Beth Brod.

We’re looking for more adults and teens with learning disabilities who can visit a Shadow classroom and share their stories. To get involved, please email


Thank You for Making a Difference
We are deeply grateful to The Robert D. and Marcia H. Randall Charitable Trust, which awarded The Shadow Project a $7,500 grant to improve educational outcomes for students with disabilities and strengthen school district partnerships by incorporating recommendations by the Harvard Business School Association of Oregon. A long-time supporter of our program, The Randall Trust assists organizations that provide opportunity to the underprivileged; promoting personal responsibility and initiative through values-based programs focused on improving education and social well-being with challenging, stimulating instruction.


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City of Portland’s 2011 “Making a Difference” Award in Education

The Shadow Project
Toll free: 1-888-747-0005

Executive Director Christy Scattarella on “Newsmakers”

The Shadow Project’s Executive Director Christy Scattarella was interviewed for the “Newsmakers” program about the nonprofit she founded, and the needs of students in special education.