The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Panel discusses learning differences

By the age of 6, Matt Tunnell knew that he was different. Diagnosed with dyslexia and attention deficit disorder, it was difficult for him to read and write. Now as a senior anthropology and advertising major, Tunnell has not only accepted his learning differences but embraces his distinctiveness.

“It’s just one of those things that there’s no cure and it never gets better,” Tunnell said. “I learned to read a little better and a little better, but I’m 23 and I’m still not half as good at reading or half as good at writing as most people my age. As a result, I’ve had to learn how to [cope] with this problem.”

For Tunnell, the benefits far outweigh the negatives of having learning disabilities. In fact, he said there are only three negative aspects of having dyslexia and ADD: he cannot read or write well, and his memory is not very good.

A positive side to having a learning difference is that unlike most people, Tunnell said he knows exactly what his weaknesses and strengths are.

One of Tunnell’s strengths is a passion for what most people try to avoid – public speaking. He displayed his talent as he spoke as a panelist with students and faculty yesterday in the Owens Fine Arts Center. The panelist discussion was sponsored by Students for New Learning in hopes to increase awareness on campus about learning differences.

Another panelist at the discussion was Dr. Victoria Martin, a psychiatrist who specializes in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which she said most people do not consider to be real.

“I think there are so many people out here who believe that the diagnosis is just an excuse for laziness or a lack of self-discipline,” Martin said. “But actually, ADHD is the most researched disorder in medicine.”

Another misconception about ADHD and ADD that bothers Martin is that of the medication prescribed to patients who are diagnosed.

While there are common side effects related to these medications such as anxiety, insomnia, increased appetite and higher heart rate, Martin said they do not contribute to addiction or heart problems, despite recent news articles.

“(These medications) don’t have any of the criteria for addiction,” Martin said. “They don’t cause withdrawal symptoms or cravings. And anybody who thinks they might be addictive should just come sit in my office and help me try and talk some of these teenagers into taking it. Believe me, it’s not addictive behavior.”

Martin said that of the heart problems supposedly related to medications such as Adderall, every one has proven to be caused by a structural defect of the heart that had not been diagnosed previously.

Although Martin said medication usually works well for people with ADD or ADHD, it sometimes does not. Sophomore Jayme Clemente, a psychology and art history major, said it took her a long time to cope with the fact that medicine didn’t help.

“My own personal experience is that medicine is not for me,” Clemente said. “My own inner strength and determination to be successful in college has gotten me through and has helped me overcome a lot of obstacles in my academic career.”

Clemente, who was also diagnosed at the age of 6, has ADHD and was put on medication soon after.

She said she faced identity issues and felt like the medicine changed who she was, which is common for most patients.

“You feel a little bit different when you are on medicine,” Clemente said. “For me, I’d rather be very outgoing and happy, and unfortunately medicine took that away from me. It made me very emotionally unstable and it was very difficult for me to look back and decide whether it was worth it.”

But Clemente said that medication’s effect varies based on the individual taking it. Like Tunnell, Clemente said she has also become aware of other skills through her learning disability.

This common bond of having very distinct disadvantages and advantages and being aware of special skills is what makes students with learning differences one of a kind, Tunnell said.

“They fight something to the point to where they’ve realized that there’s something else and that they don’t have to be defined by a learning disability, because in reality it’s not what they are,” Tunnell said. “From day one they know who they are, and at the end of the day, that’s what makes them special and unique.”

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