By Lauren Goegan
Many times when my mother and I give presentations about our family’s journey, parents and educators attending these sessions always seem to have questions. One that often comes up is the question – How do I feel about the label “learning disability”? I have many opinions and thoughts on this topic.
My general opinion can be easily summed up by my initial reaction to the label… relief! I can still remember the day so clearly when I was back in grade 4 when my parents told me that I have a learning disability… and I was thankful. Thankful that there was an explanation as to why I wasn’t able to read like all my friends. Thankful there was a reason I couldn’t spell anything right. Thankful I wasn’t dumb or stupid… and the list goes on and on. I think the best thing was to know that there was a reason why everything just didn’t seem to be coming together like it was for everyone else. I practiced my spelling and reading and I tried my best, but I knew something wasn’t right. It seemed that even without the label, kids know they are different. We know we’re trying and we know we want to learn, but when the results are not there we know something is off and we need to know why. We already feel stupid that we aren’t able to grasp what everyone else seems to and we begin to really feel dumb without having answers.
I Like It
Personally, I liked having the label. It gave me an explanation as to why things were not progressing. I didn’t feel dumb anymore! I had an answer as to why I was having trouble in these various areas, and knowing this was a huge relief. Now I understand that I need to have exams read to me as I need the auditory as well as written input. I require extra time because I lack short term memory and need more time to pull the information from my long term memory. Along with that, I know that I need to start studying well in advance to be able to store the information in my mind before an exam date. Through knowing I have a learning disability I have been able to develop the tools and strategies that allow me to cope and be successful.
I also like the label because I realize that without it, there would be no justification for funding the supports I need. The system requires some way of identifying that I need certain assistance and the label provides that recognition. So if it takes a label of having a learning disability for me to get the accommodations I need, then go ahead and identify me with such a label. I’d rather have the label and get the supports I need to be successful than not have the label and constantly struggle. Seems like an easy choice to me.
Only One Part of Me
The other thing that I realize is that having a “learning disability” is only one of the many labels that people use with me. I can also be labeled a daughter, sister, friend, student, etc. and each one of those labels helps to define me as a unique individual. It made a huge impact on me when my parents told me that I have a learning disability, but it was only one component of many that defined who I was as a person. Yes, I have a learning disability, that isn’t going to go away, but it’s only a part of who I am. We all have strengths and weaknesses, and having a learning disability means that I have to do things differently, but in no way does it mean that I can’t be successful.
This piece was originally written in 2011 for LDExperience, when Lauren was an undergraduate student trying to navigate the postsecondary environment. Like many with a Learning Disability, she was often told she should be more realistic, set her sights lower, choose something “easier”. But she persevered, and now in 2022 she is Dr. Lauren Goegan an Assistant Professor at the University of Manitoba. In this role she teaches in the area of inclusion and conducts research looking at the transition from high school to postsecondary for students with LD.