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Book Excerpt: "On Their Own" — So What is It?"

Special Needs Stories - Special Education Stories

The following excerpt is from the first chapter of Anne Ford’s book, On Their Own: Creating an Independent Future for Your Adult Child with Learning Disabilities and ADHD.


In 2003 Anne Ford published Laughing Allegra, a memoir about the struggles of raising a daughter with learning disabilities (LD). That book touched the hearts of thousands in the LD community, and soon Ford received a flood of letters, emails, and phone calls from parents of children with LD and AD/HD, many expressing concerns about what to do as their children become young adults, gain greater independence, and become active and contributing members of their communities.

Ford decided to respond by writing a new book,
On Their Own: Creating an Independent Future for Your Adult Child with Learning Disabilities and ADHD. Drawing from her own personal experience and the numerous resources available to her as a leading LD activist and former chairman of the National Center for Learning Disabilities, Ford offers hope and insight, answers questions, focusing throughout on one haunting challenge: Will their children ever be able to live on their own?

Chapter 1: "So What is It?"


Recently I was called in for jury duty in New York City. There is no better way to find a cross section of people from all walks of life -- different income levels, education levels, interests, different everything. It is true democracy in action, and it is often the only time such varied communities overlap. During one of the interminable breaks, while waiting to see who would be called up to serve on a jury, a few of us sat around and began to talk about our lives. One man was a retired certified public accountant, a woman was a secretary in a law firm, and another was a young mother raising three small children at home. When they asked what I did, I told them of my advocacy work on behalf of learning disabilities, and immediately the conversation swerved into that lane.

First of all, as everyone with an LD child knows, it is nearly impossible to go anywhere without meeting someone who has a child or a relative with LD, or a friend who has a child with LD. Jury duty, airplanes, grocery stores, dinner parties, it doesn't matter where, chances are good that someone there knows or is related to someone with LD. From this we can assume it is a widespread condition and one that touches all levels of society. So why is it that this condition is met with a form of mass confusion?

"So what is it?" the retired accountant asked me. "I mean, I've heard the term 'learning disabilities' before, but what is it? Mental retardation? Autism?"

"It's neither one," I said. "It's a neurological disorder. Think of it as the brain being wired a little differently than most."

"It's dyslexia," said the young mother. "My son has it. He mixes up letters when he reads." From the way she said this, I knew that her son had a mild form of dyslexia, and that to ask her about issues such as independent living or classroom accommodations would result in an uncomprehending stare. I tried to make the point that not all LD is the same, and there are wide ranges of severity.

"So is it like mental retardation?" the man asked again, and once again I said, "No. Sometimes, in fact usually, you can't tell if someone has LD or not."

"Is it autism?" he asked.

"No, it's not autism, either."

"So what is it?"