Do you have a learning difference?
Maybe you are dyslexic, or perhaps you have been diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. Maybe you have ADD/ADHD. Dyspraxia. Dyscalculia. Auditory Processing disorder…..the list goes on.
Whatever your learning difference, here’s what you need to know:
#1. You do not need fixing.
Your mind is not defective, you are not broken. Your brain is wired differently and it is supposed to work in the way it does. Let’s forget labels such as ‘specific learning disability’ and move away from terms such as disorders. I love the term ‘neuro-diversity’ – a word invented by sociologist Judy Singer, to shift the focus away from the deficits and call attention to the fact that many atypical forms of brain wiring also bring with them unusual skills and aptitudes.*
#2. You learn best through visual-spatial methods.
One strong feature of learning differences such as dyslexia is the ability to think in images rather than words. Learning is so much more natural for you if it can be filled with images, colour, and hands-on experiences, rather than constant reading and writing, which for a picture thinker can lead very quickly to confusion, frustration – and ultimately shutdown.
#3. You have so many gifts.
You may be a great problem solver, you are probably highly imaginative and creative, you could be really good at designing, or perhaps your areas of strength lie in sport, music, or art. You might be able to see the big picture easily. You might excel at thinking outside the box. Or you may be fabulous at detail-oriented tasks. Every individual who I have worked with, without exception, has possessed real gifts. Celebrate them, use them, and let them shine!
#4. You share your thinking style with many successful people.
Herman Hollerith, who helped launch the age of computing by inventing a machine to tabulate and sort punch cards, once leaped out of a school window to escape his spelling lessons because he was dyslexic.* The list of successful people who have learning differences are endless. Successful dyslexics include Richard Branson, Steven Spielberg and Cher. Famous people on the autism spectrum include Dan Aykroyd, Temple Grandin and Darryl Hannah.
#5. You have the right to ask for the support you need.
If you are at school, tell your teacher what it is that will help you learn. Maybe using a computer or a tablet will enable you to get your ideas down easier. Perhaps text to speech software will help you to access text through listening to it. Instead of laboriously copying from the board, your teacher could print out a set of notes for you. Perhaps you could have extra time, or a reader/writer for tests. If you are employed, get support in the areas you need it. Be honest with your colleagues – remember your learning difference means you bring many strengths to the table – it is just that you may need help in certain areas. High quality assistive technology is forging ahead in ways that can offer robust support. One example is this range of google extensions for dyslexia.
#6. Your challenges can be overcome. Sally Shaywitz has a wonderful analogy of dyslexia being a small island of weakness in a huge sea of strengths. I would go further to include all learning difference in this analogy. And you know what? You can use your strengths to help you overcome your challenges. Find a programme that is strengths-based, rather than one that thinks you need to be fixed. Learn how to harness your gifts. My personal favourite is of course the Davis programmes – created by a dyslexic, autistic genius that works from a place of strength and empowerment.
And last, but not least, always remember….
Sources: ‘Wired Differently” image from Wrong Planet *Neurodiversity rewires conventional thinking about brains Sally Shaywitz – article on Dyslexia Google Extensions for dyslexia