Identifying your child with learning differences rocks a parent’s world. What exactly do these “differences” mean? What does this mean for our family as a whole? How do I help my child succeed in a school that doesn’t cater to him? How do we help him help himself as he gets older?Amid these challenges, family life can begin to center around the “problem” child at the expense of other children, or even the spouse.

As "Of Different Minds" author Maren Angelotti found, her son without learning differences started to resent the attention given to his siblings with auditory processing disorder, ADD and dyslexia. Meanwhile, three other children with learning differences demanded multiple lifestyle changes for the whole family. Maren recently talked with about the challenges – and the joys – of integrating what she learned for her whole family.

Crosswalk: I think your book is different in a lot of ways because you focus very much on the whole, integrated family, while a lot of books focus just on the educational aspects for the specific child. Can you tell our readers a little bit about your own journey into the world of raising kids with learning differences?

Maren: It started as a young mom, noticing things that just weren’t clicking with my kids. And it wasn’t drastic. They were just little innuendos. They started in the toddler years—we used to laugh about it because the kids would take words and just twist them a little bit, and the meanings became so different. An example would be [when] we used to live in California and we’d drive by the ocean and my oldest daughter would say, “Hey, Mommy, look at the lotion.” And we used to go, “Oh, isn’t that so cute.” Just different things like that that we would kind of laugh about in the family. But I noticed as time went on, that auditorially they weren’t processing the words correctly. And so, as I went through the school years with them, I kept thinking, “What is this?” As time progressed and we saw that reading became more difficult for them, then I finally got into understanding that, yes, we’ve got to get them tested. And it went from that little, itty-bitty kind of a thing to understanding we’ve got something a lot bigger that we have to deal with here.

CW: When you say something “a lot bigger,” does that mean you were looking beyond the educational realm?

Maren: Well, at that point it starts in the educational realm because, as a parent, that’s really where it becomes magnified. But then all of the sudden it shifts to the social. And you find that many times these kids will like to play with kids younger than themselves, because again the social issues – they’re usually about two years behind socially. So as a parent you’re treating them emotionally as the age level that you see, but in reality you need to be treating them about two years behind. And a lot of families have a real problem with that, because they’ll say, “Gee, Johnny is ten years old and he’s acting like a baby. What’s the problem there?” And so we discipline them probably inappropriately. But if we understand what’s going on in the neurological sense, it makes sense. And as a parent, we can be a lot more patient with them.

CW: In your book, you encourage parents to “do more than cope” with learning differences. What do you mean by that?

Maren: I really think it’s important for parents to educate themselves. Remember, if you have a child with a learning difference, chances are you are an undiagnosed parent that has a learning difference. So as a parent, you need to cope by understanding and educating yourself how this child learns best and what kind of an educational environment do I need to seek out for them. And it’s not always what it seems. Many people think, “Oh, I’m going to do the public school route, that’ll be great.” But this child may crash and burn in that environment. So what’s going to be best for them? And many people go to the private school sector, and think, oh that’s great it’s going to be better because they’ll have smaller class sizes and they’ll pay more attention. But in reality those teachers have never been trained to actually teach a learning different child. So it basically magnifies their situation as a learning different student in a smaller setting. So they usually have a harder time. And homeschool is a really good option but it just depends on the parent, if they have the patience to do it.