Learning Disabilities and the Brain

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Biology 202

2006 Second Web Paper

On Serendip

Learning Disabilities and the Brain

Emily Lewis

In the United States, a large amount of emphasis is placed on disabilities. Much of our culture automatically seems to place people out of the mainstream in the category of having some type of disability, either learning or physical. If a child is having trouble at school, s/he is often diagnosed with a learning disability, whether s/he actually has one or not. Sometimes, the problem could be solved with extra help, tutoring, or a firmer teaching style, rather than medication.

I often feel that this is what prevents a large portion of the culture from taking learning disabilities seriously. Disabilities, especially learning disabilities, are often written off as excuses for not trying hard enough. An example from my personal experience: in eighth grade, I was diagnosed with an information-processing "issue," that is, even as of now, unnamed. I had many teachers over the course of my high school years that swore to whatever God they believed in that I didn't have anything. I just was not trying to understand them. Besides, they said, I could not have a disability if it did not have a name. They told my parents, and myself, that my psychiatrist was a quack and that I was lazy and, in some cases, just plain stupid. On the other extreme, the teachers who did believe me decided that I could not do certain things. When they spoke to me, I often heard, "You won't be able to understand this. Let me dumb it down for you as much as I possibly can." For me, and many other students, this was just insulting.

It isn't just me that feels this way. Over the summer, I attended a conference on learning disabilities. Many students I talked with and students on the panels feel that their learning disabilities are not being taken seriously, and many blame it on the over-diagnosis of learning disabilities in today's culture. Many of the students also said that teachers never encouraged them to strengthen their weaknesses. Instead, they told them to focus on their strengths, as they would never be any good at their weaknesses. One of the students told me that once she was told that she "couldn't" do math, she had a harder time than before understanding math. Often, people with learning disabilities hear, "You can't do that," so much, that they, consciously or not, begin to believe it themselves, no matter how much they swore to themselves that they would never let such a thing happen. Sometimes, people with one learning disability develop symptoms of other learning or physical disabilities due to the way they are spoken to. This all seems to go back to conditioning. It makes me wonder: how much of the disability is created by culture? Why is it that our culture seems to feel the need to knead the disability deep into the brain of the person with the disability?

I have often felt that this is an attempt to either make the conditioner feel better about themselves or make the conditioned person's disability a self fulfilling prophecy. It could also be an attempt to make the person with the disability dive deep within themselves to find strength to fight back, but that seems to bee a long-shot. This culture has a strong tendency to separate things into "us vs. them" situations. Is that why we must condition people to believe that they cannot do things that they actually can?


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