Learning Disabilities Awareness Month: Let’s break the stigma
Normalizing learning disabilities.
Disability is a term identified with individuals that experience difficulty in carrying out certain activities. These impairments can be cognitive, intellectual, mental, physical, etc. Individuals with any disabilities bear stigma & stereotypes. Among these, learning disabilities suffer the most with mental health issues on a greater spectrum. The National Center for Learning Disabilities defines learning disabilities (LD) as a neurological disorder that affects the brain’s ability to receive, process, store, and respond to information. These disabilities range from one’s inability to perform well in solving maths to listening, reading, and writing. Most of the time, learning disabilities are tough to diagnose until a child fails to perform academic activities in Schools.. In India, a child, rarely observed to be diagnosed at an early age. The stereotypes around these disorders have failed them to get the attention and special education they need. Research stated currently, around 9% to 39% of individuals diagnosed with LD.
The lack of ample support has adverse effects in individuals with LD and a rise in number over the past five years. October also marks the Learning Disabilities awareness month. The need to normalize LD stems from the stigma and its socio-emotional effect on individuals. These stereotypical beliefs that individuals with these disorders are often looked as underachievers or in some cases average. These have led to social isolation and low self-esteem issues that make it tougher to function in high tension spaces like academic places.
Understanding the stigma around different learning disabilities.
October was marked, learning disabilities awareness month in 1985 around the globe. However, this term only came into study independently in 2009. Any individual that could not carry out simple tasks that are expected from them in society was tagged under the umbrella term, disability. Awareness around this has not invested much in India. The media has the upper hand on reaching a large crowd. Famous Bollywood movie Taare Zameen Par captivated the audience to understand the elephant in the room concerning a classroom setting. It depicted the story of a student who performed poorly, which resulted in him being called ‘lazy’ or ‘underachiever.’
But are movies enough to change though from the old traditional beliefs of one striving harder each day? From “Sharma ji ka beta toh topper hai, aur tum ko dekho” (translation: Sharma ji’s son is a topper and look at you) to “Ha meri beti ko dysgraphia hai.” (yes, my daughter has dysgraphia) is not an impossible step yet a step that will take us to start from scratch.
Replacing words like “Underachiever” with “Achiever who requires assistance” and “lazy and uninterested” to understand their behaviors can bring more awareness. Individuals with LD often socially isolate themselves that has resulted in many with low self-esteem, lower confidence, negative image of themselves. Instead of distancing oneself or expecting ‘lesser’ from individuals, one should strive to support, encourage them to continue battling these hurdles. Another significant point in awareness should also focus on helping them strengthen their weakness. Competitiveness is no old news, so labels are like a weakness for such disabilities. Instead of creating images of demerits, a healthy environment that can help them enhance their skills can help them boost up their mental health.
Normalizing children not achieving the ‘expected’ developments at a particular age. Being a slow learner to having a disability does not make anyone less of a unique person. Dialogues play an important role when talking about normalizing these conversations, especially in a country where education remarks the highest priority in society.
To briefly mention a few learning disabilities:
- Dyscalculia (disability to understand numbers and learn math facts)
- Dysgraphia (disability with one’s handwriting ability & fine motor skills.)
- Dyslexia (disability in reading and with spellings)
- Non-Verbal Disabilities (disability where one cannot interpret nonverbal cues like facial expressions, body language)
- ADHD (a disorder that involves one’s lack of focus and attention or controlling their behavior and hyperactivity.)
- Dyspraxia (a disorder characterized by problems with movement, coordination, language, and speech)
Learning disability: Dialogues from student-community.
“Hello, my name is Aditya. I have Dysgraphia. I was diagnosed with it roughly when I was 10-years-old. It’s a genetic disability that affects fine motor skills. It wasn’t the easiest growing up with a disability like this. Initial days, the school I was in for two years had no negative events or triggers. However, this got tougher after I moved to another school in another city. To say it bluntly, the teachers and the management did not understand learning disabilities would be an understatement. I was berated almost daily, both by classmates and teachers. I was forced to repeatedly write notes in most classes as a punishment. On the other hand, my classmates would refuse to help me, accuse me of being given undue attention.”
“I was in that horrid position for four years. It affected me mentally a lot. I got shifted to a special school that had one of the best teachers that helped me through my learnings and kept me going towards my goals. It took me years to adapt to new places because of being in the aforementioned “mainstream” school. My coping up mechanism is no different. I have to come up with strategies or some support from any academic space that I am studying in.
Since I cannot rely on muscular muscle memory, I have to read and understand on my own as a gift and a disguise for me. I end up reading most of the things and understand its theory, not practical knowledge using visualization and connecting concepts. I had great help from my parents and the teachers in my special schools”
He added, “One advice I would tell anyone with LD or someone that knows an individual with LD is that one’s self-esteem is at stake here. This disability isn’t everything, with LDs having their unique talents. In fact, famous well-known scientists in social or physics science are to be suffering from LD. I would say the faster you accept it, the better you are treated, and building a support system is very important. I am currently fighting through odds and pushing myself towards things that help me grow as a person.”
“Disability is not one’s definition but one’s extension,” said Yash, another student diagnosed with borderline ADHD. He added I don’t have anything new to add because experiences like getting picked on easily happen to many individuals with ADHD. I was very jumpy, hyperactive, so my parents took care of me for a very long time. I was dependent on them because I could not control the hyper behavior. My awareness of this disability has helped me understand the people I am around and verbal social cues, to date my issue in regards to my handwriting. My coping mechanism is accepting that I have flaws in me that I have no control of, so I turn this into something useful. I am someone that can’t standstill. I move around a lot. So I engage myself in organizing events, volunteering for things that do not need much of my attention but most of moving around for production.”
Awareness of such disabilities can eliminate a lot of stigma around LDs. Inclusivity has been an issue for a very long time. Normalize being images of people and things to be ‘different’ from the expected society’s image. Attitudes become very problematic when you start observing them as ‘unfit.’ To conclude, a famous quote by Scott Hamilton said, “ The only disability in life is a bad attitude.”