Students who struggle in school are complicated. There are similarities between any two of them, but there are many more differences. I used to say this is why we should not label children as having a learning disability, attention deficit disorder, nonverbal learning disability, etc. But my recent fascination with autobiographies of successful adults with learning disabilities has made me realize that it can be a comfort to them to find out that there really is something “wrong” with them. As children, most of these successful adults simply felt stupid and lazy, because that is what they were told by the adults around them. When they found out they had dyslexia or another learning disability (LD), it was a comfort to them. So maybe the labels we use aren’t such bad things, after all. And once they understand there is a cause for their difficulties in school, they can move forward understanding who they are, what their strengths may be, and that there is more to life than just school.
If we label someone, it is important to make sure they understand what the label actually means. The LD label means that the person has some skills below where they should be despite having good intelligence and instruction. I have written multiple times about how smart many learning disabled people are. If a person is labeled LD, it can mean they have a specific difficulty like reading, and everything else in their life is fine. In fact, often they have extraordinary gifts in areas unrelated to the disability. It is easy to find information about what kinds of difficulties LD students have. It isn’t so easy to find a list of gifts they often have.
Did you know that LD people are often gifted when it comes to 3-D images and objects? For example, many can first visualize and then create incredible sculptures from clay, building blocks, or found objects. When they read something, they visualize the set and characters as if they are real. They can “walk through” the buildings described in the story like they are actually in them.
Another gift many LD people have is in relating to other people. I remember a student I once taught who described to me an interview he had before getting his prestigious job. He said to the person doing the interview, “Let me tell you why you need me for this job. And let me tell you why I can do it better than anyone else you are looking at.” He did get the job and proceeded to design and build several fabulous roller coasters for their company.
Other LD people are “out-of-the-box” thinkers. They think of creative solutions to problems that would never come to most regular thinkers. These people frequently seem like they aren’t really doing much. They may be staring out the window looking like they are daydreaming when they are actually solving an extremely complicated problem no one else has been able to solve.
Do you see why I say students who struggle in school are difficult to understand? I have taught so many who were absolutely miserable in school. But later, after high school and college, they are very happy. No one makes them write research papers anymore! They build roller coasters, design landscapes, sell incredible cupcakes, or become other kinds of entrepreneurs. There truly is so much more to life after school is over.