Learning curve

By SAMANTHA CRITCHELL Associated Press Writer Published:

NEW YORK (AP) Fashion designer Dana Buchman has the Type A personality that gets things done.

So when her daughter Charlotte was diagnosed at a young age with learning disabilities, Buchman thought shed figure out a way to fix it. She believed it would just take a good attitude, good ideas and a good deal of money just like many other things in life.

Well, she got one thing right: Attitude has hugely affected the way Buchman, Charlotte and the rest of the family has dealt with LD. But dealing with it doesnt mean eliminating it.

Buchman put into words her experience and feelings about life as the mother of a learning-disabled child in A Special Education: One Familys Journey Through the Maze of Learning Disabilities (DeCapo/Long Life). It was written with the blessing of Charlotte, now a college student who contributes her own chapter at the end, Buchmans husband Tom Farber and their younger daughter Annie.

Farber, though, didnt quite understand what was driving his wife to make their personal story public.

Tom said, Why? And I told him I wanted to guide parents who are just starting on the journey, Buchman explains. Originally it was going to be a how-to book, but even more than the day-to-day things, I wanted to share our story emotionally, which is an even more similar situation to others.

She adds: Im happy with this because I want people to get the help they need. I want them to get out of the closet.

Buchman also wanted to show that people react differently to the same challenges, and one way isnt the right way. When she put years-old memories on the manuscript and then had her husband read it, sometimes hed remember things differently and sometimes he never knew Buchman was feeling that way inside. We always talked about the practical, the logistics, but never the emotional, she explains.

For Buchman, it was a constant struggle to abandon the idea of being perfect.

At one moment, back in 1986, everything was going according to plan she was a newlywed, was pregnant and was about to launch her namesake label as Liz Claibornes higher-end brand.

But then she had a colicky baby, who soon started missing milestones, such as the age she shouldve started crawling or walking. Buchman started to dread the normal events of toddlerhood as she began to worry if something was wrong with Charlotte. Once Annie was born two years later and Buchman began comparing the two, she was sure something was off.

Buchman makes a point of using the initials LD instead of learning disabled whenever possible both in her book and in conversation. She says LD should stand for learning differences.

She passed that on to Charlotte: By the way, I say learning differences instead of learning disabled because the word disability makes it seem like were not capable of learning. But we are we just need to have things taught to us differently because our brains are wired differently, writes the now 19-year-old Charlotte in A Special Educations afterword. Sometimes, though, I have to live with the disability label so that I can get special considerations, like untimed tests.

Buchman, 54, acknowledges that when she was a girl growing up in Memphis, Tenn., the kids who had difficulty reading, spelling and doing math were labeled the dumb kids.

She says she knows better now, of course, and that there are some things Charlotte does better than anyone else in the family. Shes the star artist and also the one more likely to follow Buchman into the fashion world. (On this day, she fits in her mothers Garment District office, wearing a white miniskirt, denim vest and leopard-print high-heel boots.)

But all the time Buchman spent with Charlotte, taking her to her special education school each day, working with her on crafts and patiently explaining something a third or fourth time did take time away from Annie, Buchman says.

As soon as you have one child, the family is not the same. With a second, even more so. And with LD, the effect is even more dramatic. You have to learn to parent each child differently. LD had an affect on Annie and Annies learning style.

She adds: I spend and spent more time on Charlotte, but a few years into it even Charlotte realized it, and we made an effort to include Annie. ... You cant give it all to one child.

Buchman quickly notes, though, that the two girls are very, very close. Annie was very protective of her (Charlotte), especially in the real world.

Also, Annie and Farber share a love of athletics and also have a tight relationship.

With Charlotte now at a mainstream New England college, the family dynamic has changed again.

The end of high school was a big milestone. Charlotte was in all LD schools her whole life. She was protected, but those 12 years of school was also 12 years of doing what shes not good at. Now she can work to her strengths, Buchman explains. Her leaving for college was bittersweet, but our main job as parents is to prepare them to leave.

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