Why kids with LD are the "Davids" of the world
Malcolm Gladwell's new book had been sitting by my bedside for a few weeks. (Who am I kidding? It was there for several months. It has been on the bestseller list for over 150 weeks already!) It took me a while to really get into it but when I finally did, I couldn't put it down.
And Gladwell's premises are so relevant to our kids with learning challenges.
A key premise of Gladwell's is that there is an advantage to being the underdog. An underdog by definition has seemingly lesser abilities than his or her peers or adversaries. An underdog has endured struggles and obstacles, and has developed a thicker skin. An underdog has had to be creative to survive, and through that survival, has learned how to succeed. An underdog is able to move forward, confident in his ability to attain his goals.
In many ways, this underdog is a student with learning challenges. Our students have constantly had to work harder academically than their friends. Our students have had to find creative ways to succeed in high school, sometimes by using assistive technologies, sometimes by changing their approach to their studies. Our students have had to deal with teachers and other adults who think they are "lazy," socially awkward” or "unmotivated." What a terrible burden to bear.
But it is because of these difficulties that so many successful adults with learning challenges have been extremely successful later in life. They have had to navigate around many stumbling blocks before entering adulthood. There are so many people that we regard as successful who have had significant learning challenges. David Boies, featured in the book, is dyslexic but managed to finish law school and now is one of the preeminent lawyers in the country. Justin Timberlake, the performer and actor, has OCD and anxiety, but he managed to channel his challenges to become a marvelous entertainer. Robin Williams, the comedian/actor/director, has significant ADHD but managed to find the career in which he blossomed.
The key, it seems to me, to being a successful underdog is to recognize the strengths inherent in the position. Our students typically have very low self esteem. Few people - except perhaps parents - have told them that they are valuable and that their future is bright. Our job as parents and counselors is to help them see their apparent disadvantages as advantages. Colleges and employers appreciate people who have struggled, created solutions through personal effort, and achieved success. We have to help students see that the challenges they’ve faced and strategies they’ve devised can be hugely important to success in college and beyond. We need to help them to develop into self-confident, self-advocates, so that they know and obtain what they need to succeed.
We need to show them that, in life, the underdog is the ultimate winner.