Tag Archives: growing up

Learning Disability- Different Not Less

4 Aug

My grade one teacher’s words haunt me.  She thought I was retarded.  I talked out of the side of my mouth, I coloured outside of the lines and my spelling was “unique”.  If the teacher had asked me why I talked out the side of my mouth, I would have told her I thought it was “cool”.  I don’t remember the exact moment I saw Jean Chretien, but I know I was impressed.  I was mesmerized by the way he spoke; I had not seen anyone speak out of the right side of their mouth before. On my first day of grade one, I wanted to make an impression and talking like Jean Chretien seemed like the perfect way. My Grandmother loved Jean Chretien (a devoted liberal party member).  Emulating Jean Chretien did not have the desired effect on my class or on my teacher.  I was not ready for grade one.

 I was a chubby kid, teased during recess and lunch. “Big targets are easy to hit”, the boys yelled while hurling pine cones at me.  I spent my recess hiding behind the portables, wishing I could vanish.  In class, things weren’t much better.  My teacher’s disdain for me was palpable.  I was different. I stopped talking like Jean Chretien after the first week, but it was too late. Her impression of me was etched. The classroom was noisy and active. I had no desire to read or learn.  I wanted to play! In my class, once your work was done you could play.  The faster your work was done the more time you had time for play. I still remember looking at the page, scribbling ANYTHING, so I could free myself from the chain of work. I did not understand anything. My mind constantly wondered to magical imaginary places that were far away.   The classroom E.A’s permanent position seemed to be hunched over my desk; her perfume choking me while her well-manicured neon nails pointed at my work. She tried desperately to wake me from “my world”.

Midway through grade one my parents had me tested.  The testing took place in a small room, where there was nothing distracting on the walls and the room was quiet.  The tester was kind. She made me feel smart.  A feeling I had not had before, after our sessions I was labeled with a learning disability.  At the end of my grade one year, it was apparent I had not learned.  My parents wrestled with the decision to push me forward or keep me back a year.  I was held back. I failed grade one (along with six other students that year).

I am a grade one failure. I know the feeling of being in a room and not understanding a word.  Being in a classroom where the teacher’s words would bounce off the walls and I was unable to catch them. I desperately wanted to understand, but didn’t know how to begin. The gap between me and the other children was too large.  I retreated to my wonderful imaginary world where I was successful.  In the real world of grade one, I could not be part of the reading club that got the colourful new books. I was part of the tattered book club. We read faded copies of Dick and Jane who only seemed to run places, unlike Mr. Mugs the mischievous dog who did things.

 I have always been very self conscious of my intellect.  I still am.  I think it is this awareness that draws me to working with adults with cognitive impairments.  I don’t want anyone to feel that they aren’t smart. The teacher thought I was retarded and I saw and heard that.  I knew even at the age of six I was being treated differently.  It has taken years to shake off that self image; I am still surprised when I get a good grade.  The anxiety I feel before I hand in a paper is great because there is still that voice that tells me, “You’re not smart”. When I worked as instructor therapist for children with autism, I was told by a colleague I was too positive with the children.  Too positive and reaffirming! I don’t ever want a child or an adult to feel that because learning is hard for them that they are inferior.  In grade one, I felt inferior in the classroom. This feeling seeps into your identity and limits you; it cements you to your failures. I was a different child.  I did not fit into my teacher’s lessons plans. As Temple Gradin states, “I am different not less”.  It took me a long time to accept this, I learn differently, but I am not less.  I think this is why I am so committed to working with adults with learning disabilities, they may learn differently and they may experience the world differently, but they are no less a person.  I am committed to trying to create a world in which difference does not mean inequality.

Image