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A Learning Disability Defined as Nothing More than a Learning Difference

Disabilities > > A Learning Disability Defined as Nothing More than a Learning Difference

Many people have spent their lives figuring out what a learning disability is and what having a learning disability means, in order to help those who have such challenges learn better. What the wisest of scholars and sharpest of researchers found was that a person with a learning disability simply accesses and acquires information differently.

At first, the one with a learning disability was ostracized, stigmatized, and down-sized. He was the half-wit, the retard, the mentally disturbed one. She was the one who had such potential if she only applied herself. She was the one who didn’t play well with others and he was the one who didn’t work well with others.

But these labels stuck only when those less knowledgeable, less visionary, and/or less patient stuck them on kids and adults with a learning disability. Once the interested and involved got hold, once the insightful took over studying why it is Johnny can’t study or Suzie won’t study, those with a learning “disability” were discovered to have what learning “abled” people didn’t.

Consider the true story of the once diagnosed as autistic (but not autistic, it is said) genius of Kim Peek, played by Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man: this individual could not hug without screaming and had no clue what the comparative value of a candy bar and a car was, but at the same time, he could multiply two three-digit numbers in a nanosecond, read and retained every bit of information in a phone book, and “counted cards” just by glancing at them, computing them as they were played on a poker table for hours at a time. He was at first considered to have an IQ of 78—implying learning disability would be his tag—until more testing and closer, more careful scrutiny revealed a “mega savant” IQ of 168. That appears to be more of a learning difference to me.

Consider the equally brilliant David Helfgott, depicted by Geoffrey Rush in Shine, who as a prodigal child and piano virtuoso adult could speak only in snippets, snatches, and shuffles of schizophrenic frenzy (my term, not diagnosed as such). That’s hardly a learning disability, right?

Or consider the man or woman boy or girl sitting next to you at the DMV, standing next to you at the grocery store, or lined up in tight rows with you in the classroom. Whatever his or her learning disability, I would bet you there is an astounding ability that accompanies it. This doesn’t, then, make them disabled, does it? Just different.

Disabilities > > A Learning Disability Defined as Nothing More than a Learning Difference