Saturday, January 23, 2010


         I’ve said in my two earlier posts on this subject that different learning abilities (sometimes called “disabilities”) might be considered gifts rather than shortcomings, but I didn’t mean to imply that no pain is coupled with those gifts. It seems to me that sorrow and happiness are two sides of the same coin – that you can’t have one without a fair share of the other – and so it seems natural that our gifts will probably produce an equal amount of pleasure and pain. Of all the gifts I have received, none has produced more pleasure than my body, but neither has any gift brought me more pain. Over the long years of my life, my body has often caused me severe pain, but it has also brought me indescribable pleasure, which is why it remains the greatest of gifts. The fact that the pleasure rotates fairly evenly with pain in no way diminishes the happy rewards I’ve received from this gift of a human body. The same is true of the other amazing gift, my mind. I have suffered greatly because of this magnificent instrument – runaway thoughts, utter confusion, ever-revolving fears and worries, even downright dejection and depression – but all of this misery has been beautifully balanced by the numberless mental miracles all of us experience. Does the suffering my mind has caused me mean that it’s not a magnificent gift – that it’s a “disability”? The answer is obvious – and I wonder if we could replace the word “mind” in the previous sentence with “dyslexia”, “ADHD”, or any of the countless atypical, uncommon, out-of-the-ordinary learning abilities science has discovered. Yes, ADHD does cause serious problems for people, but so, sometimes, do their internal organs, their arms and legs, their loved ones, their houses, their cars, and every other wonderful gift life has given them. Being human – in any way, shape, form, or condition – is often a troublesome and painful enterprise, but it is still an astonishing gift to be cherished. A colleague of mine has recently learned this lesson. After living for years with his own reckless temper tantrums, mood swings, inability to focus, and colossal unpredictability, he was finally diagnosed this past summer with ADHD. I vividly recall the day he told me about the diagnosis. He was, I think, overjoyed that he now realized what had been going on inside him all those years. He didn’t say he realized what was wrong with him – just that he understood himself a lot better. After giving the diagnosis, the doctor asked him what his profession was, and when my friend told him he was an 8th grade English teacher, the doctor smiled. “I’ll bet you love your work,” the doctor said, “and I’ll bet you’re damn good at it.” My friend was surprised, and said, “Yes, I do love teaching, and I guess I am fairly good at it. How did you know?” The doctor told him he knew simply because, in his wide experience, he’s learned that ADHD can be a genuine asset to a teacher, especially one who works with teenagers.  He told my friend that ADHD will continue to cause all kinds of problems for him, but that he should always keep in mind the strengths and talents – the gifts – it also gives him. He said he wouldn’t be nearly as good a teacher without it.  I will end with a quote from a graduation speech by Edward M. Hallowell, M.D., given at Eagle Hill (a school for students who learn in unusual ways) in 2008:
“The secret is that Eagle Hill is a covert operation, code name, Eagle Hill. The true mission of Eagle Hill is to find and train the most interesting, talented, gifted, unusual, tenacious, humorous, creative, hard-working, out-of-the-box future innovators and leaders that can be found among kids of or near high school age. Believing that it might cause these students to develop a swelled head were they told of the true mission of the school, it was decided years ago to disguise what happens here as the treatment of learning disabilities. This would encourage you all to work all the harder, not that you need all that much of such encouragement, and it would also help in fund-raising, as donors prefer to give to people in need. But now, I can let you in on the secret. Having both ADD and dyslexia myself, I am a member of the secret society you all belong to, the society of the

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