Celebrating Our Abilities
On July 26, 1996, it was my pleasure to attend in the U.S. Senate the sixth anniversary celebration of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). During this celebration the National Council on Disability (NCD) issued a new report, Achieving Independence: The Challenge for the 21st Century (A Decade of Progress in Disability Policy, Setting an Agenda for the Future). According to NCD chairperson Marca Bristo, "Achieving Independence is not government as usual; it calls for real change by and for real people."
I have had the pleasure of encountering two such real people. The first is Jill Bloom, author of Help Me to Help My Child: A Sourcebook for Parents of Learning Disabled Children. Ms. Bloom, the mother of a learning disabled (LD) daughter, has been a major source of inspiration to me in writing this article. The second is Theresa L. Gore, a colleague and the grandmother of a disabled boy, who has shared many insights on disability with me and encouraged me to write about how it has affected the life of my family.
I will begin by asking an LD question, then follow it up with answers from LD individuals ranging in age from 8 to 38.
Question: Is there anything good about being learning-disabled (LD)?
- In 1970, at a young age, I was diagnosed as having LD. With help from my parents, teachers and a supporting community . . . I was able to make the transition [to college] with ease and comfort. While others were able to cruise along through high school on their natural abilities, I had to continually apply myself and work hard so that I could make a successful adjustment to college life. (Age 30)
- It's made me approach life by turning disadvantages into strengths. If you grow up not being a natural at things and having to work hard, being able to do them at all requires developing a greater understanding of the process. (Age 38)
- LD has caused me to struggle privately with life. This invisible challenge is not readily apparent to others and I guess that at times that can be good. I do want to get better at certain things like reading chapter books, and at times I feel that I'll be all right, just like everybody else. (Age 8)
- I may have a bigger heart and more sensitivity than my friends and classmates. It hurts when I am not being fully understood when I am talking to others. It seems that most times I can understand them, but I don't know if they can understand me. (Age 11)
What follows is drawn from my own experience as the father of an LD child.
Recently, my 9-year-old LD son Brian began waterskiing at Deep Creek Lake in Western Maryland. Last year, he would never have attempted such a feat. But he worked at achieving his goal day after day until at last he succeeded! His whole family (including his father the "jock" who didn't reach this milestone until age 14) celebrated his achievement with pride and joy. The resulting increase in his self-esteem cannot be measured in grades or IQ points. We intend to celebrate all his achievements, major and minor, as he continues to develop.
Brian has received special services every year for reading, math, speech, and language. He has learned that he has to work hard in order to make progress in each of these areas. We have learned that as parents it is critically important to establish lines of communication with his teachers and administrators.
Since he does not wear braces, have crutches, or a hearing aid, many adults are unaware of Brian's "invisible" disability. It takes some time for them to realize what challenges he faces in trying to understand the world around him.
Among Brian's strengths is that he is hard-working, able to motivate himself, and keenly sensitive to other people's feelings. He wants everyone to be happy and lives his own life with a great deal of enthusiasm. Children like Brian often become self-reliant at an early age--and may grow up to have a deeper understanding of the world.
In short, our LD kids can end up being pretty spectacular people, deserving of our love and support. Our challenge is to remember this during the hard times. From personal experience, I know this is easier said than done.
So let's take the time to celebrate our LD kids' abilities so we can maximize their strengths as well as our own. I believe our future together can be bright and promising if we encourage and support each