For once, I didn’t feel any reluctance hunting down books for my round-up theme: disabilities. In my eighth year of teaching in the special education field, I instead felt excited to start my search. Diligently, I scoured our local library for anything which fell under that topic and soon realized the need to limit myself to learning disabilities. Books in hand, I began to read. Not everything labeled “learning disabilities” always proved to be about that topic. Consequently, my selections remain a delightful eclectic mix.
The books for my round-up fell into all three reading levels: primary, intermediate, and young adult. Of the six primary books, one provides a nice overview of a resource room. Four are part of a series and serve as introductions to various types of learning disabilities: dyslexia, dyscalculcia, dsygraphia, and attention deficit disorder. (One could also categorize the latter as a behavior disorder.) The sixth book I included because of a request from Carmen Swick, who is promoting awareness of her son’s vision disorder. Of the four intermediate books, one entry came from Kathryn Erskine. After I reviewed Mockingbird, and we initiated a correspondence, sent me a free signed copy of The Absolute Value of Mike. The other three books were by newcomers to me. Last, of the two young adult books, one was a regular novel and the other a memoir.
My biggest dilemma was limiting myself to only the number of books I could read in three weeks. Primary books I can read easily in a day. When it comes to intermediate and young adult books, however, it’s a race to read them in two days. On top of that, I need to review them. So, I left out one author whom I greatly wanted to review: Henry Wrinkler. He has a whole series of books that one day I’ll have to read.
Because of my background in the special field, I didn’t approach this round-up with idea of learning anything new. I already knew that dyslexia was a reading disorder, which may or may not cause letter reversal but certainly does cause difficulties in recognizing sounds, grouping sounds, and therefore reading words, sentences, and paragraphs. I also knew that dyscalculia involved math. Dysgraphia refers to the physical struggle of printing letters. Many of my students see an occupational therapist to help them with this weakness.
Happily, the beauty of this round-up is that it did give me new insights. Thanks to my round-up, I better understand that learning disabilities do not end with high school graduation but are lifetime challenges. I also now know that dyscalculia effects more than just one’s ability to learn math. It also impacts one’s ability to sequence ideas, which can lead to problems in grammar and music–to name a few areas. Last, I discovered that one can be both learning disabled and gifted. The latter can might provide better coping skills to students than those who aren’t gifted, but eventually their disabilities will catch up with them and become an issue.
What I found most interesting is how some trends appeared. Some books tried to inspire young people that they could achieve anything no matter what challenges they faced. I found those overly optimistic. They also tended to minimize the role that effort and motivation play in one’s success. Other books downplayed the fact that learning disabilities are a result of a disconnect in the brain. The implied message was if one only tries or is motivated, all will be well. In other words, the books laid the blame on the educational system for not providing a more interesting or diverse environment. The reality is that while sometimes schools are at fault, even the most engaging skills do require effort and patience to master. A few books disturbed me, in that the main character was portrayed as somehow looking different because of their disability. In most cases, this is a false idea. Last, a few of the books admirably portrayed the culture of special education and made me happy with my choice to work in this field.