This article was written by Elizabeth Corsale, MFT, co-director at the Pathways Institute.
I recently sat down for coffee with a parent of a teenager with learning disabilities. She told me her daughter has the “kitchen sink” when it comes to LD. She went on to say that her daughter has a reading disability and an unusual ADHD presentation. Unusual I asked? She said, “My daughter had been diagnosed fairly young with ADHD but several neuro-psychologists and psychiatrists still feel it’s not quite accurate”, she sighed, “even the experts are confused.“ Her daughter has short term memory deficits, extremely slow processing speed but her working memory is okay and her long term memory is superior. Her daughter was transferred in second grade to a school that specializes in teaching kids with dyslexia and attention issues. “This was the best decision we ever made. The school emphasized helping kids develop resiliency through acceptance of their LD, encouragement and building on their strengths.” I thought it sounded like this family had a great outcome to a challenging set of problems.
Last week I was able to talk to her daughter, a high school sophomore and ask her about her experience and what it was like to have a learning difference. “I hate having a learning disabilities because it make learning hard and sometimes I still worry about getting through high school and college.” You can imagine my surprise as I had preconceived ideas that she would talk about how great things are now. She said that going to the K-8 school was probably the best thing that happened but then she relayed a recent story. She said that she was telling her current favorite English teacher about her K-8 school and how the teachers at that school always said that dyslexia was gift. She lit up with laughter while telling me that her current teacher responded, “Yeah right”! I asked her why that made her light up? She told me that she understood why the school and teachers talked to the little kids about their “gifts”. She remembered wanting to give up when she was in third grade and that positive message helped her to keep going and trying, but she said it wasn’t the whole story. She felt it was important that teachers don’t sugar coat the challenges of having LD and they needed try harder to understand LD kids and be real with the older kids with LD. She said that gifts came from dyslexia but dyslexia itself wasn’t a gift, it made learning so hard and still even now many teachers don’t understand and care about how hard it is for her to learn. She told me, “Many teachers seem clueless about what it’s like to have short term memory problems and how hard I have to work, repeat, repeat repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat and repeat to get things into my brain.” After she shared all of this, I could only imagine how relieving it was for her to have her favorite teacher get it and her with that exclamation of yeah right.
This made me think about how important it is for all of us to remember and appreciate that all kids have an inner psychological and emotional world. Therefore it is essential that we support, accept, work with, appropriately and accurately accommodate kids with LD and their families in the reality of what it is really like day to day living with learning disabilities. If we only focus on the negative such as neurological deficits then we will miss the blessings and gifts; but likewise, if we only look for the positive such as strengths, then we will miss the challenges and even the suffering of the individual. We have to have balanced approach and become interested in the whole child and the entire experience of what their life is like as they navigate learning and living with a learning disability.
Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images.