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The 9 Things People With Learning Disabilities Want You to Know

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The 9 Things People With Learning Disabilities Want You to Know

Many people with LDs are creative and non conventional, it’s really not uncommon to see them as movie stars, entrepreneurs or athletes. Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, for example, both have learning disabilities.

But the road to success is rarely easy and an LD can add another dimension that can be a struggle. Keira describes her journey through school saying:

“I was called stupid a lot by many lovely kids at school and that makes you pretty determined to learn to read and write and figure out ways around it, so I did.”

Orlando has used his own experience to be very vocal in advocating for children with dyslexia stating:

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“If you have kids who are struggling with dyslexia, the greatest gift you can give them is the sense that nothing is unattainable. With dyslexia comes a very great gift, which is the way that your mind can think creatively.”

Steven Spielberg also spoke out when he was diagnosed with an LD at 60 saying:

“Being called to the front of the class to read was yet another day in a long series of days that were the worst days of my life.”

He goes on to say that finding out he had an LD was ‘the last puzzle part in a tremendous mystery that I’ve kept to myself all these years”

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For over 20 years, I’ve been around or worked with individuals with LDs and I’ve heard what they want others to know. First is that they don’t want your pity. Instead they want you to take the time to become informed and knowledgeable about LDs. Here are some of the other things I’ve heard.

1. “Actually, I’m really smart.”

Individuals with learning disabilities have at least average and often above-average intelligence. In fact, many individuals have the dual diagnosis of being both gifted and LD. Susan Hamilton, a learning disabilities specialist, says “It is a lonely existence to be a child with a disability that no one can see or understand. You exasperate your teacher, you disappoint your parents and worst of all, you know that you are just not stupid.” Being thought of as stupid when you know you are smart is the number one frustration that I have heard. It can leave a person with an LD feeling angry and completely demoralised.

2. “Don’t call me lazy or unmotivated.”

Individuals with LDs don’t work in a linear fashion. Their route between “here and there” can be full of curves. Conventional teaching methods, or even standard expectations in life, may not work for them. Their neurocircuitry can essentially “lock up,” giving the appearance that they just don’t want to do the work, when actually they are in a frozen state of overload.

3. “My brain is just wired differently.”

LDs are a neurological disorder and are brain-based. There continues to be a great deal of study on the topic of LDs, but simply put, the wiring in the brain is different, not wrong. The important bit here is that LDs are physical and as real as diabetes or high blood pressure meaning individuals can’t simply “will” themselves to “get over it” any more than they could will a broken leg to mend. Many individuals have used this different wiring to become hugely successful. Paul Orfalea the CEO of Kinkos, the largest copy shop in the world calls his learning disabilities a “learning opportunity.” In his case, his learning style helped him to see the big picture and not worry about tiny details.

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4. “Don’t lump my LD in with others.”

There are 5 main categories of LDs as described in LD Online. Dyslexia is a language-based disability in which a person has trouble reading and understanding written words. Dyscalculia is a mathematical disability in which a person has a difficult time solving arithmetic problems and grasping math concepts. Dysgraphia is a writing disability that also affects coordination and fine motor, in which a person finds it hard to form letters or write within a defined space.

Auditory and Processing disorders are diagnosed when a person has difficulty understanding language despite normal hearing and vision and Nonverbal Learning Disabilities cause problems with visual-spatial, intuitive, organizational, evaluative and holistic processing functions. If an LD is not properly defined then it can’t be properly accommodated. Giving someone with dysgraphia more time to complete a math problem is not going to help them to ‘get it.’ They need a different method. Daniel Radcliffe, who has dyspraxia and has trouble trying his shoes says, with a laugh, that his biggest lament is that “velcro sneakers never took off in the fashion world.”

5. “Let me do it a different way.”

Ignacio Estrada said “if a child can’t learn the way we teach then maybe we should teach the way they learn.”  Think of this and then try to picture knowing the answer to something in your head and not being able to get it down on paper. Then picture being able to answer the same question lightening fast if you were given an oral test instead. This is a daily frustration for individuals with LDs. Their knowledge is not shown when given a conventional method, like a written exam, to test it. In the end it is not their knowledge being tested, it’s their ability to function according to status quo.

6. “It’s not just between 8:30 – 4:00.”

The idea that LDs start when an individual enters the classroom or the office in wrong. Using money, reading street signs, filling out forms and keeping your room tidy all happen outside of work or school. LDs can affect the input and output of information, a person’s processing speed, organization, memory and social skills. For some individuals ‘out of sight’ is really ‘out of mind’. If this means that clothing need to be visible for them to find their shirt and pants, then they need open shelving for their room and not a dresser or closet where their clothes are hidden away.

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7. “I’m not going to outgrow this.”

LDs are not just a childhood thing. You don’t outgrow them. As defined by the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada “the way in which LDs are expressed may vary over an individual’s lifetime, depending on the interaction between the demands of the environment and the individual’s strengths and needs.” But they don’t go away. Currently there are about a half a million Canadians with LDs and over 4.6 million Americans.

8. “It’s what I have not who I am.”

Having a learning disability doesn’t mean that an individual is learning disabled. It is simply a part of who they are and, with the right accommodations and supports, individuals with LD are perfectly capable of learning, in the same way that someone who is blind can read with the use of braille. Tim Tebow, former NFL quarterback , who has dyslexia says “it has to do with finding out how you learn.” In his case, he made flashcards of the different plays as a way around struggling to try and read the whole playbook.

9. “Your good intentions can smother me.”

Individuals with LDs are often treated with a mix of pity and irritation, when all they really need is the time to figure something out. Having someone hovering to help you doesn’t always work, in fact, it can be really distracting and annoying. Likewise, can you imagine being really, really intelligent and yet being talked to in a demeaning way?

Your chances of knowing someone with an LD are pretty high, so become informed and shift your perspective if you need to. Don’t assume that learning disabilities are always a bad thing…for many individuals, they give them a distinct advantage. As Salma Hayek, who has dyslexia, states “I may take a really long time to read a script, but I only read it once.”

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Featured photo credit: Pratham Books via flickr.com

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

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How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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