Living and Overcoming Learning Disabilities
I spent many miserable years as a “handicapped” child and I have spent many wonderful years as a “successful” adult. Somewhere in between lies living and overcoming learning disabilities. The story I share in my book For the Children with regards to breaking through obstacles illustrates one such journey.
I’ll never forget that day in 8th grade when I misspelled my middle name. I wrote “Willaim” instead of “William.” It was a common mistake for someone with dyslexia, but my 8th grade teacher ridiculed me. He pointed out my error and said to the class, “I don’t know how any student can get to the 8th grade without knowing how to spell his own name.” The class laughed. I forced a half smile and sank lower into my chair, trying to look unaffected. Neither he nor the other students knew how humiliated I felt. Living with a learning disability often times means believing in yourself despite the good opinions of others. Creating a level of self-confidence that can withstand life’s more challenging moments is a gift. Developing this gift will serve you well all the days of your life. I chose to let this humiliating experience make me more determined to succeed, not less. It is in these moments that we decide to overcome or to be crushed.
Many years later, I was inducted into that school’s Teacher’ Hall of Fame for my work in helping children with learning disabilities. What if I had made a different choice that day? What if I had bought into the ridicule? What if I had chosen to not ever risk humiliation again? I’ll tell you. I would have never graduated high school or college. I would have never shared my stories of growing up with dyslexia with hundreds of thousands of children and I would have never written a book. The small measure of hope that people struggling with disabilities received from these things would have been lost and so would I.
There are two lessons here. One is to be careful what you say to children, because they are listening. The other is, that no matter how painful an obstacle is, it can be overcome.
I have not been able to fully overcome my disabilities in reading, writing and arithmetic. I have, however, been able to overcome how these deficits affect my perception of myself. Learning to overcome obstacles is just that— a “learning process”. Next time something challenges you in your life, just stop. Ask yourself “what power does this situation really have over me that I am not giving it?” Ask yourself, is there a way this situation can make you stronger or a better person? I think you will find, as I did, that overcoming a bad situation has more to do with your perception of yourself than the actual elements that make up the bad circumstance. Your reaction to situations is the only thing in your control. So take control and chose to make life happen for you instead of to you.#
Rob Langston is Chairman and CEO, For the Children Foundation and President, the Langston Company. He is the author of For the Children, Redefining Success in School and Success in Life. You can reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.