Learning Disabilities, The Gift or The Burden?

There are support groups, blogs, and  websites that  land on one side of a false choice about kids and school.  Parents and some professionals tend to land on one side or the other.

Are Dyslexia and related learning differences and even Autism Spectrum a gift in some way?  Or are they burdens filled with deficits that must be fixed ?

I tend to walk  the middle path.

In  a recent post (on a Facebook “dyslexia support page:”)  I commented on the subject:

“OK; I’ll weigh in, knowing that people view stuff like this from different angles, and that it’s highly personal and emotional for most on this thread.

I’ve been working with kids and adults with learning differences for over 30 years. I’ve also raised a son with LDs and have been involved with both gifted education and struggling teens with depression, addictions and anxiety.  Too many times their self-worth have been damaged by unsettling school histories.  That said, what has worked well for me both personally and professionally is to avoid choosing between the idea that it’s a gift and the opposite message, that it’s a terribly heavy burden.

Let’s think about it this way: What if you had a condition that resulted in real world struggle but if approached the right way can give you some advantages, like learning to work hard or learning how to take good care of yourself, or learning to surround yourself with good support (there are many other attributes that can come from challenges).  If one sugar coats the real challenge of struggling ( to easily read and write) it’s to no one’s benefit.  Alternately if what you mostly do is try and “fix the problem” (work on deficits), then you may inadvertently be teaching your child that’s who they are; a problem to be fixed. The middle road is in my opinion usually better. Find age appropriate ways to be honest about challenges and deficits AND also focus on strengths, affinities and seeing the whole child.  It’s not particularly helpful to pretend that reading disabilities are the same as having green eyes.  Although they are both simply genetic variations, the consequences in the real world are quite different. “

If anything, thought leaders in the fields of mental health and positive psychology tell us this:  It is not what happens to us that determines our futures but how we make sense of the things that happen and then our responses.  Victor Frankl a holocaust survivor and psychiatrist helped us understand this.  Trauma is real, and learning disabilities can lead to educational trauma at its worst.  But it’s neither a gift outright nor a terrible block to a bright future all by itself.  It will  lean towards one or the other depending upon how it’s treated and how we respond and help kids see it as a part of them, not all of them.

About Sanford

Learning Disabilities specialist and Educational Consultant
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