Guest Author - Valerie Shoopman
Having a learning disability is hard enough in its own right, but struggling with the emotional issues that arise is just plain rough. Being a parent and watching from the sidelines is no less than heartbreaking. Children react in different ways to what they are feeling and experiencing.
Let me take you through a Science period in the classroom for David, a bright 5th grade student, who loves animals and one day wants to be a veterinarian. David can actually understand material on about the 10th grade level when he is able to listen to it, but when reading material on his own, he can only decode words on about the 2nd grade level. This is due to his dyslexia, a learning disability that affects his ability to produce phonemic sounds and decode words as well as switching b’s and d’s around. David has gotten by in life so far by recognizing the shape of certain words, however when he stumbles upon new words, he has no idea of how to sound them out or break them down.
Back to the classroom… It’s time for Science, David’s favorite subject! The Science teacher tells the class they will be reading Chapter 1, doing the lab, and then having a chapter test. David is already feeling nervous because the teacher said they will be reading the chapter and he knows he doesn’t read very well. His only hope is that the teacher will read, or at least summarize, the chapter out loud for everyone.
It turns out to be the worst possible scenario for David. They are reading the chapter out loud in class, but each student has to take a turn reading a paragraph. David wants to just crawl under his desk and hide. Nothing could be more embarrassing for a 5th grader who can’t read than to have to read out loud in front of all of his classmates who are reading at the 5th grade or above level. He will sound like a fool and everyone will think he is “dumb”.
So David decides he has two choices in the matter. He can pretend he has a sudden stomach ache and the teacher might send him to the nurse, or he can bop the kid in front of him on the head and be sure he is sent out of the room. He chooses to bop the kid on the head because he knows if he is sent out of the room, he won’t have to be embarrassed by his low reading ability. Facing the principal and then later his parents is much easier than feeling embarrassed and having everyone think he is dumb. He’d much rather be known as a trouble maker. At least people would think he was tough.
In addition to turning to aggressive behavior to hide his learning disability, David also decided that now he would never be able to achieve his life-long dream of becoming a veterinarian since he was never going to be able to read the material needed to pass his Science classes. In his eyes, he was a complete failure.
This is just one of the many scenarios that play out each day in classrooms across the world for students like David who have the capacity to learn, but just in a different manner than what is considered the “norm”. David could have had his Science textbook in a digital format, so it could have been digitally read to him. After all, this wasn’t reading class, and he could understand the material, he just couldn’t read it! If David would have been given the opportunity to take in the material in a way that satisfied his own unique learning style, he might have gone on to be the best veterinarian the world had ever seen. But sadly now no one, including David will ever know his true potential.
If you ever have a chance to attend a Learning Disability Simulation, I would strongly suggest you go. You will learn first hand how humiliating a learning disability can be and how emotions just start to take over your life. Rick LaVoie's "Fat City" DVD has a simulation part in it that will help you to understand some of the emotions that occur with learning disabilities if you are unable to attend a simulation yourself.