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Labels

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Let’s talk about the label “learning disability.”

If you’re a parent of a “learning disabled” child, then there’s a high probability that you HATE that label.  I know I do.

A person with dyslexia is not disabled.  Science has proven that a dyslexic brain is neither damaged, malformed, lacking or incomplete.  There is nothing wrong with the function of the brain in any way.  Information simply travels differently and therefore they learn differently.

Parent advocates embrace terms like learning challenged or learning different, but how about the idea of normal?

What is normal anyway?

According to the dictionary the definition is as an adjective:

  1. conforming to a standard; usual; typical or expected

and as a noun

  1. the usual, average, or typical state or condition

But seriously, when you evaluate your life, how many normal people have you ever met?

When I was a little girl I used to say normal is boring and I never wanted to be normal.  Truth be told though, many of us conform to an ideal of what normal is whether its society norms, style norms, the norms you parents demand of you, etc.

And, when someone rocks to a different tune they’re ridiculed, regardless of what that tune may be.  They must be labeled, be mocked for daring to be different.

This is all because people, as a society, do not accept “different” well.  It is within that lack of acceptance that labels are born, and we as a society label everything.

For the record by society I mean all people of all languages, all cultures, everywhere.

We like our little neatly named categories and we especially like labeling those people who do not conform to the societal definition of what is expected and accepted.  History is littered with this from the birth of man to the here and now.

These labels have created a litany of sins including war and death.

Yet, we hold onto our labels.  We may shed some of them, alter them for politically correct reasons, but the labels remain, the judgment continues, the demand for conformity to the norm continues, the damnation of those outside of the norm continue.

The nicest of these labels is perhaps the word eccentric.  I won’t name the worse because of how awful they are.  What I will address is what it is to be labeled “learning disabled.”

From an educational establishment’s point of view there is really only one singular way to push information into the generations passing through the hallways of our schools.  This singular way will shift slightly in this direction or that based on the current fad, but little else changes.  And what I mean by that is that education is a singular approach deemed to be suited to all, but really only successful with a segment of our society.

This segment is called normal or normative.  They fit the box.  They’re the monkey that can climb the tree.

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But the population deemed as normal isn’t as large of a percent of the population as one might think.  If dyslexia is 1 in 5 that means 20%.  The implication is immediately made then that 20% is dyslexic and 80% is normative.  However, this isn’t true.

While dyslexia makes up roughly 80% of the population that learns differently, it is not the only learning difference.  There are others.  What about auditory processing disorder?  Dyscalculia?  Dysgraphia?  Language processing disorder?  Non-Verbal learning disabilities?  Visual perceptual / visual motor deficit?  ADHD?

Then, add to that the children with physical and mental challenges that would not be defined by the societal norms as “normative.”

Add together all of the segments of the population within schools that have dyslexia, ADHD, autism, hearing loss, blindness, etc. etc. etc. and you’ve taken quite a bit away from that 80%.  I don’t know what the math works out to, but it’s not 80%, not by a long shot.

But, for grins (read: eye-rolls), let’s pretend it does.  80% = 80% and they’re all normative.

What is normal?

They all get up on the left side of the bed? Put their pants on exactly the same way?  Eat exactly the same food?  Look and act exactly the same?  Dress the same?  They’re all auditory learners who absorb information perfectly?  They don’t ask questions more than one time?  They all score the exact same score on standardized tests?  In other words they’re all automatons?  Stepford children?

Quite the contrary.  They’re short, tall and in between.  They have various colored hair and a variety of skin colors.  They come from a variety of backgrounds, cultures and socio-economic statuses.  Some are visual learners and some are auditory.  They look, talk, act and think differently.  They also process information differently.

Within the realm of students, some have eidetic memories, others do not.  Some are gifted, some aren’t.  Some struggle with reading, others do not.

Normal is a construct, an idea, but in no way a real thing.  We choose to live similar lives because the way our society is structured, to live requires conformity to that standard, but we should not let this construct define our lives, define how we think, feel, or what and how we label.

The issue is with the concept of normal, normative, the 80% because the fact is such a thing does not exist, only the idea of it.  Remember the adjective definition?  It’s conforming to a norm or standard.  Remember the noun definition which was average?

My husband is a comic book geek.  One of his favorites is the X-Men’s various series and story lines.  He has specific authors that he prefers over others, but in general I’d call him a fan.  (Note: he HATES the movies and thinks Hugh Jackman was a monumental mistake (too tall, too pretty and not nearly angry enough) as Wolverine and that Brian Singer had no business even attempting to direct the franchise.)

Anyway, one of the various threads that runs throughout the X-Men is the idea that they exist apart from society, they are separate, feared, labeled, branded, shamed and hunted.  They are heroes who serve mankind, who use their abilities to protect the world, but that just makes them more dangerous to the norm.  Powerful people are constantly setting out to destroy them, label them.

Dyslexia as a “learning disability” is the establishment’s way of labeling our children as separate, less than, existing apart from, branded, shamed.

But it is ignorance and the demand to conform from which the label is born.

“You don’t fit so let me slap this label on you so I don’t really have to deal with you and if I do, then it will only be through a certain way (i.e. through a lack of accommodations, lack of services, poorly instituted remediation methods, stalling forever in RtI, delays, etc.) so when I knowingly (or ignorantly) refuse to do it right you can be brushed off as broken, deficient, less than, because you don’t conform and therefore it’s a waste of my time and resources.”

The fact is there’s nothing wrong with our dyslexic children and they do not deserve a label.  They are not disabled, different or challenged.  They are not average, but honestly who is?

What they are is not suited to the educational establishment’s concept of what it is to be normal, but as we are all painfully aware, the educational establishment is extremely broken and flawed in almost every possible way.

So why do we continue to have the label?  Excellent question.

Better yet, why do we continue to label at all?

It’s up to us to find a way for our children to survive the educational establishment’s construct of what it is to be normal, to be average.

It’s up to us to change the educational establishment.

It’s up to us to abolish the label and embrace diversity as the norm.

Until then, remember that dyslexia is a civil rights issue, and this parent at least is not giving up the fight.

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