Learning Disability or Hidden Superpowers?
Understanding Your Child's Genius
By Judith Jolma
Little Caleb was born with a learning disability. No matter how hard he tried, he could not throw a football more than 5 yards. He had tiny fingers and simply could not grasp the ball. Every day, he’d go to school and watch all his classmates complete their ball-throwing exercises with seeming ease. Poor Caleb. He always got a "D" on his report card. Caleb wished he could just sit and read a book or solve long division problems.
Are you confused? So are children labeled “learning disabled.” The above fiction usually plays out in reverse for children in school. No matter how hard they try, they cannot read or solve arithmetic problems like children around them. All they want to do is what they are good at -- playing outside.
There are nine forms of intelligence, but only two are tested in school.
There are nine forms of intelligence, but only two are tested in school. Nobody panics if a child shows little interest in sports, nature, or art (each a form of intelligence). But, Oh! the alarms that ring out when a child shows little interest in reading or sitting still in class! In a flash, we slap that “disability” label on them, medicating away all their natural superpowers. We unknowingly strip them of their lifeforce making them feel shame for what they cannot do rather than encouraging them to excel in what they can.
“If it were necessary to be a proficient auto mechanic to function in society, I would have a learning disability,” said Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Robert Verdile in an interview with Sophia Homeschool. His point, of course, is that our society has set arbitrary rules upon individuals that measure one’s usefulness to society rather than the innate gifts of the human person.
*Image credit https://psychology-info.com/areas-of-the-brain-involved-in-reading-and-writing
Reading, of course, is required to function in our society, but it is a highly complex activity that demands many parts of the brain cooperating in precision. It does not come easily to every brain type in the same way that throwing a football does not come naturally to every brain or body type. When a child struggles in school, take time to consider those other forms of intelligence.
Nine Forms of Intelligence
The nine forms of intelligence include:
linguistic intelligence (both tested in school and considered essential to function well in our society),
naturalist intelligence, and
Individuals born with IQs gifted in, musical, physical, intra-or-interpersonal intelligence, for example, are treated as less intelligent than those with competent academic IQs often considered defective — learning “disabled.”
Tragically, when we neglect the other forms of intelligence (such as artistic) we encounter the same levels of depression and anxiety as individuals who lack intellectual intelligence. Why? Because human development demands we develop the whole person in order to be whole. Of course, an individual who feels incomplete simply cannot be truly happy in the authentic sense.
The Surprising Advantage of Learning Disabilities
If only we could divorce our schools from the standardized test and be glad that we have a diverse population in which some are great auto mechanics, some can throw the football, and some have an innate talent for spelling. The real problem comes when children become ashamed of what they cannot do. As parents and teachers, we must protect their confidence at all costs so they will be free to both overcome their weakness and allow their brains to work in their own quirky, yet amazing ways.
According to Kimberly Blaker, writing for Parenthood IQ, A few examples of individuals who did exactly this include:
HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSON, who struggled with math because of dyscalculia, yet had a talent for writing fairy tales that was extraordinaire.
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN is one of the world’s greatest musicians of all time. It’s believed that he had both AD/HD and dyslexia.
AGATHA CHRISTIE had a phenomenal writing career in spite of having dyslexia.
THOMAS EDISON is perhaps the most famous inventor of all time. When he was young, his curiosity and practical jokes frequently got him into trouble. No one would have fathomed at that time that one day he would be considered one of the many famous people with learning disabilities.
ALBERT EINSTEIN was a mathematical genius. He didn’t learn to talk until he was three and it is suggested by some that he struggled with dyscalculia, dysgraphia, dyslexia, and word finding.
ISAAC NEWTON became a famous mathematician and natural philosopher. As a boy, he daydreamed and did poorly on his schoolwork, but his single-mindedness soared him to the top of his class when he strove to academically surpass the school bully. He is most remembered for his work in the area of gravitation.
The list of genius inventors, musicians, writers, etc. with "learning disabilities" is impossibly long: LOUIS PASTEUR, CHARLES SCHWAB, MARK TWAIN, WERNER VON BRAUN. Even GEORGE WASHINGTON always struggled with spelling and his use of grammar.
It is easy to make the argument that these people left their marks on the world not in spite of their learning disability rather because of them.
Far from being unintelligent, children with “learning disabilities” are born with, and further develop, unique superpowers. In their book The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain, Brock Eide and Fernette Eide explore the superpowers connected to just one so-called learning disability. Their research suggests the dyslexic brain sees the material world through a unique perspective giving them an advantage in mathematics and engineering. They also have a unique ability to detect relationships between phenomena, like objects, ideas, and events; and are gifted in narrative, as well as the ability to explain historical facts with present-day knowledge.
See the world from the child’s perspective. Get distracted with your ADD child for a while. You may just laugh more.
Similar research exists showing the power of other so-called disabilities such as autism, auditory processing disorders, and ADD. If allowed to fully develop their superpowers, children with unique brain functions can quickly reach a genius level. Conflicts arise when teachers try to force traditional teaching methods upon a child who simply cannot comprehend information presented in traditional ways.
Although many children who are labeled as having a learning disability may have natural barriers (such as a speech impediment, visual or auditory processing disorders, for example)that may require therapy, keep in mind that we all come with natural barriers in one form or another. Children who need braces on their teeth are not labeled as disabled. We straighten their teeth and move on. A child who struggles to read due to a visual processing disorder, can -- and should -- receive therapy for that barrier without inflicting injury on their confidence.
It is also important to remember that children with natural barriers have brains gifted in an intelligence other than academic. Teachers and parents can help these children unlock their genius with a big dose of understanding. By embracing alternative teaching methods such as Montessori, these students will thrive.
Let’s take ADHD as an example. As a woman in my 40s who struggles to find the energy to meet the tasks each day, I envy hyperactive individuals. I’ve met adults who bounce with exuberance. They get things done! They make people around them smile. They engage children with ease. Yet they recount sad stories from their childhood: adults telling them to calm down, sit still, pay attention.
Notice that I am not suggesting that children who struggle to read and write do not have to read and write. They do!
Let’s take a new tack. Let’s work with the child's energy and physical intelligence instead of against it. No expensive special education program is needed to do this! All you need is a bucket of sidewalk chalk and a nice day. Head outside and practice cursive on the sidewalk in between monkey bar races. Make a physical and emotional memory to equip your struggling child with an academic skill.
Notice that I am not suggesting that children who struggle to read and write do not have to read and write. They do! Like it or not, reading is an essential part of thriving in our society. But we don’t have to teach all children to read by making them sit and drill in front of phonics books. Take advantage of their physical intelligence and give them physical, emotional, and experiential instruction to help their brains potently receive information.
When the Child Becomes the Teacher
See the world from the child’s perspective. Get distracted with your ADD child for a while. You may just laugh more. When his eyes drift away from the math lesson, look out the window with him. You may notice the brilliant red-feathered cardinals that pulled his attention away. Your own life may wind up with far more color. Adults have much to learn from all children but especially from children with learning differences. What if we accepted this symbiotic relationship and allowed the child to instruct us?
When distractions become excessive, we can ask, “What caused the distraction?” Was there background noise like a fan or music? Did he tilt his head and cover an eye while reading? What did he eat last? How much sleep did he get last night? All these things can offer clues to a starting point for correcting any natural barriers. Acknowledge their physical, mental, or emotional barriers and try to provide any therapy or aid to overcome them. Yes, therapy is expensive. But if you have to choose between college and therapy, choose therapy.
Let their superpowers amaze you. If they show a tendency for high spatial intelligence, offer Lego in great quantities. If they show a need to move, provide lots and lots of vigorous activity. Let them perfect their natural intelligence and their academic intelligence will catch up.
For more help with SPED check out our Complete Guide to Homeschooling Children with Learning Disabilities.
By Judith Jolma, Founder of Sophia Homeschool.
Sophia Homeschool teaches parents how to homeschool. Learn more about our training at Sophiahomeschool.com
Learn how to create a homeschool method and environment based on your family's needs so you can thrive. My Foundations of Homeschooling Masterclass teaches parents to work with their budget, schedule, learning style, teaching style, and resources so each member of the family has his or her needs met— including yours! Learn to create a peaceful and joyful learning environment that lasts a lifetime. Identify learning differences and adapt your educational plan accordingly. Unlock the mysteries of teaching multiple grades at once. By knowing what your needs are, you will save thousands of dollars, time, and energy on methods that do not work. We will end homework battles and restore your relationship with your child.