Learning Disability Awareness Month
by Lexi Detweiler
October is Learning Disabilities Awareness Month. Last year, Laurie Detweiler shared her thoughts on parenting a child with a learning disability. If you have a child with a learning disability, I recommend giving it a read. It’s an encouraging and realistic piece for parents. But what about the rest of us? How does it apply to those who don’t have a child with a disability? Chances are you or your child know someone with a learning disability and it’s important to understand their differences to be able to encourage and love them both in and out of the classroom.
Explaining what a learning disability is to your child (whether they have one or not) may seem daunting, but here are some ideas. A common metaphor used by psychologists is that of a highway. First, explain to your child that all learning takes place in the brain. Imagine that inside the brain there are millions of highways and millions of cars that carry bits of information to different areas of the brain. Each area of the brain holds different kinds of information and in each area there are little pretend garages that store this information. So, for example, your child’s friends’ names are kept in a different garage than the one which holds math facts. When your child learns a new piece of information, a car picks it up and drives it to a specific garage to store it for later. Then, when it’s time to retrieve that information, the car drives to that garage, picks up the information, and carries it to where your child needs it.
When a child has a learning disability, explain that some of the highways in their brain have traffic jams (those highways affected by the disability). Just like in real life, we don’t know how long that car will be stuck in a traffic jam. It could be quick, or it could take a long time. Thus preventing the car from getting to its final destination smoothly. Ask them if they remember being stuck in a traffic jam and how it made them feel. Frustrated? Angry? Bored? A child with a learning disability might feels these things, too, when they can’t process information fast enough. For example, a student with a reading disability has a traffic jam around the garage that stores the words. He or she might confuse letter sounds when reading aloud. This can be very frustrating for the student.
Children with learning disabilities face challenges every day. Fortunately, there are a few techniques that parents or special teachers can show them. These techniques are like “side roads” in the brain. Using the side roads can help the cars get to their destination faster. Sometimes the side roads can be super-fast, and other times it might take a long time for the car to get to the destination because of obstacles like traffic lights, stop signs or pedestrians. These roads can be unpredictable, but using a side road over and over again means that tasks that were once hard become easier. Using side roads also require some creativity. That’s why it’s no surprise that so many famous artists, athletes and entrepreneurs have learning disabilities.
Children with learning disabilities have all of the same parts in their brain as someone without a disability, they just have traffic jams on certain highways. It may take longer but they will eventually get to their destination.
There are many famous people throughout history who have had learning disabilities and who have successfully “navigated” the highways of their brains. Have your child choose a person from the list below and write a research report about them. What was their disability? How did they rise above it? What impact did they have on society? How would life be different without them? You’ll probably find that without the encouragement of those around them, these important figures would not have made the impact they did.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Alexander Graham Bell
Leonardo da Vinci
Hans Christian Anderson
Gen. George Patton
John F. Kennedy