What role should a father play in a home where one (or more) child has learning disabilities? How important is the dad’s voice and presence when meeting with school personnel? Advocate dad and NCLD Parent Leader, Andrew Kavulich spoke to us with the voice of experience. He has four children — and three of them have dyslexia. Andrew, who is a full-time stay-at-home dad, encourages parents to maintain a united front when communicating with educators.
Karen Golembeski: Hi, this is Karen Golembeski with the National Center for Learning Disabilities and this is part of our new podcast series for “Dad-vocates.” Today we’re speaking with Andrew Kavulich. Andrew, will you please say a few words about yourself?
Andrew Kavulich: Hello. My name is Andrew Kavulich, and I live in Pennington, New Jersey. I am married to my lovely wife, Christine, and we have four children. Grace is 12. Our twins, Ava and Sophia, are nine, and we have a son, Luke. Three of my four children have learning disabilities, dyslexia. And that is how we have started on this journey and are continuing on this journey. I’ve always welcomed the opportunity to share our story with others, so that we might be able to help them through their journeys.
Karen Golembeski: Great. Andrew, we’re so happy to have you with us today. We’re going to ask you to help other dads understand why it’s so important to be connected with their children when they’re in school and helping advocate for them, while they’re at home. For any number of reasons, moms tend to be the ones who get the credit for most of the “heavy lifting” when it comes to supporting children with learning disabilities at home. What roles do you think dads should play when it comes to day-to-day routines for helping children with LD to be successful?
Andrew Kavulich: Well, I might have a little different view on this in that I am the full- time, at-home parent. I realize I have been blessed with that opportunity. My wife is a physician, so she works full-time. It was our decision that one of us would be home with the children. But what that has given me is the ability to see the development of the kids from the earliest age all the way into their school age experiences. So I was able to see their development and then from that I was actually able to see their strengths and weaknesses. All along my wife and I were very much on the same page and really had a lot of communication and dialog about the kids and what they needed. So, I would say that I know being the full-time, at-home parent – most of it is the mom’s [role] and a lot of it does fall on the mom’s shoulders. But I guess I could say that my advice is that moms and dads have to be a team with the children and especially at earliest ages.
Karen Golembeski: Great. How important do you think it is for dads to have a voice when it comes to discussions with school personnel? Does it help? Does it hurt? Does it even matter?
Andrew Kavulich: I think this really piggybacks on the last comment that I made about moms and dads being a team. If your child is struggling in school and you have to deal with school personnel, I think it’s extremely important that Mom and Dad both show up and have a united front and also really be a part of the discussion. From hearing from other parents who have gone through this situation, it’s much harder if it is just one parent going through it. Also, I know if one parent sort of thinks there isn’t an issue and one parent thinks there is, that makes it a lot tougher on all ends. So again it goes back to the previous point about Mom and Dad — they really have to be on the same page when dealing with school personnel.
Karen Golembeski: It sounds like communication is an important key here. We’ve talked about other parents and we’ve talked about school personnel. I’m curious to hear more about siblings and other family members. We hear that sometimes they don’t understand what it’s like for you and your child to live with learning disabilities. How can dads be helpful in dealing with misunderstandings, disappointments, or perceived special attention that is often part of the learning disabilities experience at home with other siblings?
Andrew Kavulich: Well, I’m not pretending to be an expert on this. And I’m learning as I’m going through this as well. I really just try to celebrate the individual strengths of all our children. And obviously, as you’re trying to get remediation or you’re helping your children [with LD] through their difficulties, it is easy to let one of the other siblings maybe not get as much attention.
So I really think that is something that as a parent, as a father or as a mother, that you have to be aware of — that you really celebrate the strengths of each child. It isn’t easy, but I think we’re trying to be aware of that and be aware of their needs. I’ve also tried to have open communication with each of the children as they’ve gotten older. If we are spending more time doing something [with one child], we always try to bring it back [to why] we’re doing this to help [him or her] because… The same is true about going to different meetings and talking to other parents. We’re doing this to help other children. That’s how we’ve handled it and it’s been pretty successful so far.
Karen Golembeski: Great. And finally, if you had two main tips to share with other dads or for any other parents or guardian looking to help their child with learning disabilities, what would they be?
Andrew Kavulich: My first tip is to trust that as parents you do know your children the best. You spend millions of minutes with them, and you know them inside and out. So if you feel [or think] that there’s an issue, I would act upon that instinct, react to what your gut tells you. That’s how we proceeded, because we know our children best. I’d also think sometimes, when we do talk about what our children’s issues are, we might defer to someone who has an “expert” opinion, but we are the experts on our children. And our input is very, very important.
My second tip is, a lot of times as we’ve been through this journey, you learn about yourself or other family members who might have had struggles and maybe in the past there might have been denial about what a struggle is and was. As quickly as a parent can move beyond that and stop being fearful, then they can become a fearless advocate for their child.
I know that’s not easy – it’s easier said than done — but I think if you can put your child and their needs first as opposed to some of your feelings about the past, you will help your child the most.
Karen Golembeski: Andrew, thank you so much for joining us today and giving us your words of advice. I know that your words of wisdom will help other fathers to get the praise they deserve and maybe get more fathers involved in the struggles and strengths of their children who have learning disabilities.