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


Dyslexia: why it shouldn’t be ignored

Last week I discussed some of my thoughts surrounding many societal stigmas about mental health and depression. Today I feel compelled to discuss a topic not far removed from that theme: our perceptions of people with learning disabilities.

I remember in high school whenever it came time for SAT testing there would always be portions of the registration process where a student could request extended time if they could prove they suffered from a learning disability. This always irked more than a few of my classmates, “That guy doesn’t need extended time, there’s nothing wrong with him at all. He’s just trying to cheat the system to get a better grade.”

It was always difficult for the rest of us at school to be sympathetic when we weren’t the ones needing to request aid. I think when we think of someone with a learning disability, we think there ought to be some obvious distinguishing characteristic about that person that we can identify immediately. But people with dyslexia, ADHD or any other very real condition that can affect their ability to learn are no different from the rest of us.

A few years ago I used to be employed as a tutor at the Shelton School in Dallas, which is a school nationally renowned for its commitment to helping its students who struggle with learning disabilities. As part of our training, we watched a series of videos and lectures all about dyslexia and how it manifests itself in the brains of many people who have it.

A lot of us who were newly hired were surprised to find that dyslexia actually derives from the way the brain is wired, and scientists have found that the brains of dyslexics actually look different from the brains of non-dyslexics. Of course that doesn’t mean that there’s anything fundamentally wrong with how a dyslexic person’s brain works, but rather that conventional learning and teaching strategies that are designed by non-dyslexics for non-dyslexics will not be nearly as effective of modes of instruction for dyslexics.

The students that we tutored were highly intelligent and willing to learn, but their dyslexia often became evident in curious ways. I remember I had one student who would without fail read the letter “b” as the letter “d” and vice versa. And when I thought about it, this actually made a lot of sense: the lowercase “b” and “d” look the exact same and are only distinguished by the direction they face on the page,. A person who has difficulty understanding spatial orientation would naturally have a hard time telling these two letters apart. The same is true for a multitude of other letters.

Working at Shelton opened my eyes to the unfair and often unjust ways that we look at students with learning disabilities. We like to think that they’re just not trying hard enough when they come home with a bad grade from school, and we wonder why they get so discouraged when no one is really attuned to their needs.

It’s frightening for me to hear from people sometimes that “dyslexia and ADHD aren’t real diseases.” Some claim we’re coddling so many of these children, feeding them pills and making excuses for them so they’ll never have to actually apply themselves.

Hearing things like this just makes me downright angry. I will concede that their might be cases when children are misdiagnosed as learning disabled, and I wouldn’t doubt that there are some enterprising kids who have found that they can lie about these problems to get extra time on tests.

But for every child like this, I know there are probably five more who have gone undiagnosed and aren’t receiving the attention and care that they need. Also, the idea that we’re overmedicating children for ADHD is simply absurd. Professionals who deal with learning-disabled students are able to recommend all sorts of treatment methods before they decide on medication, and pills like Adderall and Ritalin are usually only prescribed as a last resort.

Learning-disabled students don’t choose their condition. Dyslexia affects not only school life but also life at home and with family, and conditions like ADHD can make even the most mundane daily chores almost unbearable for some children. Students with learning disabilities face an uphill battle in parts of life that many of us would never even consider.

A lot of our opposition to special concessions for learning-disabled students comes from a flawed notion of the concept of fairness. After all, if Jimmy gets an extra 30 minutes to take his test, why shouldn’t the rest of us?

However, fairness does not mean that every person receives the same thing. Fairness means that everyone gets what he or she deserves. The sooner we can recognize that, the sooner we can make the world fairer for everyone, dyslexic or otherwise.

Brandon Bub is a sophomore majoring in English and edits The Daily Campus opinion column. He can be reached for comment at [email protected] 

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