Katelynn Smith is a college student with learning disabilities and is studying to become a special education teacher. In a previous blog post she discussed her goal of educating others about individuals with LD. This story illustrates her doing exactly that.
In a multicultural class I was taking for my undergraduate degree, I gave a presentation on how students and teachers stereotype and bully students with learning disabilities (LD). All of the students in the class were studying to be teachers. I opened my presentation with a video clip that refers to dyslexia as a “gift.” On that point, I told my classmates that, while I wish I didn't have LD, in some ways I'm thankful for it when it allows me to educate others about what LD really is and how teachers can work with children who have LD. I was setting the stage to discuss how teachers, students, and others often stereotype students who have dyslexia.
After we watched the video, I told the class about being identified as having dyslexia and what it felt like to "learn differently" than my classmates, friends, and even my sister. I then asked the class if they could list some stereotypes people associate with students with LD. My classmates mentioned terms like: special ed, Sped, retarded, and stupid/dumb, and LD (said in a derogatory way). Next, I asked how they would feel if other students called them those names. I was happy to hear the class truthfully respond. They admitted that it would upset them, harm their self-esteem and make them feel "different" and dumb. I then talked about how even teachers and principals describe students with LD in those terms. The class was appalled that those teachers didn't lose their jobs.
Through this exercise, I focused on how important it is to be careful about words and labels we use when describing students with LD. This applies to what you call students to their faces but also how you describe them to their parents, classmates, and other teachers. It's important to use only positive, encouraging words that will help create confidence, rather than negative responses, in students with LD. Some examples of positive words and phrases are:
You can do it!
Don't ever give up.
My class seemed to come away with a better understanding of what it’s like to be called those names and how it hurts the child.
I also shared two personal stories of being bullied by a student and a teacher.
Kids often see those who go to the resource room as the “stupid room” or the “special” room. From that come the names: stupid, retarded, dumb, and LD. I remember being called those names and going home to my mom and crying. I knew I wasn't stupid but Rachel, the class bully, did her best to make me feel dumb. She liked to pick on kids who were shy and wouldn't stand up for themselves. Every day before lunch she waited for me to come out of the bathroom. She intercepted me and asked me why I was so dumb and taunted me, "What’s wrong with you?" After awhile, I learned how to ignore her. When my mom found out she took action and got the girl in trouble. I was thankful to my mother for standing up for me.
I also remember my principal telling me that because I have dyslexia I would never learn to read and that I'd never graduate from high school. I was only in third grade at the time. What an unbelievable feeling it is to be graduating from college, and prove to that principal she was wrong!
Despite the challenges I faced throughout my school years, including being bullied by classmates and discouraged by educators who were misinformed about LD, I've worked hard to reach my goals. Because of my experiences, I feel compelled to advocate for children who have LD and to pave the way for them by educating other people about the disorder.