Category Archives: VCU Adult 688 Summer 2013

Final Thoughts

As I begin this final entry, I reflect on the past several months and what I’m taking away from this experience.  I always pride myself in being someone that tries to consider that everyone has their own perspectives, each person is entitled to their way of looking at things and that we should always consider individuals and their differences as a positive contribution to our world.  And yet how often do we say that we are accepting only to find that our subconscious doesn’t always allow us to be?

This class has truly caused me to pause and reflect on my own actions, responses and assumptions.  While I live and interact with someone that has ADD every day, I’m not sure that I can honestly say that I have taken the time to walk in their shoes or consider what it may mean for them when they are out of school.  More importantly however, I have found myself considering the way that I interact with others in the workplace as well.  Considering how invisible a learning disability can be, I cannot help but wonder how often I have come across someone with a difficulty or difference and not realized it.  How often have I asked someone to read aloud in class, to try and help create the interaction that I feel can make the class valuable for them-yet I do not consider that there may be someone among us that is terrified of this type of interaction?  And if this has ever been the case, how much did I actually take away from their experience in the class as a result?

So as I end my summer session in Adult 688, I am thankful for the opportunities that I have experienced that have truly opened my mind.   I have recognized the difference between a learning disability and an intellectual disability, what resources are available to individuals with disabilities, that the ADA is not the American Dental Association (at least not for this class:), that a person with a learning disability must be their own advocate, that a learning disability can create barriers and yet can also create opportunities to see things in a way most can’t, and…perhaps most importantly…that when we open our minds to the possibilities and assist individuals with learning disabilities on their journey, they can become someone that surpasses what anyone could have ever imagined for them. I can’t help but remember a famous line from the movie Dirty Dancing as I close out this line of thought,  “No one puts Baby in the corner.” An individual with a learning disability should not be cast aside or considered to be someone of lesser value or worth; LD can be more than a difference.  It can be a whole new world of possibilities.


Do We Consider the Needs of Undisclosed LD Participants in Our Classes?

As I read the article, Common Misconceptions Preventing Job Advancement, I couldn’t help but consider my current job role and how it may relate.  In the article, persons with learning disabilities are said to have many misconceptions regarding job advancement and reasons that they may or may not be eligible or a good fit.  One of the common misconceptions listed, difficulty with getting along with others, is said to be a skill that can be strengthened or improved; a thought or theory that I tremendously agree with.  Successful and positive social interactions among coworkers are becoming more and more crucial in the workplace.  We are in a world that holds great value in getting along with others, team work, and high levels of productivity; all of which are impossible if you do not get along with the individuals that are part of it.  So as I read all of this information and thought about the importance that social skills truly do play in the workplace, I began to question whether or not we consider those individuals that may struggle with these skills as we plan for educational activities during the year.  Should we perhaps consider offering a class that would speak to these needs, assuming there are some individuals that struggle with these skills?  But then I thought about it, perhaps we already do…….

            Consider first the recommendation found on page 2 of the article, “while on the job try to make friends.”  Currently I offer a class called Building Positive Relationships at Work.  The entire premise behind the class is considering your actions and how they may impact your relationships with others.  We also discuss the importance that those relationships play in each individual’s success in the workplace.  Would this assist an individual that needed more than just a “review” of social skills in this particular area?   Consider the next two, “observe body language” and “trust nonverbal cues if they are different from the verbal communication”; both topics of intense discussion during a class that I do on Communicating and Listening as well as sessions on Cultural Interactions.  Further still, “in stressful situations make an effort to observe nonverbal behavior”.  While this is touched on in Communicating and Listening, we do specifically discuss the importance of observing these cues in my sessions on Working Through Conflict. 

“Try to see things from the point of view of others as well as your own.”  I could not help but end this particular entry with this one final quote from the 2nd page of the article because of my sincere belief in the statement itself.  As I lead the sessions mentioned above, my true goal is to help someone step outside of the world that they see and consider how important it can be to align their interactions with the expectations or needs of others in order to be successful in life and especially in the workplace.  Understanding the variances in perspectives can be so huge in helping someone consider the changes they need or should make; could these simple and short discussions also prove valuable to someone with a learning disability that struggles in the social realm? 

While Reality May Not Always Be Kind, You Will Find Your Reality With Courage

As I consider the topic regarding realities in the workplace and job accommodations, I marvel at how many before us have lived in a time where learning disabilities were unheard of, and yet found ways to cope despite.  Before I begin however, I would like to clarify that I do not mean to insinuate that individuals of late should not look to the ADA or opportunities for help; nor should they not be happy that they live in a time and world now that is perhaps more accepting or understanding or even open to an individual needing something to help them survive in an ‘average’ world.  But instead I appreciate all of those that have had to find ways to adapt, and I am thankful to them for not only potentially paving the way but also for bringing awareness to so many.  Their willingness to disclose has helped individuals that have come after them to not only understand the benefits and positives to letting their differences be known, but they have also shared invaluable options for self-accommodation as well.

Consider the story we find in the Fortune article, The Dyslexic CEO.  And while I know I was just referencing the same story in the last post, I cannot help but come back to one more time (probably not a final time!) to add to my argument….The first time John Chambers ever disclosed that he had a learning disability to the many that looked to him for direction was not because he had to, he weighed the benefits, or assessed the negatives of doing so.  It was instead, in my humble opinion, a moment of courage that I did not witness and yet will never forget.  He reportedly had never said anything because “you don’t want people to see your weaknesses” (pg. 58) Yet in a brief moment as he listened to a child in a crowd of many struggling to ask a question, he bared his difference in a courageous attempt to empathize with her despair.

“’You could immediately identify with what that was like,” he says.  “You know that pain.  She started to leave, and you knew how hurt she was in front of the group and her parents.” “I have a learning disability too, “ he said.  In front of the crowd, he began talking to her as if they were the only two people in the room.  “You’ve just got to learn your way through it,” Chambers told her.  “Because there are some things you can do that others cannot, and there are some things others can do you’re just not going to be able to do, ever.  Now my experience has been that what works is to go a little bit slower…”  It was the kind of coaching that proved crucial to nearly everybody we talked to: mentors who took a genuine interest, parents who refused to give up, tutors who didn’t even know what dyslexia was.” (pg. 58)

So as I close out this thought, please understand that the entire premise to this rant is regarding the importance of where we are today as opposed to before.  Society is still left wanting when it comes to education on the matter of learning disabilities; yet consider how many one man has helped in his momentary act of courage and the story that has followed him since.  The realities of the workplace are such that there will always be hardships, difficulties, accommodations and opportunities for educating the ones you work with.  You will find some that just don’t understand, don’t care, or are unwilling to help.  But you will find a place at some point where many see you for who you are, look past the label, and instead focus on your strengths, contributions, and inspiring path to greatness.

Who Are We to Decide What Should Be?

As I reflect on the discussion from class regarding our interviews, I am even more intrigued by the wide variance of knowledge regarding the ADA and adults with disabilities.  I am not surprised with how often we identified that many were familiar with the ADA and accommodations, but from a ‘visible’ disability standpoint more often than considering what it can provide for those with ‘invisible’ disabilities.  What I am most surprised about I think is my own realization that there are perhaps so many misperceptions of what having a learning disability can mean.

I have to admit, after reading and discussing the lives of so many adults with learning disabilities I have a new appreciation for what they must go through; but perhaps more importantly, a new appreciation for what they are capable of.  Others at the beginning of their learning experiences told so many of them that, because they learned differently, they may not amount to much more than a skilled labor worker.  Yet so many have gone on to be great innovators, thinkers and leaders in our society.  A true testament I think to the argument that there is a difference between a learning disability and an intellectual disability.  Those with a learning disability have a struggle when it comes to how they learn, but that does not constitute limitation in how much they can or will learn.

I think back to the article from Fortune Magazine, The Dyslexic CEO.  Specifically I consider the story of John Chambers.  I almost wept with him as I read the story of his ‘coming out’ to his staff that he had a learning disability.  He had hidden it for so long, yet as he stood in front of 500 people and watched a little girl cry as her learning disability made it difficult for her to respond to him, he cast aside his fears of society’s opinions.  He not only put his reputation on the line, but took the opportunity to turn it into a teaching moment for someone that he stood a chance to help, perhaps like no other. And what an inspiration he must have been for her!  To have someone that so many admired accept and overcome a difference that so many frowned upon, who wouldn’t be inspired.

And yet the biggest ‘ah ha’ moment for me was truly when he explained his disability as an ability later on in the article.  His learning disability enabled him to view things in a ‘multiple-layer dimensional cycle and almost play it out in my mind.” (page 62)  So I wonder now, what gives anyone the right to say that those with differences in learning abilities should or shouldn’t be successful in life? For we acknowledge that individuals that have learning disabilities typically have a higher than average IQ; they only struggle to fit that IQ into the typical model that the average chooses to learn by.  But why not allow them to think outside of the box?  Why not attempt to understand their view a bit better?  For when we do experience the unique, do we often not find needed change?

As I stated at the conclusion of my paper regarding What Do They Know, we all have assumptions about something, no matter how right or wrong they may be.  But we may never question or change these assumptions until we are faced with a reason or opportunity to do so.  The opportunity to encounter someone with a learning disability is an experience that I hope all will have at one point or another.  Not to imply that they will be different and should be studied, in fact without being told the other person may never notice.  But instead because of the opportunity to learn about what so many may face, and to recognize how we can become better for understanding.

Sometimes We Must Work to Educate Each Other

As I finished our readings leading up to this week’s class, I stood amazed at how the information gleaned from this class and the assignments continued to support how much our experiences can truly shape not only how we handle situations and/or adapt to things, but how we learn as well.  The most significant instance for me was in fact the last article that I read, Being Learning Disabled and a Beginning Teacher and Teaching a Class of Students with Learning Disabilities.  I was first intrigued by the idea that a teacher with a learning disability would perhaps lend more opportunity and understanding to his or her students.  And as I read about TJ’s experiences and struggles as a teacher with a learning disability, I could not help but assume parallels between his own experiences and the experiences that he hoped to provide to his student’s.

Consider first TJ’s somewhat early diagnoses.  Elementary school can truly be considered a foundation in terms of one’s school-aged career.  To fall behind at such an early stage could present opportunities for continuous struggles as the student continued to climb their way through the various grades.  Yet due to the identification of his LD early on in life, TJ and his parent’s were able to identify and secure an education that would meet his needs.  Perhaps also establishing his obvious love of learning, and perhaps greater sense of self-confidence as a student, even later on in life.

But I would be remiss when considering his experiences to not also ponder how a simple (and uneducated) statement could impact his drive and passion in life as well.  As he stood in front of his co-workers for the first time, how hard it must have been to stand so exposed in front of so many and to then be met by such harsh words.  “I am not going to work with that dumb s___.  He belongs out in the lot; he’s retarded.”  (Gerber, pg. 215) And yet, I also wonder if his manager’s reaction could have also shaped how he handled such a situation as he progressed in later experiences of conflict or resistance.  Did the manager stand up for him or take the opportunity to educate his staff about LD and the differences?  If he did/had could it have impacted how TJ handled resistance and possible educational opportunities later on?

Reflecting on this thought, I wonder if he only disclosed his learning disability to his student’s at first because of his experiences in the shipyard.  I also wonder if it affected his self-confidence enough as an individual that he questioned himself and how much he was able to do when he discovered struggles that so many teacher’s typically face (assumed) regarding heavy work loads and limited resources.  Further still, as he attempted to be the change agent that he so desperately wanted to be for his student’s, he seemed to step back as he noted other teacher’s varied forms of resistance.  Change can be difficult no matter the reason for it; did he consider that they too must be educated and taught about what it is to be learning disabled?  For how can he ask them to embrace something when they do not truly see what he sees or understand the world from such a perspective?

In life I believe that we all have opportunities along the way to see and view things from perspectives that we have never before considered.  Our desire and ability to do so is what helps us to learn and grow as adults in the world that we live.  Yet for someone that so embraced education, I wonder if TJ forgot that sometimes we must also educate each other….I applaud him for his efforts and tenacity, but I hope that he has found his way in the world as an advocate for LD education;  whether he found his ideal classroom in a schoolroom or in some other forum.

Covering Up

I find myself again thinking about my daughter and our journey with her after my 2nd class in 688.  The Americans with Disabilities Act and the importance of disclosure again made me consider what path we have chosen since that fateful day in the pediatrician’s office….

Last week we read an article, Facing a Problem Status Couldn’t Solve.  First, what an AMAZING article.  I completely related to Anne Ford in some ways as she discussed her desire to help her daughter and yet her uncertainty in voicing that her daughter had a disability-“I was reluctant to speak about her disability.”  A thought that is astounding when you consider how your truest desire as a parent is to typically do what’s best for your child, and yet we shy away from acknowledging that they need unique help when it comes to learning or academics.  As Anne lists in her article, “LD is a neurological disorder that causes the brain to perceive even the simplest information as a chaotic jumble of words, numbers and thoughts.  Every aspect of a child’s life can be affected: reading a book, playing a game, interacting with other children.”  (Ford, Pg 2)

So if something is affecting our child and such a significant part of their lives, why do we shy away from seeking assistance?  Why do we so often choose instead to pretend as though it’s not there?  Oh good, now we know what it is and that she’s not just a “bad child”.  Now let’s pretend it never happened?  One can only wonder if what was affecting the child in such a way was one that society accepted more readily-would we be as hesitant to discuss or disclose it?

But after this week I am steadily realizing how important it can be to overcome that discomfort and instead become their advocate.  An advocate that will not only serve as an important part of the success of the child as an adolescent, but can also help to pave the way for the child to later become a successful self-advocate as an adult.  But am I an advocate?  Our journey began with choosing just the right doctors, multiple discussions, a few trials of various things and then, eventually, medication; the ladder of which I fought to avoid unless absolutely necessary. But for all of our determination and, dare I say advocacy, we stalled after the little white pill came into our lives.

My daughter has made her way through the last several years of school successfully.  We even noticed a difference in her reading and vocabulary scores to some degree.  But I reflect now on a statement from a teacher last year as we discussed her progress and his eluding to the fact that she seemed to be easily distracted.  I nodded, fully understanding, and explained that she had ADD.  “Ah,” he replied, “that makes a lot more sense.”

So I wonder now, as I consider the importance of disclosure for individuals that live with the struggles of ADD or other learning disabilities, should that have been a sign?  A sign that perhaps telling her teachers would actually assist them in finding the best method for my child to learn, and understanding when she didn’t seem as focused or was easily distracted? “You understand the best teacher is not necessarily the one who deals with the most facts, but who effectively allows the student to come to grips with the best part of themselves.” (A Man’s Reach Shouldn’t Exceed His Grasp, Henry Winkler, pg 2)

“Have you ever tried to cover up something instead of asking for help?” (First Person Essays, Jill Lauren, Page 1)

An Old Journey with a New Lens

Several years ago my daughter was ‘diagnosed’ with ADD.  I put the word diagnosed in quotes simply because this class has caused me to pause on this term, and my daughter’s association with it, even after just one session.  It has caused me to really consider how our journey with my daughter began several years ago, what we’ve done and felt since and whether or not things should change as we move forward.

It all began at a normal pediatrician visit.  She was due for certain shots and needed her routine check up; the last thing I expected that day was the beginning of a life long journey.  Lately she seemed to have a tough time following directions, listening to what she was told, thinking before she acted, etc.  It was exhausting! Now granted, I appreciate that most of these things are typical adolescent behavior.   But after repeated phone calls from her teacher and nothing seeming to work, the pediatrician’s yearly question of “how are things going in school” was met with way more than “good” for once.  I spilled every moment that I had experienced with my daughter in as much of a summary form as I could manage and then, with nothing left to say, my pediatrician gently told me that my daughter more than likely had ADD.

Stunned I took the pamphlets and recommended phone numbers to call to schedule an appointment for testing.  There were questionnaires for us to fill out as her parents and then one for her teacher; both, we were instructed, to be mailed in once completed to the pediatrician.  We diligently scheduled, PAID, waited, worried and researched; all to finally reach a diagnosis near the end of the summer that year that she was indeed “textbook ADD”.

But as confident as I was in this deduction, I mean such a process had to have correct results right? I can’t help but consider these two words now, textbook and ADD, and really wonder about their meaning.  I mean at the time I absolutely took them for face value.  She was a classic case, no doubt about it, no need to continue to look further or worry that they may have gotten it incorrect.  They even advised against testing her for any additional learning disability (which we appreciated, it would have meant more money for sure) because ADD was definitely her struggle.  Her label.  But was it?  She matches all of the literature, her pediatrician is one of the best, the counselor was so good she only had to work two days a week.  But this is a neurological disorder.  They didn’t look at her brain.  So how do we really know?