Students who are labeled LD (learning disabled) struggle in school and feel like they are not smart. In fact, a lot of people believe this to be true. But, if you ask many highly successful adults about their school experience, they will tell you they hated school and did not do well. The truth is that what we do in school usually focuses on a small portion of our total intelligence while success in life after school allows us to use our strengths. Many struggling students are actually very, very smart—it’s just the kind of smart that doesn’t show up in school.

Many CEO’s are extremely creative and innovative. School activities rarely focus on creativity and innovation. People who are talented in these areas might have a terrible school experience and then later become highly respected leaders in their selected professions. For a list of executives, athletes, and famous people who overcame their learning issues (in this case, dyslexia), see Famous People With the Gift of Dyslexia from the Davis Dyslexia Association International.

It is important to encourage students who feel dumb to find something they love to do, and make sure they spend time every day engaged doing it. For some ideas, see my post about Summer Plans for Struggling Students.

For example, I once asked a student who signed up for our remedial math class in summer school what she liked to do. She said, “I swim.” When I quizzed her about it she told me she was on the USA Swim Team and would be competing in the Junior Olympics! “I swim” was a bit of an understatement! When I asked her if she still liked swimming she said, “I love it! Once I thought I wanted to learn to dance, but I realized that I love swimming and don’t really have time to pursue something else.” What impressed me the most was that she was confident, poised, and not the least upset that she couldn’t do basic math. I believe this is because she had something in her life that she excelled at and did better than almost everyone else.

Next time you hear that someone is “learning disabled,” remember that they are actually very smart. They may have trouble learning some things, but there are many things they learn easily and do better than most other people. Someday, they may be an investor like Charles Schwab or a writer like Agatha Christie.