In this interview, Sheldon H. Horowitz, Ed.D., Director of Professional Services at NCLD talks with Dr. Roffman about her book and about the role that self-awareness, self-acceptance, and humor play in the transition from adolescence to adulthood.
In Chapter 1 you offer some great tips for promoting self-awareness and self-acceptance, a personal challenge for every teen and young adult. Why is this especially important (and so hard) for students with learning disabilites (LD)?
Adolescence is all about discovering who we are and coming to terms with our own constellation of positives and negatives. This search for identity is hard psychological work, but self-awareness and self-acceptance are at the foundation of healthy adult adjustment. For youth with LD, the identity search also includes facing their disability and learning about how it manifests itself both in and out of the classroom. At a time of life when conformity is all-important and when being different feels like the end of the universe, this process of coming to terms with one's deficits can be very painful.
Parents and teachers can support teens in this crisis by helping them see the bigger picture and recognize that, although they do have areas of challenge, they also have strengths. In the book I refer to this as the yin and yang of LD. Awareness sets the stage for self-acceptance and readies youth with LD to step forward and self-advocate for the set of accommodations and modifications that will help them work around their areas of weakness and capitalize on their strengths in school, at work, at home and in the community.
Achieving self-acceptance is a journey made more difficult by the lack of understanding of LD in our society. Parents and schools need to do a better job of celebrating differences, of focusing more on what students ARE able to do rather than on their limitations, and of helping students learn to see that LD is only a piece of who they are and can, in fact, be a positive force in their lives.
Although you don't speak about it directly in your book, could you reflect about if (and how) humor and laughter can help or pose obstacles for teens and young adults with LD?
Great question! Many people with LD have a delightful sense of humor. Some have learned to laugh at their difficulties, not in self-deprecation but more as a coping technique. One young woman chuckled when she told me that she's learned to always take a 'dry run' when going anywhere important because her sense of direction is terrible and she often gets lost. I admired her problem-solving skills and positive attitude; rather than feeling defeated by this tendency, she was amused by it and found a way to compensate for it. In some cases, of course, LD contributes to more far-reaching problems that simply can't be made light of.
There is a significant subset of individuals with LD who have difficulty understanding humor. Those who have a language learning disability often become confused by figurative language and miss the punch lines of jokes; those with visual perception difficulties, who find it hard to interpret body language, may have difficulty distinguishing a smile from a smirk; similarly, folks who have an auditory discrimination deficit may have trouble determining whether a person's tone is conveying friendly humor or biting sarcasm. A good social skills training program can help teens tune in to humor. The book suggests ways parents can supplement formal social skills training at home and in the community.