By Neela Mitchell
I am a friend, a daughter, a sister, a cousin, a girlfriend, a niece and a granddaughter. I am Indian, I wear glasses and I’m 5 feet tall. I like to paint, draw and listen to music. I am a lover of cats, a poet, an artist and a writer. I believe women’s rights are human’s rights, people can love who they want to love, science is real and kindness is everything. And I have dyscalculia.
According to dyscalculia.org, dyscalculia is defined as “a failure to achieve in mathematics commensurate with chronological age, normal intelligence, and adequate instruction.” Everyone who has dyscalculia is impacted by how they interact with numbers, but everyone’s challenges are unique.
For me, dyscalculia makes it difficult for me to remember formulas, how to approach a problem and recognize patterns. Despite these challenges, I choose to embrace my strengths and my passions, which I believe will take me far in life.
A learning disability is a learning difference, and is one small fraction of who I am. While many people struggle with learning disabilities, it does not necessarily mean that their abilities are limited in every way. Just as clearly, having a learning disability does not necessarily impede success. Understanding that people with learning disabilities are perfectly capable of leading productive, successful lives that contribute to society will help support a diverse and lively population. Based on the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly one in five people have a learning disability. These disabilities are invisible to people on the outside who don’t have the same struggles. Having a greater understanding of the limits (or lack of) of those who have disabilities can help people appreciate differences.
Learning disabilities do not have to interfere with success in life. Oscar-nominated and award-winning actress Keira Knightley has made over 50 movies and continues to thrive and grow in her profession. In her most recent role as “Colette,” she demonstrates the depth of her acting abilities. She is one of the most highly paid actresses in the world. And she has dyslexia. Billionaire Richard Branson, writer John Irving, Albert Einstein and Cher all struggled with dyslexia.
Daniel Radcliffe, also known as the wizard Harry Potter, has emerged from child acting to starring roles on the stage and the screen. Radcliffe has a disability called dyspraxia, which is a developmental coordination disorder. The actor is very well informed on what the disability can bring. In an article on the www.understood website, he claimed he was “awful at everything and had no discernible talent.” As a child, he had trouble with handwriting and tying his shoelaces. His early school years were very difficult.
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), dyspraxia is an “impairment of organization, planning and execution of physical manifest.” Dyspraxia also affects “the coordination and fluency and speed of motor activities.”
If the casting director only saw Daniel Radcliffe as someone who had dyspraxia and not the actor who could play the lead role of a upcoming movie franchise as significant as Harry Potter, the series wouldn’t be as renowned as it is today. Radcliffe’s disability is only a small part of who he is.
People with learning disabilities tend to develop unique strengths to help them cope. Writer John Irving stated about his dyslexia that, “It’s become an advantage. It doesn’t hurt anyone as a writer to have to go over something again and again.” Irving has written 18 books and an Oscar-nominated screenplay, demonstrating that he didn’t let his disability get in the way and he used it to his advantage.
One strength I have that stems from my disability is that I have developed good organizational tools. I use a planner and make lists to help me keep on track of things I need to accomplish.
Luke Watson, a contributor to TheMighty.com, said, “My ability is stronger than my disability.” I may struggle with dividing fractions but I’m really great at painting, drawing, writing and photography. Telling time on an analog clock is challenging for me, but my closet is organized by color and clothing type. Staying on top of long-term projects is difficult for me but producing original art for the people I love comes naturally. Complex word problems are like reading hieroglyphics for me but I am writing and publishing a novel for my senior project. Despite my disability, I have so much to offer through my strengths.
Neela Mitchell is a senior at Liberty Bell High School. She wrote this essay as part of her recent internship with the Methow Valley News.