Disability is Diversity: Our Place in the World

disability theory

When I was younger, I struggled hard with the concept of labeling. I was labeled as dyslexic in kindergarten at a time when most dyslexic kids went undiagnosed for at least three to four more years. It gave me a leg up on learning my letters, though my numbers were another story. I floundered in math, but I flourished in English comprehension. Even in my dyslexia, I have always been backwards.

For a long time, I hated the label of “disabled” or “special education” because it opened both my brother and I up to cruelty. We were set aside and mistreated by our peers and sometimes our teachers. For me, it became something to hide. Something to be ashamed of.

Now I know “disability” isn’t a dirty word. The way the American culture is structured does disable people who don’t fit in the spectrum of “normal”. Life thrives on diversity and that is what disability is. We who experience the world differently think differently. We come up with solutions and art unique to what the temporarily abled can.

When I first learned about my ADHD, I got curious about why I function the way I do. Sure, there are brain-based theories and biochemical theories, but I was interested in evolution.Why would rapid changes in attention and high distractibility exist if it didn’t somehow benefit the species?

After poking around a bit, I found articles like this one on the Healthline website. ADHD helped our ancestors better gather food and protect their families. The constant switching between stimuli helped them find more  types of food than those without ADHD. On top of that, they could pick up threat presence more easily, which offered a better chance of survival.

However, those talents don’t fit in very well with modern classrooms or jobsites. That’s probably why I gravitated towards writing rather than something with a strict structure. As a writer, I have the freedom to follow diverging lines of research. My tendency to hop between threads creates unique material.

My first drafts are never great, but there are always pearls worth keeping. Editing is where that structure comes in. It’s also where I can pick out the pearls that don’t fit and save them for later.

As a tutor, I’ve found both my dyslexia and ADHD have given me advantages. Often, I’m the only tutor on duty, and when I have multiple students simultaneously, I must switch between them. Our particular lab works on a walk-in basis, so there are no appointments.

For instance, I have helped one student with anatomy homework, another with a paper about diabetes, and a third with a paper about racial issues at the same time. I did that by giving them each turns, evaluating what they needed, offering them advice or giving them tasks, and then moving to the next once I was sure they understood what was needed. I do prefer doing that sort of work one-on-one, but multitasking is sometimes necessary.

Dyslexia has helped because I have worked with other dyslexics and those with other disabilities. It helps when the people helping you have a personal understanding of your challenges. Interestingly enough, the fact I had to incorporate a unique understanding of English has helped me work with adult English learners.

Many ESL (English as a Secondary Language) courses rely on memorization. That may be great for some people, but it’s not for many people. Part of how I used my dyslexia to understand writing is by learning about why words behave the way they do and why the spelling is often so wonky. That acknowledgement helps students who struggle with self-esteem, while sharing tips gives them hope while providing tools to better language skills.

Obviously, I have close personal relationships with dyslexia and ADHD. They’re part of who I am. I don’t see them as separate entities, but I understand why some people do. I’ve put a lot of thought into how they complement who I am as a person, but it also makes me think about different forms of neurodivergence and disability.

While no disability experience is universal, many are similar. We who live differently must develop different modes of thought. Who’s to say we can’t create amazing things within the world we live?