Disability? Disorder? Difference?
Yes, disorder (or disability) implies something is wrong. And, at least for me, something IS wrong. To deny it (as people did a LOT during my childhood, and still do somewhat today) is kind of insulting in a weird way, because it says that the things I have a lot of difficulty with (or find impossible altogether) are more my fault. Everyone on Earth is different from everyone else. SOME of us are disabled.
Why is this so problematic for NLD/AS etc.?
I am also very nearsighted and see out of only one eye. This is also a disability, and no one has much problem with saying that it is. “Oh, he’s nearsighted!” – that’s not an insult, it’s just a statement of fact. My nearsightedness is (mostly) corrected by glasses; my one-eyed-ness is not correctable at my age (I had an operation when I was 3 that didn’t work; I’ve tried vision therapy to no avail). So, my 3-D vision stinks. And if I explain this to people, neither they nor I have any problem saying that this is something wrong with me. It would be better if I could see 3-D. It would be better if I didn’t need glasses.
I suppose I could call myself “differently-sighted” but that’s sort of silly.
There’s really no stigma to vision problems.
When it comes to learning disabilities, all this changes. Because there IS stigma attached.
But this stigma changes how the words feel, rather than what the effects are. Just like I can’t see 3-D, there are other things I can’t do that most people do very easily.
For one example: I can’t draw. At all. I can’t consistently draw a cylinder. My wife is an artist – she has tried to teach me. I have an MA in special ed, art therapists have tried to teach me. I was IN special ed, and back then people tried to teach me. It doesn’t work. My brain doesn’t DO that. There are lots of other examples. I get lost. ALL the time. I can’t estimate time. I can’t remember when things happened. ALL of these are disabilities. It is BETTER to be able to find your way to a friend’s house than it is to get lost. Getting out of the subway and going straight to my destination is BETTER than wandering around lost. (Just yesterday I wandered around lost, trying to get to a place I had been to several times before – I was going there to give a presentation on recursive partitioning).
They are disabilities whether you call them NLD, AS, learning problems, learning disabilities, learning differences or kumquats.
But there’s that stigma.
How do we get rid of the stigma?
By claiming it, not by denying it.
So, whenever someone says something like “You can’t be learning disabled, you have a PhD” I say “Yes I can. It’s just that I’m good at academic subjects”. If a longer conversation ensues, I can point out all the many things that people learn to do. Like finding your way home.
There are some things wrong with me. There are also some things right with me.
The things that are wrong don’t make me evil, bad, lazy, crazy, stupid or whatever, they make me disabled.
The things that are right with me don’t make me good, energetic, sane, smart or whatever. They make me gifted.
Together, and with a lot of other stuff added, they make me Peter