Things not to say to LD people (or their parents)

1. You can’t be LD, you’re so bright! Ummm, you can be smart and LD, average intelligence and LD, or less than average intelligence and LD. Just like you can be tall and fat, tall and thin, or tall and average weight. LD means that you have a pronounced deficit in some area of learning. My deficits are entirely outside academic work: I have Nonverbal Learning Disability or something like it. My biggest problem in grad school was finding my way to the classroom.

2. You just need to try harder. Sorry, but no. My brain does not work the way yours does. There is something the *matter* with mine. It’s not a matter of will, or effort. It’s a matter of trying to figure out how to cope. You wouldn’t tell a blind person to try harder to see, would you?

3. Einstein / Da Vinci / Churchill was LD, and look what they did!. You know what? I’m not Einstein, Da Vinci, or Churchill. Almost no one is. That’s why they’re amazing. I mean, *you* aren’t LD and *you* haven’t done what they did, either, right?

4. It’s not so bad OK, fine. There are lots of people worse off than me. I admit it. Somewhere, there’s a starving quadriplegic orphan with AIDS, who is also a rape victim, and maybe she’s worse off than *anyone*. And I sympathize with them. Being LD isn’t as bad as some other disabilities, and certainly I don’t have the worst life – it’s actually pretty good. But LD sucks. Please don’t minimize it.

5. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses Yes. They do. But so what? Our differences in ability, in particular our deficits, are so great as to be disabling. For example, when I was 9 I took the WISC (an IQ test). It’s made up of subtests. Most people show some small differences – 110, 120, 100, 105 etc. across the subtests. I got subtest scores from 60 to 160. I can solve quadratic equations, but can’t figure out how to make the bed so it looks nice, or roll up my sleeves so they stay rolled up.

6. You need to discipline your child more/better/differently You don’t know. Our son, for example, over-reacts dramatically to any change in routine. *ANY* change. It freaks him out, and he *cannot* control it. It’s like a phobic reaction. Long term, he is improving, and we are working on it. But short term? It isn’t about discipline.


  1. Michelle says

    Peter, I think you should add funny to your list of talents.

    I know many people won’t find this funny but I laughed at many of your comments here and elsewhere on your site. I even forwarded some to a friend who is a comedian and has physical disabilities.

    So really how did you get from not having any friends or dates to having a wife and 2 kids ?

  2. Thanks Michelle
    How did I get from one to the other? I will write a blog post!

  3. As a parent of an Exceptionally Gifted, LD child (what does THAT even mean? There’s another blog just in that!) I was really thrilled to run across this blog today. What a joy to see the humor and insight.

    My daughter has good and bad days being able to handle hurdles with humor and insight but she is definitely more insightful and connected to the world than most adults I know! We try really hard to help her understand things are what they are and each day is a new world to navigate. See it as an adventure not an obligation. Some days she’ll say things like, “Man, did my dyslexia come in handy today or what?!” and other days are full of tears because the ideal in her head isn’t able to become reality as of yet.

    I look forward to sharing some of your posts with her. Keep up the good work!

  4. Thanks Amy hmmmm … Exceptionally gifted, LD child means that your daughter has a 100% diagnosis of being HER. 🙂

  5. _You wouldn’t tell a blind person to try harder to see, would you?_

    Perfect. I make this comparison a lot, for my son who is dysgraphic and dyscalculaic. He’s had lots of labels, but THIS is where studying of labeled kids should begin. In order to help, “accommodate”. He got poked in the eye enough, told everything he wasn’t, but not how to get to where he wanted to go. Somehow, he survived with a bit of self esteem.

    I love my son: to me, he is the “most interesting person in the world”. And the funniest. He makes my gut hurt once a day, but he is so shy and so aware of his “differences” that few people get to see that side of him.

  6. I frequently have people telling me, “But look at Temple Grandin/Daniel Tammett/other famous autistic people. They have Asperger’s and they’re successful! You just don’t try hard enough! Bill Gates has Asperger’s and he’s the richest man on the planet!”

    I’m going to use your comeback the next time people tell me that.

  7. Joan GaviniCampbell says

    Love , love this article my son and I try to find the humor everyday in his superpowers …. I am passing on the blind person line for him to use 🙂
    I am so happy I have found you

  8. Very glad to be found! 🙂


  9. When I do my awareness/sensitivity workshops on disability issues, invariably at least one person will speak to me afterwards to tell me about themselves or their spouse/kid/mom who has a learning disability. They’re incredibly widespread, and the impact of them is devastating. I’ve met people who are, or have been, suicidal because of the frustration and indignity of being treated as if they are stupid or not trying, or faking it for the accommodations!! As I always point out, no accommodations are so much fun that anyone would want to pretend to be LD! It’s just too damn much work!

  10. As a Business Advisor, I help many clients with a Learning Disability to start small businesses. As you rightly point out, the issue is coping with the disability, and not with one’s attitude, determination, and intelligence. I dig to find the best method for each client in this situation, and coach them from that perspective. One size definitely does not fit all.

  11. Loria Richardson says

    I like this story but for one thing. No one IS LD. They may HAVE LD, but is not the sole defining quality of their lives. As a parent of a child who has 3 LDs, this was a lesson I learned from a powerful speaker in 1997, when I participated in Partners In Policymaking. My child is musically gifted, very charismatic, has beautiful curly hair and blue eyes, and happens to have LD. However, that is not how I would introduce him. I would never include the disability in the introduction.

    Just a thought.

  12. Hi Loria,

    I disagree. Just like I am nearsighted, I am disabled. I’m also gifted. We will lose the stigma of LD only when we stop treating it as if it is a stigma.

  13. Christine says

    I wish my brothers would read your rules for what not to say… It is hard on me, my husband, but most importantly, my son to be viewed as undisciplined. He has a 30 point split and his world does not hang together like it does for his sister. I see get anxious, frustrated, and confused. I have also been told “Doesn’t Bill Gates have what he has?” and “But he’s so smart!” or “But he taught himself to read at 3!” or “At least it’s not cancer…” “It could be worse!” But he is a sad, confused, little boy and I don’t think hearing that at least he doesn’t have cancer makes him want to give me a high five, you know?

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