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5 Things I Want Teachers to Know as an Adult With a Learning Disability

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I have nonverbal learning disability. It’s a rare, controversial and invisible condition that affects everything from my social skills and handwriting to my executive functioning and things like my ability to tie my shoes.  I was diagnosed in adulthood, but several people close to me suspected something was “off” long before that. With the school year fast approaching, I would like to share with teachers what I wish mine had understood about teaching a student like me. While most of my experiences were negative, I in no way mean to suggest all teachers are. I know you’re human and no one is perfect, but please keep these things in mind.

1. Our limitations are legitimate. Regardless of how you choose to view learning disabilities, the struggles and symptoms they cause us are real.  They are disabilities, not character flaws, and to some extent they are outside of our control. While it’s certainly possible to use them as an excuse for a variety of things, most of us don’t.  If we’re lucky enough to qualify for and receive accommodations, it’s because they are necessary in order for us to achieve the potential you expect.

2. We may come with baggage. While this is true of all people in any situation, when it comes to those with learning disabilities, students can come in with a history of negative experiences specifically tied to aspects of school and the educational environment. While this is not your fault, please remember these experiences are valid and will affect our interactions with you, especially early on. You will also make an impact, and we will carry that with us as well.

3. Set appropriate expectations. Most people with disabilities dislike pity, including those with learning disabilities, but it’s possible to go too far in the other direction and expect too much as well. High expectations help us grow; unreasonable expectations set us up for failure.

4. Lead by example. If students are expected to own their words and actions and apologize sincerely for their mistakes, so are you. We don’t expect you to be perfect, but as the adult in the room, we expect you to act maturely and hold yourself to the same standards you set for us.

5. Work with parents, don’t judge them. One of my teachers made a point of constantly telling me she thought my mom was coddling me and that she was a horrible parent. I’ve also seen posts go viral on social media of teachers judging parents for how they parent, and blaming them for making teaching so hard. Not only is this inappropriate, but it’s seriously overstepping boundaries. You don’t have to like each other or agree on everything, but as significant adults in our lives, we need you to put your personal feelings aside and come together for the sake of our progress.

Getty image by Weedezign.

Originally published: July 30, 2018
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