Learning Disability: Check

It’s official: I am learning disabled. OK, OK, that is a horrible way of describing it; please forgive me as I am new to being on this side of the able-ist discussion.

I got the results of my second set of diagnostic tests yesterday, and my mind is buzzing all over in attempt to sort out what this means for my present, future, and past. It feels like coming out all over again: raking through my history to reinterpret events in relation to this new self-awareness, seeing “the signs” in everyone around me, and trying to figure out how to change my way of acting and thinking to make this new identity fit. It will be a few weeks before my head is clear of this issue.

Learning disabilities are usual diagnosed through a measured discrepancy between a person’s cognitive abilities and their performance on specific language related tasks such as reading, writing, speaking, listening, as well as basic arithmetic. Their design is meant to measure memory and attention within these domains. All of the tasks are evaluated comparatively: given your age and level of education, how do you rank against your peers, and is this rank different from that of your measured intelligence?

By this definition, I fit the bill, however it fits in such a way that I feel awkward about waving it around. While the first set of tests (taken in Canada at the Canadian Centre for Dyslexia) identified dyslexic behaviours, the second set of tests (taken in NYC with a clinical neuropsychologist) gave evidence of the discrepancy by which I can be labeled and provided with services. It turns out (surprise surprise) that I am at the rather bright end of the cognitive scale, however my performance on these tests range from “very superior” to “average”, and “average” is lower than normal for someone with my perceptual reasoning capacities.

Looking back, this discrepancy makes a fair bit of sense. In elementary school, my teachers didn’t take much notice of me until grade 6. My grades were OK, and sometimes good, so no one had reason to worry. I remember feeling so frustrated at meeting people who had been labeled as gifted: they didn’t sound any more intelligent that I was, but other people had given them more fun things to do. At the same time, I’ve seen a lot of people suffer under that pressure to excel; I was probably saved a lot of heartache by just doing my thing and having my apparent abilities balance out the disabilities without a fuss. At higher levels of education, however, it has become more difficulty to hide the issue, and this diagnosis means reinterpreting the feelings of academic inadequacy of times past.

I still need to figure out the morality of using resources intended to help people with marked disadvantages to manage in a system that expects everyone to be normal. From the perspective of wanting to be evaluated fairly on what I know and understand, it makes sense to ask for help to represent myself appropriately. Similarly, there are likely tricks and skills I can develop to help get around whatever visual attention problems seem to be interfering with my processing of written language. But if I am in some ways already ahead of the game, how is it fair to ask for accommodations?

The point of taking these assessments was to get a sense of what might help me do better and be less frustrated in school, and I think they will help. There are many useful services to which I will have access through the Moses Centre (NYU’s centre for students with disabilities). Here is hoping I convince myself to take advantage of these opportunities now that they are being offered to me.

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