Fashion designer Dana Buchman talks candidly about coming to terms with her daughter's learning disability.
Choosing the right colors, fabrics, and accents for her women's fashion line has always come easy for fashion designer Dana Buchman. But recognizing that her oldest daughter, Charlotte, now 18, had a learning disability (LD) and dealing with the repercussions was a much harder task.
"I studied fashion design, so I knew all about that. But I knew nothing about child development," admits Buchman, who writes about Charlotte's struggle in her new book, A Special Education: One Family's Journey Through the Maze of Learning Disabilities, and will donate all of her proceeds to the National Center for Learning Disabilities. We spoke to Buchman about her experience, what she's learned, and the advice she has for other families.
Q: How did you first discover that Charlotte had a learning disability?
A: As a first-time parent, you don't really know much. Charlotte never crawled and she walked late. We also began to see that my younger daughter, Annie, was reaching milestones much earlier than Charlotte. We finally took her to a speech therapist when she was 3 and the therapist recommended that we get her tested. It was hard for us to understand what was wrong with Charlotte. Because she was so young, the doctors couldn't give us specifics. Plus, with LDs, they can't always definite exactly what it is. They told us it was a combination of dyslexia, ADD, organizational issues, language development, and more.
Q: What types of hardships did Charlotte face growing up?
A: There were so many. Things that were easy for other kids, like zipping jackets, tying her shoes, playing board games, and singing songs, were hard for Charlotte. She'd get upset and embarrassed, and it made it difficult for her to play with other kids. She was mortified when Annie started to read before her. Thankfully, over the years she's learning to compensate-to avoid some things and laugh at others.
Q: As a mother, what was the hardest part for you? What did you learn?
A: In the early days, it seemed like the end of the world for me. I had a full-time job. I didn't have any experience with special-needs children and I couldn't stop thinking, "What is her life going to be like?" Over the years, I've realized that life isn't always by the book-there are all different kinds of intelligence and ways to be.
Q: How did Charlotte's learning disability affect your family life?
A: It affected my marriage a lot. Tom and I were clueless about LDs and we put huge pressure on ourselves. We spent a lot of time talking about how to fix [Charlotte's learning disability]. We talked more about fixing it than just enjoying Charlotte. It was also hard on Annie. We would hold back on our praise for Annie's milestones, and that was stupid. The key is to keep each child distinct in your mind and realize that each child has her own strengths and weaknesses.
Q: How's Charlotte doing today?
A: She's great. She's away at college. She's comfortable with facing her disability and has become an advocate for herself. I feel fortunate that we caught her LD early.
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