Have you ever noticed society’s tendency to make fun of people in the public eye who may have some form of what we refer to as a learning disability (LD)? These critiques include the way people speak, pronounce certain words, or respond on an ad lib basis, etc. If the speakers don’t follow the “norm,” we often see or hear the slightest suggestion of stupidity. Or dullness…
Many famous people have (or had) attention deficit and learning disorders. This includes Leonardo da Vinci, Whoopi Goldberg, Albert Einstein, Edward James Olmos, Walt Disney, Cher, William “Bill” Hewlett, and Stephen J. Cannell.
If someone shows the symptoms of–say–Tourette’s Syndrome, it’s clear that there are neurological issues involved. But what about the more invisible issues faced by many people? Famous or not. And those who speak, write, test, and receive information differently than the “norm”?
Let’s talk about me. Early on, I tested with a fairly healthy IQ. But I could never believe that was valid because of the way my mind and body functioned. Or refused to function. I lacked perfect coordination. I had problems with lengthy verbal instruction. As a young person, I equated intelligence with great physical coordination and the ability to speak and respond quickly and clearly on any subject.
I’ve since learned a few things. Many intelligent people, including me, can’t always articulate their thoughts well on a spontaneous basis. When I was in school, I also had a frustrating time with homework. I dreaded tests, especially those that were given verbally.
Because of issues like these, I was not an “A” student. So I chose, sometimes, to be a clown. I drew attention away from my disabilities by being lighthearted. Silly. I didn’t think in terms of disabilities: I just knew I wasn’t like most other people. I disliked physical education classes and participation in sports. I usually failed at eye-hand games like ping pong, tennis, and softball. It wasn’t that people made fun of me: I made fun of myself.
Don’t get me wrong: I also had a lot of fun in school. (I still have fun!) I was drawn toward musical and dramatic activities, school politics, and peer groups. I could memorize music and dialogue flawlessly. But forget dancing. I shouldn’t say that: I could waltz well.
I was convinced that I’d never make it through college, and I didn’t. (How wonderful that today there are so many technological tools to help people who process information with difficulty. And determination helps!) Later, in the workforce, I learned to always take notes when someone gave verbal commands of any length. That’s still true.
I’ve been involved in many community organizations, and have even led some. I’m not always quick on my feet. If someone suddenly confronts me in a negative way, I need a few moments (or longer) to be able to see the issue with balance. Sometimes I need to sit quietly and analyze a discussion before I have something concrete to contribute. I often envied people whose minds and conversations go at the speed of light.
In conversations, I sometimes think ahead. My mind moves to the next subject before the speaker is finished with the current subject. And if I get in a hurry (that’s one of my gifts), I might just trip over my tongue.
My life is, then, influenced by the way my brain processes information. I often think in kind of a matrix, and I often think in pictures. How have I overcome many of my challenges? That’s a different story for a different time.
My point? I’ve seen too much ridicule of people in the public eye who have some type of learning disorder. When we listen to leaders who are in ad lib situations, we need to focus on issues, not delivery. It’s healthy to disagree with what a person says, but it’s not okay to criticize that person’s inability to communicate like Walter Cronkite, Larry King, or Barbara Walters. I recommend we give grace to people when it comes to presentation.