By: Conor Pierson
I am a Dyslexic man. That means a couple of things. One, I won’t be able to read 40 pages of material in one sitting, and most likely not in one night. Two, I won’t understand what I read if I get interrupted. Three, I’ll mix up words and phrases now and again. And finally, you will never see a smile on my face when you ask me to read out loud. Does my inability to read fast and remember text automatically make me lesser? No, it means there are different avenues I have to take to comprehend things.
There is an inherent thought in people that, students with disabilities are lesser and can’t understand things that others can. Those students with a cognitive difference can’t succeed at the same level as “normal” students and children. I put normal in quotes because no one on this earth is normal, no two people are the same in thousands of aspects so the concept of normal is only used to comfort those unsure of their gifts and what they can offer this world. Don’t be normal; be unique like you know you are.
I digress though, I’m here to tell you all that children with disabilities deserve more than platitudes when it comes to their education. The systemic belief that students with disabilities are working from behind has permeated almost all of my collegiate education. Every class I was in, we talked about special education as a side note where we would have to do interventions and scaffold more information for those students. Yet every conversation about special education devolves into “What about the gifted students that I will have in my classroom? What supplemental materials will I need for them?” I don’t know if it devolved into this question because I went to Bucknell University, one of the more elitist universities, or because these students truly believed they would deal with gifted children more often than special needs children.
The reality, for all those pre-service teachers, you will deal with many more children with special needs than gifted children. I’m not trying to put down the gifted population but the special needs crowd will be what you deal with way more often if you are a general schoolteacher. I find that teacher programs really do a disservice when they spend so much time on content and teaching pedagogy and not for those very regular occurrences where you’ll have a student with special needs. And to not have the conversation be settled with the statement “You’ll just have to do more intervention with the student.” (I’ve heard that statement more than once before, it pains me every time I hear it.)
Children with special needs need more attention, yes, but it’s not always intervention that they need. The majority of the time they need someone to help them find their voice, their avenue of thought, and their own autonomy. Luckily, I had that experience in my education and in my family life. My dad explained my Dyslexia in the most accurate way, at least in my case. “You’re not dumber than your classmates. All Dyslexia does is put a screen in front of all this knowledge, power, and creativity I know you have.” My schooling helped me lift that screen and find my voice.
I don’t want to speak for all people with intellectual or learning disabilities, I am not the ideal candidate by any means. From my experiences and the students I’ve had, they’ve needed an advocate to help search for their voice and their power. Most of the time they have a screen blocking all this untapped, genius potential and I don’t see a more worthwhile profession. I get to help children find their voice and the power within themselves. I love teaching, I love that I’m dyslexic, and I wouldn’t change that for the world.