1972: LD/ADHD and Me

 

Carly Priest

Opinions Editor

I think I notice more about my classmates than most other college students do. Not what they wear, or who my peers talk too, but the kinds of unconscious movements and motions their bodies make. I know who in my classes taps their feet or moves their legs restlessly during lectures. I know who clicks their pen, because “click-click-click” lurches around my ears and drowns out the professor’s voice. I know who twirls their hair absentmindedly (read: continuously) in class, and who so-slyly scrolls through twitter to not-so-slyly overwhelm my peripheral vision with flashes of content. I know who flips a pencil lightly over their knuckles, and what students grip pens between their thumbs and pointer fingers to spin the writing utensil in a frenzy.

        I’ll be the first to admit: I’m oblivious to a great deal in this world. Seriously, I’m writing this article wearing all one color (grey), which only came to my attention after two people teased me about my “groutfit.”  If there’s one thing I am hyper-aware of, though, it must be distractions like the

ones above, unwittingly and innocently caused by my well-meaning classmates. With a visual processing disorder and an attention deficit— a learning disability (LD) compounded by an acute distractibility—my brain carries the chemical compound for such awareness. In short, it’s in my DNA to notice their actions.

        To explain my metacognition to others, I defer to the children’s book series, Where’s Waldo. The point of Where’s Waldo is to locate the red-and-white-striped Waldo in the middle of a chaotic and crowded scene of people and things. If I may be candid, I have never been able to find Waldo. My brain intakes an abundance of sensory information in very high increments, which means I can tell you about a million other things going on in the picture, just not where Waldo (the sneaky rat) hides. The absence of typical filters when I process information means I struggle to follow sequential directions and cannot pack the trunk of a car to save my life (visually regulating “how much” of something can fit into something else is a real challenge). I prattle on, unaware of missed call notifications, skipping lightly over forgotten deadlines and appointments. It’s the reason my mom forbid me from putting IKEA furniture together when I was growing up. On the flipside, the absence of these processing filters means I intake a great deal of information quickly, and make subsequent connections at lightning speed. My LD/ADHD drives my impulsivity, fuels my “type-B-to-a-fault” personality, and connects me to a huge community of different thinkers.

        October is National LD/ADHD awareness month. According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), one in five individuals have a learning disability or ADHD. To explain a bit about the legislation surrounding the rights of LD individuals, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act extend a legal right to certain accommodations, based on the nature of disability. Today, many LD students access their accommodations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In post-secondary environments, types of accommodations range from calculators and digital readers to extended-time and reduced-distraction environments during examinations.  It’s also worth noting that such federal protections apply in workplaces, too.

        For LD/ADHD students—including myself— accommodations help level the playing field, and offer a crucial means for success classroom and workplace environments. Even with such federally-enforced protections, statistics show significant disparities between LD/ADHD individuals and neurotypical learners in the United States. Students with learning disabilities drop out of high school at much higher rates than their peers. In 2014, LD/ADHD students in Nevada, South Carolina, and Louisiana were more likely to drop out of high school than they were to graduate.[1] People with LDs are more likely to spend time in prison (overwhelmingly represented in the 2014 population of incarcerated juveniles), more likely to face unemployment, and more likely to live in poverty.[2] They attend four-year institutions at “less than half the rate of the general population.”[3] For individuals of color, the gap emerges wider.  

        On October 2nd, the United States Department of Education rescinded 72 guidance publications that outlined the rights of students with disabilities.[4] According to one source, 63 of these documents were from the Office for Special Education Programs, and nine were from the Rehabilitation Services Administration.[5] While experts note the impact of such action will only emerge with time, it would be remiss to exclude what kinds of topics were included in the great swath of documents recently rolled back. Many of the documents retracted included information for parents trying to advocate for their children, and spanned such topics and suggestions as how “schools should best utilize special education funds.”[6]

        Really? Eliminating protections for disabled students was the top of the agenda? Of all the issues faced by our nation’s public schools, educators, and students—the school-to-prison pipeline, global underperformance, the absence of parity as made evident by district-level comparisons, segregated classrooms—retracting the guidance specifically designed to protect some of the most vulnerable students was the priority? From a basic public relations standpoint, I’m tempted to ask Secretary DeVos if “she’s lost her mind?” Today though, I will ask as a LD/ADHD student, echoing my question with a first-hand knowledge of what the repercussions of absent protections will look like for a learner like me:

Betsy DeVos, Have you lost your mind?

 

               

       

       

 

        [1] “The State of Learning Disabilities,” The National Center for Learning Disabilities (2014), accessed October 24th, 2017, https://www.ncld.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/2014-State-of-LD.pdf

        [2] “The State of Learning Disabilities,” The National Center for Learning Disabilities (2014), accessed October 24th, 2017, https://www.ncld.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/2014-State-of-LD.pdf

        [3] “The State of Learning Disabilities,” The National Center for Learning Disabilities (2014), accessed October 24th, 2017, https://www.ncld.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/2014-State-of-LD.pdf

        [4] E.A. Cruden, “Education Secretary didn’t know disability rights law, ends guidance for students with disabilities,” ThinkProgress, October 23rd, 2017 (accessed October 24th, 2017), https://thinkprogress.org/disabilities-guidance-rollback-5eddb9d98fe9/.

        [5] E.A. Cruden, “Education Secretary didn’t know disability rights law, ends guidance for students with disabilities,” ThinkProgress, October 23rd, 2017 (accessed October 24th, 2017), https://thinkprogress.org/disabilities-guidance-rollback-5eddb9d98fe9/.

        [6] E.A. Cruden, “Education Secretary didn’t know disability rights law, ends guidance for students with disabilities,” ThinkProgress, October 23rd, 2017 (accessed October 24th, 2017), https://thinkprogress.org/disabilities-guidance-rollback-5eddb9d98fe9/.

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