Finding out that your child has a learning disability can be a very overwhelming experience. All too often doctors, teachers and family members focus on the ‘dis’ability. The list of what a child cannot do becomes long – read, write, spell, learn the times tables, focus, make friends, read nonverbal cues. People, including professionals, forget that inside this wonderful person is a much greater list of abilities, and often, true gifts.
Neurologically, a child or adult with a learning disability is different from peers. Different areas of the brain are impacted depending of the disability. What many people don’t realize though is that these differences also result in the brain having strengths that the neuro-typical brain may not have. Some of these strengths include superior visual-spatial skills, artistic ability, musical ability and for some, strong rote memory skills.
If we look at the dyslexic brain for example, we find that both hemispheres are equal in size, unlike the neuro-typical brain in which the left hemisphere is larger. This is not because the left hemisphere is smaller in the brain with dyslexia, but rather, because the right hemisphere is larger. What is the right hemisphere is responsible for? One of the big things is visual spatial skills. People with dyslexia often see in pictures. They often have the ability to see these pictures in 3-D and manipulate them in their mind. They are the Macgyvers of the group. They are also the artists and the musicians and the actors. They are often naturally charismatic and funny because they have the ability to ‘read’ other people.
ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) is also seen as a disability. There is is no denying that it is difficult if you lack focus and need to be moving all of the time. However, to have a brain that works that fast and can truly multitask – that is a gift. These are the kids who grow up to be first responders, inventors, CEOs, great athletes and comedians and actors. Combine ADHD with dyslexia and you have one talented, outgoing, funny and amazing kid!
It isn’t easy to have a learning disability. It isn’t easy to parent a child with a learning disability. It can be frustrating and even heartbreaking at times. When we shift our mindset though from what a person can’t do to what a person can do, things change. Children begin to own their learning disability and take pride in their gifts. This is what will carry them into their future careers. Celebrate these differences and be proud.
Shelley Holloway is an active member of the LD community. She is also the owner of Mindware Academy, a private school which specializes in children with learning disabilities.