HomedisabilitiesWhat is Dyslexia – A Learning Disability or a Learning Difference?

Since starting this blog, I’ve given a fair amount of thought into terminology. More specifically, I’ve been thinking about what category dyslexia should fit into – difference or disability.

I decided to see which term was searched for more often
on Google in the UK and USA. Interesting how much
more popular “learning disability” is than “learning
difference”.
I focused on dyslexia in particular because it’s still such a strangely controversial topic. That controversy has a very profound effect on help available to those who need it most.
There’s a problem when some parents are discouraged from even saying the word during IEP meetings, after all. That’s like not being allowed to say “I have asthma” at a doctor’s appointment, but expecting the doc to know what you need based on the diagnosis of “lung ailment”.
I also focused on it because although it’s commonly referred to as a learning disability in the US, it’s called a learning difference in the UK. So, which is more accurate?
Although I’m no expert on much of anything on paper, I do know how dyslexia affects my every day life and the impact it’s had on my education, social interactions and the way I look at the world.
My gut instinct would be to say it’s just a difference in neurology.
I can still function well in every day life, and so long as I double check things that involve writing or numbers, I can avoid trouble when it comes to administrative stuff. I’ve actually been able to contribute to organizations in which I’d been involved in very positive ways because of the unique way my dyslexic experiences have helped me look at the world.
However, then I think back to school and jobs I’ve had that dyslexia made far worse than they already were. In those situations, I really did need accommodations in order to get the work done. If I didn’t have them, I failed. In those situations, my differences became disabilities.
Since my head isn’t attached to my neck with Velcro, I always carry dyslexia with me, but it doesn’t always act as a disability. Put me in some situations, though, and it does.
In order to get accommodations in the USA, people with dyslexia must at the very least be diagnosed with a Specific Learning Disability. From that point on, those individuals must grapple with internalized ideas of what being disabled means, how others will treat them because of their preconceptions and how to best incorporate this new knowledge into their every day lives.
The problem some people have with the term “learning disability” is that it implies an inability to learn. We all know that’s not the case. All you need to do to disprove the idea that dyslexics can’t learn information is to look at folks like Jack Horner and Carol Greider.
Perhaps the term itself isn’t accurate enough to describe dyslexia’s impact on learning. When stuck in a so called traditional learning environment, where information is transmitted in form of reading or lecture, the majority of us are disabled.
However, when we’re put in a learning environment with a diverse array teaching methods, most of us pick information up as well, if not better, than our peers. So, does that mean it should be referred to as a learning difference?
The problem with that particular phrase is that everyone learns best in their own way. Folks without any form of dyslexia also learn best in a variety of ways. If only those with dyslexia learn differently, that implies that everyone else learns in the same way, which isn’t true either.
So, just what is dyslexia? Is it a disability? Is it a difference? Why can’t it be both?
When it comes to learning rote information and taken written tests, it’s a disability. However, when it comes to science lessons in a lab or learning how to build something in shop class, it can be an advantage, and therefore, a difference.
Both terms are valid, as far as I’m concerned.

Why should we need someone else to define us, anyway? Outside of acquiring accommodations we need to get through the day, our opinions are the only ones that matter when it comes to how we look at ourselves.
How do I define myself?
I’m just another person with weaknesses and strengths, just like everyone else. I have quirks, dreams and aspirations as well as unique tastes and talents. I still don’t know my multiplication tables, but I can design stories and crafts quality enough for people to buy.
I see my dyslexia as a disability in some areas, an advantage in others and a valuable part of what helped me grow into who I am today.
My dyslexia is definitely a part of who I am, but it’s not all I am.

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