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Disabling Stigma: Difference is not Necessarily Bad Voices 

Disabling Stigma: Difference is not Necessarily Bad

People with attention deficit disorder or learning disabilities are often greeted with skepticism. We have all heard the myths that ADD was invented by drug companies to make money, or that all a person with attention deficit disorder (ADD) or a learning disability (LD) needs is discipline. In some other cases, at school for instance, many people don’t understand why some individuals getting good grades, have access to privileges like extra time on exams, note-takers paid by the school, and homework extensions, otherwise known as accommodations.

The symptoms of LD and ADD are often hard to distinguish, making it even easier to deny the existence of such disorders. Martine Roy, a learning disabilities strategist at Vanier College, said, “The students with ADD, with no hyperactivity are hard to notice in a classroom. They don’t move, they can even look at you but they are not listening. They are lost in their thoughts.” Roy added that often learning disabilities are mistaken for ADD, since those students tend to look around the classroom confusingly.

These “disorders” are not a type of personality or a bad fold. They are neurological disorders, meaning that the students’ brains are wired differently compared to those of “normal” people. Of course, a different wiring implies that they have their own way of doing things. They have a certain lifestyle and people with a neurologically based disorder have their unique way of functioning. Far from being retarded, people with learning limitations, like ADD and LD, are as capable as others given the right settings. Yet, the education system has a type of learning that is not suited for everyone. It is up to the student to find his or her own way of learning in order to achieve success and to go seek help when needed.

Attention Deficit Disorder

The term “attention deficit disorder” is actually misleading since it implies that people with ADD can’t concentrate. Yet, in fact, they tend to “hyperfocus” given the right circumstances. Those affected by ADD find it easier to concentrate while listening to music or in loud crowded places, rather than in a calm and silent place. Like nervous cats, ADDers need to look at the disturbances. Meaning that in a silent environment, every sound that breaks the silence disturbs their stream of thoughts. If you are curious to know what it feels like to have ADD, try to watch television with the radio on next to you. Even though you try to catch on, it is hard to follow and it can be frustrating.

A good picture of ADD is to imagine a room filled with open doors all around, slamming and begging for your attention, without being able to close them as you normally would. ADDers always have doors vanishing and new doors appearing. They have a multitude of new ideas surfacing constantly in their minds, giving them a large creative potential. In many cases, the new idea overruns the previous one, which gets buried under the constant flow of new ideas, causing the ADDers to appear disorganised. It is common belief that they are also fun to talk to since they always have a multitude of things they want to talk about. However, don’t expect to get through a conversation easily with an ADDer; they always have a new subject of discussion in mind.

People with ADD don’t obtain their motivation the same way normal people do. We become motivated depending on the level of importance or of the rewards, while people with ADD don’t perceive the same sense of importance, they struggle to find their own motivator. For many students, like myself, motivation comes from competition.

With this in mind, it is almost a good thing that the ADDers have a high tendency to anxiety. The science fiction writer Ray Cummings wrote, “Time is what keeps everything from happening at once.”

ADD doesn’t work that way. For ADDers time doesn’t exist. Time is like a black hole, in which everything happens at once. It creates an inner turmoil and a panic that limits the ADDers’ perspective and their ability to prioritize.

Even though ADD seems like a terrible thing to have, it is also something to be proud of. People with ADD need to be self-aware to find techniques and a personal way of doing things which gives them a lot of self-knowledge. The inherited creativity is valuable as it can set you apart from others in society and make you more successful.

In the case of ADD and ADHD, there are some treatments. Shannon Tanya Stafiej, an advisor for students with learning disabilities and ADHD at Vanier College, believes that the most effective treatment is to pair medication with counselling in order to find the best strategies. Even though the necessity of medication is arguable, it is essential for people with ADD to explore themselves, and discover how they work, and how they can adapt to a society in which most organizational systems focus on prioritization and time management, which they desperately lack.

Learning Disabilities

In general, learning disability encompasses issues in processing information whether it be visual, auditory or motor. (Reading, Writing, Talking) Roy mentioned that all learning disabilities have the following “classic” characteristics.

The first characteristic concerns the information that is processed by the brain. The information doesn’t go “from point A to point B directly, but instead makes some detours before getting to its destination”. For example, people with auditory processing disabilities will sometimes hear sounds that don’t make sense for a few seconds, until the brains manages to assemble them into a sentence with a meaning.

The second characteristic is the lack of automatism. This characteristic for instance, is often found in language-based disability, where a student will write the same word many different ways in the same paper.

Contrary to ADD, LD doesn’t have any treatment. However, with the help of technology, specific learning strategies and a lot of effort, people with LD can achieve as much as people with no learning difficulties, explained Roy.

It is also possible to train the brain to skip a few detours through different strategies. For example, Stafiej explained that in her work she shows the step-by-step process of reading to a student with reading difficulty, so that it becomes automatic. Stafiej further explained that you still have the ability to change the make-up of your brain with neuroplasticity. When you have a learning disability, it lasts your whole life. The only thing you can do is learn more adequate methods and strategies to deal with it.

ADD and LD are real problems that can be hard to see and to understand for some people, but people with ADD and LD are not looking for pity, nor privilege. They simply want to be given the right tools in order to succeed and to stand on equal grounds with other students. As Albert Einstein stated, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Written By: Sarah Moineau

Originally Published: March 2016

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