My son, Quinn, was born with a serious heart defect. I was 41 years old at the time, my husband was 61. We knew the risks of having a baby with problems was higher in older parents, but an amniocentesis indicated I was having a normal, healthy baby boy. But just a year later, it was clear that Quinn had serious developmental problems. By 4, he was diagnosed with severe learning disabilities. When he was 8, we were told by his therapist that he was retarded, that he would never go to high school, never have a job, never have a relationship, and that he would have to be immediately institutionalized.
I knew this diagnosis was dead wrong. I absolutely knew that even though Quinn was different, he was a spectacular person, and I began reinforcing that in every way.
There is nothing more important than to love and support your child, to understand the pain and frustration they go through, to encourage them, to believe in them and to try and be patient. But children with learning disabilities also need advocates and mentors. My husband, Ben, and I were his main advocates but we sought out others to do the job as well. We encouraged Quinn to do the same, to find older people, other older kids who would look out for him.
Quinn attended a school for kids with learning disabilities and graduated from another, went on to college, took courses at American University and spent a year at the New York Film Academy. Now with help, he has written A Different Life: Growing Up Learning Disabled and Other Adventures, published in April.
Many of these “adventures” he writes about stem from having been teased, ignored, bullied, put down, made fun of or ostracized. I wish I had had a book like this to read when Quinn was growing up. The anguish we all went through would have been much easier to cope with if we had known that others had gone through the same thing. It would have given us hope to know that someone else had not only survived but thrived.
Quinn has also started his own website for Health Central called FriendsofQuinn.com. It’s a place for young adults with learning disabilities to meet each other and exchange stories, problems and ideas. So often these young people have socialization problems, trouble making friends and are embarrassed and ashamed to admit that they are learning disabled. This is a site where they can “come out,” be honest and comfortable about their problems and know that others on the site will understand and empathize. It’s also for parents and families and professionals in the field to learn. Quinn works full time at Health Central now and is responsible for much of the content on the site along with his colleagues in the mental health field.
Children pick up their cues from their parents, and we never wavered in our belief that he would be able to deal with being learning disabled. We have tried to instill in him that what will always give him the most confidence, the most happiness and fulfillment is to help other people with similar problems—and he has taken that to heart.
Sally Quinn is aWashington Postcolumnist and moderator of washingtonpost.com’s On Faith.