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The 9 Things People With Learning Disabilities Want You to Know

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.”

Featured photo credit: Pratham Books via flickr.com

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Last Updated on January 15, 2019

How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward

How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward

Many of us feel awkward talking to strangers. I’m a very outgoing person, even though I sometimes feel uncomfortable walking up to someone and asking a question or starting a conversation. I consider myself pretty high up on the extrovert meter. So what is it that makes us pause and become worried or anxious about talking to people we don’t know?

In this article, we will discuss why we feel this way as well as some tips on how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

Step right up, don’t be shy!

Why We Feel Awkward Talking to Strangers

The next time you feel uncomfortable talking to a stranger, tell yourself that’s completely normal. There are numerous reasons why it’s actually natural to feel awkward talking to strangers:

Our Stress Levels Rise Around Strangers

Numerous studies have show that our levels of cortisol go up when we are around strangers.[1] Cortisol is the hormone inside of us which produces stress responses.[2]
So there you go, right off the bat you can see part of your standard response to strangers is due to a chemical reaction!

A very interesting by product of increased cortisol is that it makes us less empathetic. More than likely this can be traced to our evolution. The increase in the cortisol and the corresponding decrease in empathy makes us want to stay away from strangers. We are biologically wired to feel concern around strangers.

Evolution Taught Us to Be Wary

Evolution has also taught us to be wary of strangers in general. Humans as a whole have spent a large chunk of their history banded together in small protective groups. We did this in order to help protect each other and maximize resources.

When you think about it in this context, outsiders to our small groups or strangers are considered potential threats. Fear of strangers is common across almost all human cultures.

Culturally Conditioned

We can also thank our society for helping us feel uncomfortable and sometimes afraid of strangers. The term “stranger danger” is something most of us can relate to either growing up or raising kids. Or both.

I remember hearing this from my parents, mostly about not getting in someone’s car I didn’t know. And as the father of 2 teenage girls, you can be sure I’ve talked to them about this very concept more times that they want to hear.

The thought that strangers can be dangerous is built into us as it is. Toss in the amplification of the media on strangers doing things such as kidnapping kids and it takes it to an even higher level.

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Now that we’ve reviewed some of the reasons why we are nervous, let’s look at why you should talk to strangers more.

Benefits of Getting over the Awkwardness

Let’s take a quick look at some of the advantages of how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward. These are some high level benefits of talking to strangers.

1. Broadens Your Network

After you talk to someone, you didn’t know previously they become someone you know at least a little bit. This alone helps broaden your network of people you know. This is helpful in many ways whether it is work related or socially related.

2. Improves Your Communication Skills

I am a huge proponent of the value of solid communication skills and have written about it often. The more you talk to people, especially people you don’t know, the better your communication skills become.

Interacting with a wider variety of people will bring the added benefit of improving your communication skills.

3. Continually Learning

So many of us don’t actively seek to learn new things. This is one of the primary keys to staying engaged in life and our own personal self fulfillment.

Almost every time I speak to someone I didn’t know previously, I’ve learned something new. When we speak to strangers, it pushes us out of our comfort zones and we tend to learn new things.

4. Increases Self Confidence

Every time we learn to do something we were previously anxious about, we feel better about ourselves.

Forcing ourselves to talk to strangers will lead to increased self confidence. As we get more and more comfortable doing something that previously made us feel awkward, our self confidence will go up and up.

So, how to talk to strangers to reap these benefits?

How to Talk to Strangers

Here are some tips to on how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

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1. Say Hello

Putting “say hello” first may seem a bit obvious but let’s take a deeper look. Much of the social awkwardness when speaking to strangers is simply breaking the ice. The first words that will engage someone.

Most people will respond when someone says hello or hi to them. And those that don’t, you probably don’t want to talk to anyway.

Practice being the person that opens the door to a conversation. Say hello.

2. Ask About Them

Something that I have noticed over the years is that people love to talk about themselves. Even fairly private people tend to open up when asked about events in their lives.

You can ask leading questions that get people to talk about themselves and recent events. Things like recent movies watched or the summer vacation are great to get someone talking.

As a father, I also know that people love to talk about their kids. Asking about kids is a fairly easy topic to bring up and in general, most people will expound upon all the great things their kids do or are involved with.

3. Just Do It

One of the biggest reasons we don’t do things we want to or know we should is because we overthink it. Quit thinking about it so much and just do it.

When you give yourself the time to analyze every little angle about a situation, you also give plenty of time to talk yourself out of it. You’ll wind up thinking what if this happens or what if that happens.

Try to force yourself to jump right in without thinking about it too much. Whenever I have done this, I always feel great about it afterwards, no matter how it turned out.

4. Don’t Take It Personal

One of the greatest lessons in life I ever learned was don’t take anything personally. We all go through life with our own sets of experiences and see things through our own lens. The way people react to different situations has almost nothing to do with us. It has to do with previous experiences and the way people feel about things other than us.

When someone’s reaction isn’t what you’d hoped or expected, chances are it has nothing to do with you. Remember that and keep it in context.

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5. Get a Chuckle If Possible

I used the word chuckle purposely because it makes me laugh. In my opinion, it’s one of those funny words. We all like to laugh because it makes us feel good. And when someone makes us laugh, we typically remember those people in a positive light.

One of the best ways to make a conversation easy and free flowing is to get some laughter going. It doesn’t mean you have to be the master joke teller or anything. See if you can work in a way to make the person you are talking to get a smile or some laughter in. In fact, laughing at yourself maybe a nice try.

6. Detach

A great feeling is when you don’t mind which way something turns out, that you will be fine no matter what happens. Kind of like when I watch my two favorite football teams play against each other. I don’t really care who wins, I just want a fun game.

Treat talking to strangers the same way. You don’t really care how the conversation goes because you are detaching from the outcome. Make it a fun time with yourself and if the conversation goes well, awesome! If not then no big deal, move on.

7. Share Your Stories

Well, all like to feel connected to other people. And many times we wind up hanging out with people that we have things in common with. No surprise here.

To help with how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward, tell stories that have commonalities with the person you are talking to. Kids are an easy one. I have a daughter who was a competitive cheerleader and now plays club volleyball. I have instant connection and stories with strangers I speak with who have kids that play sports. It’s easy to relate to.

So when you are speaking to a stranger and you have a story or mutual connection point, bring it up.

8. Give a Compliment

Almost everyone likes hearing a compliment, whether they admit to it or not. As a general rule, we don’t give out enough compliments. It’s amazing how one small remark someone tosses your way about how good you look can literally make your entire day.

When you are speaking with someone you don’t know, see if you can work a compliment in. Nothing creepy here. Not a good idea to tell someone you just met that they are the prettiest or handsomest person you ever met. However, if you can share how you like their tattoo or shoes or something like that, it will help put the conversation into an easy going, smiling place.

9. Relax Your Body Language

If you go into a situation all worried and nervous, it shows on your body. Your shoulders are tensed up, there’s a look of consternation on your face, things like that.

When you engage a stranger in conversation, make it a point to relax your body language. Take a deep breath before you engage the person, let your body relax, and put a smile on your face. This will help relax you and it has the added benefit of putting the other person more at ease.

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If they see that you are relaxed, it helps them relax. Plus having open, engaging body language is very conducive to inviting someone to open up into a conversation with you.

10. Practice, Practice, Practice

Like everything else in life, talking to strangers gets easier with practice. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

Make it a point to talk to several strangers each week and it will definitely help you relax as you do it more and more.

After a while, it will become something you don’t even think about, you just do it. And that takes all of the awkwardness out of being in these type situations.

The Bottom Line

As we have seen, it is perfectly natural to feel awkward talking to strangers. We are biologically built that way and we have our own society constantly warning us how dangerous it is. It’s no wonder we feel awkward talking to strangers!

There are numerous benefits to learning to be more comfortable talking to strangers. See if you can employ some of the techniques mentioned to learn how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

Once you start practicing speaking with strangers more often and utilizing some of the tips, you will become more comfortable doing so. This in turn will lead to a learned new skill and increased self confidence.

Remember, everyone you know was a stranger at one time. Now get out there and make some new friends.

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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

Reference

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