A few weeks ago, I met a guy at my climbing gym, who reminded me in a powerful way why I do what I do in helping kids with learning disabilities. This cheerful guy walked up and asked if I went to Muirlands Middle School. It was admittedly a random question, but yes, in fact I did go to Muirlands. He then introduced himself as Dan and proceeded to tell me that he never forgets a face and remembers sitting behind me in our 8th grade math class. I am usually pretty good with facial recognition, but I really didn’t have the faintest memory of Dan. He explained that he only attended Muirlands for a couple years before he got into an altercation with his English teacher and was kicked out of school. All in all, he said he attended over a dozen schools before finally graduating. And now he is the proud owner of not just one, but two very successful businesses.
Hmm…I was perplexed. Here was this handsome, articulate, outgoing, successful business owner who was “kicked out” of my middle school. It just didn’t add up. So I probed: “Is there any chance you had learning challenges?” “Oh yeah! I had all sorts of learning problems,” he responded. When I then explained my work, he was thrilled to know that I help kids who, like him, struggle in school with learning differences.
Meeting Dan brought on a flood of emotion in me. I thought about all the kids I get to help overcome learning challenges with the understanding that they are not bad or faulty for having a different kind of brain. I wished I could have helped Dan back in middle school rather than leaving him to be villainized and left feeling misunderstood.
So many of our kids go through a tiresome journey through school facing teachers who misjudge them as lazy or defiant and parents who throw their hands up in the air in frustration and despair over their laziness or lack of motivation. If only we could treat all these kids with the compassion and care we give to a sick child and figure out what is getting in the way of their success through careful examination–with the assumption that there is something outside their control hampering their ability to perform–and then nurture them to overcome the difficulties they face.
There is a movement right now to raise awareness for Invisible Disabilities. It is the recognition that there are emotional, psychological, and cognitive challenges we cannot see that get in the way of an individual’s success. Inherent in this movement is the idea that all individuals deserve the assumption of good intentions, and that we can all use help at times to support us with our challenges.
Dan’s story reminds me that the value in identifying learning disabilities is not about “labeling;” it is about finding out what is getting in the way of a child’s success, so that caring parents and professionals can provide the right help to see that child overcome what is getting in his or her way without feeling ashamed.
What Dan’s story also brings to light is the truth of the strengths inherent in everyone, especially in those who have to work through a challenge to get to a better place. While Dan didn’t receive help early on, he had enough support at home to give him the confidence to know that his value was not attached to his grades. He learned from his struggles how to work hard and persist in the face of difficulty. And ultimately, he leveraged his strengths in relationship building, public speaking, creative problem solving and visioning, and tenacity to build companies he leads to meet important needs in our community and thrive.
There is hope for all students with learning challenges like Dan. We just have to see them as whole individuals and remind them of their greatness, especially in the face of difficulties. As professionals, it is our responsibility to help uncover what is getting in the way of a child’s success – whether sleep, anxiety, nutrition, attention, or a learning disability – and put the right supports in place. Parents have to love and encourage these kids to keep working through their struggles, so that they develop the perseverance that will ensure their success above and beyond those kids who come by learning easily. As we say at La Jolla LearningWorks, with the right support, every child can succeed. And that is why I love doing what I do.
About the Author: Megan Cohen Trezza, M.Ed., is the founder of La Jolla LearningWorks and works with passion and dedication to help kids with learning difficulties find enjoyment and success in school and life. Connect with her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/LaJollaLearningWorks or via email at megan@LJLearningWorks.com.