Posted in Stigma Talks

A learning difference can be one’s Strong Suit!

Learning differences are getting more and more attention this past decade.  Not so sure there is getting enough funding to help youths and parents but there is getting plenty of attention. BUT, is the attention positive or negative?  Do we not stigmatize this as well?  When youths call me and mention they have some form of learning disability, I usually paraphrase, “Oh, so you have a learning difference, eh?”

We all learn differently, and if some youths and adults learn within the spectrum the general educational system can accomodate…then they get by just fine…not great…just fine. {those that don’t fall within that “average” just slip through the cracks if they have not been evaluated early enough.

I also know how some systems and educators can be more sensitive to different learning styles.   I always wondered how come I barely passed Algebra all through high school and in university I got my first A+!  I had a teacher that took the time to teach several students 2 and 3 different ways to solve a problem. How come he got it?!  How come he figured out that some students just learn a bit differently?  Well, kudos on that amazing Math teacher at Concordia University!!

Tonight I finished watching an episode of Parenthood tonight and Max, one of  my favourite characters, had a speech to give as he was running for Student Council.  His mom was having surgery to remove a cancerous lump in her breast. Everyone was worried about the surgery and how Max would make out without his mom around that important day.  Here is the amazing speech he gave {that was all in his head…not on paper because he has an amazing memory:)  In the event the video may expire, I have also typed it out.

“I’m Max Braverman…”,[he takes some time to adjust the microphone and it makes screeching sounds for a few seconds…tension is building a bit as some students continue shifting in their seats, snickering and heads turning towards their peers}

“I’m Max Braverman and I am running for student council present. If elected as president then I will bring back vending machines that used to be in our school. And that’s why you should vote for me.” {There is a pause as Max skims the entire auditorium…some more shifting, heads turning and giggles…then he turns towards his right of the stage and looks at his older sister who gives him 2 thumbs up}.

“Also I’m very tenacious. It means being very persistent. I am like this because I have something called Asperger’s. Having Asperger’s makes some things very difficult for me, like looking people in the eye or saying hello.  So I don’t do those things very often. Some things also come very easily to me because I have Asperger’s, like being smart and remembering almost everything. Also it means being tenacious. And so I will be tenacious about the vending machines. Another thing about Asperger’s is that I always keep my promises. So when I tell you that I will bring back the vending machines, you can believe me. Some people say that having Asperger’s can sometimes be a bad thing, but I am glad that I have it because I think that it is my greatest strength.”

What do you think happened after that?  You guessed it! One student stands up and starts clapping, and Max gets a standing ovation.  And yes, he did win the elections by the end of the day! I gotta say, I wept with joy and clapped my hands as I sat on my couch, feeling so proud!

This was the second time in 2 days I had been inspired by someone with a learning kidding!  I do believe that life sends me such great opportunities and learning experiences…in twos and threes sometimes in a very short period.  I guess the plan is the Great Spirit wants me to “get it” and ’tis a wise idea as I age, the short-term memory lapses a tad.  {She says and frowns as it’s not so much a joke as a fear for me…another time, another topic} Last night at work (I work on an anonymous youth help line)

I received a phone call from a young man…late teens.    Let’s call him Justin.  He starts off with a very deep baritone voice “I am very angry right now and need help to calm down before get into a fight with my friends or family.”  I put my headset away from my ear a few times, waiting…thinking he needed to shout, scream..vent…but he continued in the same measured tone.

“I have Asperger’s and I have a hard time sometimes to control my anger and especially find it difficult to understand what people want or mean when they say things…sometimes.”

And so we continued on an unusually interesting and challenging exchange.   For over an hour Justin shared with me his discourse and helped me understand his struggles with a few friends whom  he cared for, tried to protect, rescue many times and yet…I could tell it was tearing him apart inside.  Whether he was able to show emotions or not, he certainly was able to articulate them.  He was able to describe how his frustration and powerlessness was leading him to self-injure.  Eventually, I dared use a different approach…not one I often use with teens.

We talked about what HE thought his family were worried about that he was hanging out with this group of friends.   His logic just floored me!  Especially during such intense times when a teen and their social life is of such importance.

Justin would get frustrated when he could not intervene and help his friends.   Often he felt his friends expected too much of him to reach out and help him when they needed a place to stay or a friend to drive them around.  We talked about how some people (adults as well) may not always have what it takes to “reciprocate” as he hoped they would.    Justin totally “got it” and even though it irked him, he eventually saw how his relationships may need to be a bit more balanced so he did not have to suffer so much and deal with this anger and frustration.

I could not get over,that despite his frustrations and intense emotions, he was able to grasp the logic in distancing a bit to sort things out.  He wanted to know how to not “obsess” so much with worry.  And so, we worked on an exercise he could do for two weeks to try to limit the amount of time he would think and worry about his buddies.

What I really appreciated about this call was contrary to many teens who are upset and set on one issue…he was open to “logic” and trying to work out ways to resolve his problem.  I also appreciated how he was open to help me understand and see things from his point of view.

I rarely get phone calls from  youths who have Asperger’s {or identify with it, I should really say}…I do see internet web messages, as many youths have shared they expressed themselves better in writing.  Not Justin! He did just fine indeed!! 😀

What a lovely experience I had with Justin who was very articulate and his strengths came through loud and clear…yes, Aspergers was definitely Justin’s strong suit (as was Max’s strength) in allowing him to take stalk of his situation and accept rational and logical steps in resolving part of his problem.

It’s been an amazing week so far.  And tonight I came back from a great lecture on Eating Disorders…I was pumped with all the ways I can advocate in schools or school boards to get more education on this condition …BUT, I will wait until the full day training offered at the Douglas Hospital next week to share my thoughts and learnings. Until then…consider being more open to people you may know with a mental health condition or a learning difference around you;  and when  you  question the behaviour or reaction of someone…don’t assume, don’t stigmatize…you can always ask and if  you aren’t comfortable…then ask a mental health professional for information. Thanks for dropping by…TAO aka Cheryl-Lynn

“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” Dr. Seuss

Here is a scene in the movie Adam with Hugh Dancy that a fellow blogger at recommended; check out that very interesting blog after looking at this. Namaste.

© Cheryl-Lynn Roberts, Montreal, Canada  November 2012, reblogged August 16, 2013


A little bit about moi: I am a mom, a nana, a sister, a woman, a friend, a human being…a youth counsellor, Family Life Educator. I have been working in the helping profession for over 25 years and volunteered in various capacities from youths to seniors. Tournesol is my nom de plume for haiku and other Japanese form poetry here at Tournesoldansunjardin I hope you enjoy reading through my daily waka. I also have another blog "Stop the Stigma" where I may stand on my soapbox now and then and hope it will become a place to drop in and share or comment on issues important to you. In that vein this could be a great way to learn from each other. Namaste!

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