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Chapter 2: In the LD Bubble

Trying to imagine going through the public school system as a student with dyslexia elicits to me
a seriously horrific picture. The entire system is predicated on ones ability to read and write in a timely
fashion, its how information is presented and how learning is generally assessed. To struggle with
reading and writing, particularly as Lynn Pelkey did without any understanding as to why, would be
profoundly isolating in a world where ones academic and often consequently social worth is determined
by reading and writing ability would devastating.
Pelkeys description of her segregated classroom experience in junior high is particularly chilling.
Nothing about the physical space suggested to the students interred there that they had potential or even
value to the school and community. Pelkeys learned helplessness makes absolute sense-she was never
given a reason to believe herself capable of more, her school experiences defined her by disability, not
ability. It makes me wonder what was behind the closed doors of the LD classrooms of my own
childhood schools.
The story is to me a wakeup call that every student is capable and full of potential. I strive to be
that math teacher who made no snap judgments about Pelkey, who gave her a place where she could feel
normal and part of the community. As an English teacher it will be a personal challenge to remember not
to judge or treat students differently because of their reading and writing ability, and to make my
classroom a place where all abilities and learning styles are comfortable and successful.
This story does make me want to learn more about dyslexia. I have a very simple understanding
of it, gleaned mostly from a childhood friend who is dyslexic. Im interested in knowing how it presents,
the science of why and how it occurs, and what are strategies I could employ as a teacher to assist any
student with dyslexia in my own classroom.

Reflection 2: Blake Academy and the Green Arrow

Dyslexia seems to have been only a small piece of the trouble Oliver Queen had in childhood.
He had his parents divorce to deal with, with its accompanying personal and familial turmoil, as
well as his diagnosis with a learning disability and subsequent switch in schools. That kind of
turmoil would be enough to send most adults reeling, Oliver had more on his plate than I would
wish on any person, let alone a child.
What struck me most about Olivers story were not so much his learning struggles, but
his emotional ones. All his stress and anger had nowhere to go, and with no outlet or tools for
managing his powerful feelings it's no wonder he would explode. He spent everyday surrounded
by angry kids while he himself had no real outlet for his anger. His school days consisted of
being tormented to and from school, classes surrounded by other kids who were as afraid to open
up as he was, and dealing with the fallout of his parents divorce at home. Its no wonder he
turned so powerfully to make-believe with his action figures. It would have been the only place
where Oliver would have felt in control.
Olivers struggles with his mom and sister remind me of watching several of my close
friends deal with their parents divorce in high school. Early on in high school, two of my close
friends had their parents go through messy and heated divorces. My friends were a bit older than
Oliver, but the anger and helplessness that they felt is similar. High school can be stressful
enough, and on top of that my friends each lost the feeling of security in their homes that they
needed to stay grounded. One friend reacted a bit like Oliver by lashing out at her mother and
fighting bitterly with her siblings. The other sank deep into himself, turning for a while to
seriously self-destructive behaviors. Both of their school performances tanked, which only
worsened their interactions with their parents. Both of my friends are doing well now as adults,
though neither has much of a relationship with their parents.
Looking forward to my own teaching, Olivers story is a reminder to me that I have no
idea where my students are coming from. I dont know the pain they may be experiencing in life
or love, at home or in the hallways. If they seem unduly angry in class or react in an extreme
way to something done or said in class, it is up to me to remain patient and remember that I only
see them for a small portion of each day. An angry outburst at a poor grade, for example, may be
to the student the latest in a long line of injustices, perceived and real, that day. Patience and
empathy must be at the forefront of my mind as I step into a classroom. Additionally, I need to
build a classroom where students feel safe and in control. As a teacher I am an authority figure
yes, but there is no reason to be an unreasonable or tyrannical one.
Olivers story though leaves me wondering, if a student in my class explodes in a way
that Oliver did occasionally, what is the best way to deal with the situation? Adrenalin is a
powerful force to combat, so how do you help someone whose system is in overdrive?

Reflection 3:ADHD:Window, Weapon, or Support

Ive read Greens story twice now, and both times Ive set the book down feeling a bit
unfulfilled. Maybe its Greens writing style, maybe its from my own dealings with ADHD in

my family, but either way, Im not really sure what to take away from this selection. I feel for
Green, I do, trying to navigate public school with undiagnosed ADHD must have been hell. Add
to that a negative relationship with parents and youve got a recipe for a messy and difficult
I did see some parallels between Greens experience and my older brothers childhood.
He has severe ADHD that was undiagnosed until his early twenties as well. To hear my brother
tell it, the day he was diagnosed the doctor held up a chart showing brain activity for people with
and without ADHD, and told him he was quite literally off the chart. Growing up, he had some
of the same experiences as Green, like trouble connecting socially and difficulty starting and
finishing work at school and at home. Unlike Green, hes not innately book smart, hes much
more technical and kinesthetic (hes a very capable and happy fireman now), so from the outset
he never excelled in school and there was no expectation of stellar grades to bump up against. It
did create a lot of problems at home though, and like Green he struggled to communicate with
our parents. As adults, we dont take I forgot to be a real excuse for something, but for someone
like my brother or Green, forgetting tasks or deadlines is a byproduct of a brain thats pulling
them in a thousand different directions. I know I dont really know what ADHD feels like, but I
have seen how it plays out. When I see my brother, I can tell in about two minutes whether or not
hes taking ADHD medication. It affects how he holds a conversation, his physical movement,
and his general demeanor. ADHD is something that happens in the brain, but once you know it's
there, its so very obvious how it affects a person.
Looking forward to my own teaching and classroom experiences and expectations,
Greens essay is another reminder of the importance of patience. My classes will have students
with diagnosed and undiagnosed ADHD. Some students will be taking medication for ADHD,
some will not. In any case, its a good reminder and challenge for me to remain patient, and to
make a space for students to be able to engage physically throughout the day (stand up, move
around, fidget, etc.), as well as teach and model good organizational skills to my students. Im
interested in learning more teaching techniques and strategies that require active mental and
physical participation that would give students with ADHD a way to channel their energy into
the class.

Bad Reflection
Gretchen OConnors life story reads like a tear-jerker lifetime movie. I dont mean that
as a judgement on her-its just that it seems like everything that could possibly go wrong in her
life did, in such spectacular fashion that it seems like it could make an after school special,
complete with redemptive ending. Youve got the misunderstood little girl who doesnt

understand why she is different, preoccupied father, mother with misplaced anger, a missed
opportunity for dramatic change, a breaking point, and finally the story ends on a note of
What struck me most about OConnors retelling was how forgiving and compassionate
she seems. She came out of an abusive childhood, but expresses understanding of her mothers
behavior, horrible though it was. She seems to have a relationship with both her parents, despite
her mother's physical and emotional abuse, her fathers absence, and both her parents failure to
seek out the help she needed when Gretchen received her ADHD diagnosis. OConnor seems to
me a seriously grounded woman, who has found her way in the world despite having the deck
stacked against her pretty spectacularly. She has incredible perspective on her childhood, her
family, and her own strengths and weaknesses, particularly her ADHD. I loved how she
described her ADHD as a difference not a disability, if we all took that stance kids like Gretchen
wouldnt end up with the bad label, but instead be celebrated for the benefits they bring to a
classroom while being given the tools to learn the way that works for them.
OConnors story makes me look differently at the students in my class who are carrying
around the bad label. Thinking about students that way is terrible, but its so easy to do, and
once a kid picks up a label it's so hard for them to shake it. As a teacher, I generally dont know
why a student is the way they are in my classroom, and it's my job to take a step back
emotionally from how their behavior may make me feel personally and to find a way for that
student to succeed. It also makes me wonder about some of the problem kids in my own
schooling experiences, and how much labeling went on among me and my classmates. What was
going with the bad kids in my classes that I didnt know about?
Several of the stories Ive read for this class have involved children growing up with
ADHD, which has led me to wonder, what about those with ADD? Do those kids tend to not
have quite as much trouble in school, because they lose the hyperactivity component? Im not
minimizing the implications of ADD, but wondering if students with ADD are more prone to fall
through the cracks educationally because they dont have the hyperactivity component that
makes ADHD identifiable.

Sense and Sense Abilities Reflection

What an incredible insight into the mind of a child who is on the autism spectrum. Luke
is an incredibly wise and self-aware young man, his knowledge of how autism affects him and
his family and friends was utterly engrossing. Autism is such a big topic in todays world, but
everything I know about it has been very clinical and focused not on the actual person with
autism, but instead on how it affects those around them.Thats a real gap in my understanding, so

being able to read about Lukes experiences and understanding of himself was really
A few things really struck me in Lukes narrative. First, how sensory over-stimulation
seems to run in Lukes family. Luke discusses his own sensitivities, his mothers sensitivity to
auditory stimuli, and his little brothers sensitivities. Im not certain if Lukes mother has autism,
but in any case she has a unique insight into her sons heightened sensory perceptions, which Im
sure must confuse and sometimes frustrate many parents who have children on the spectrum.
Secondly, I loved when Luke was discussing how his mom helped him phase out of wearing his
balaclava, that he noted the difference between what is inappropriate and what adults may think
or assume to be inappropriate. Its a good reminder that just because I do something one way or
most people assume a thing or standard is the right way, theres nothing wrong with stepping a
bit outside the norm if it makes things better or easier for someone. Its easy to get stuck in the
well thats not how it is normally mindset, but that kind of rigidity isnt feasible or fair for
everyone. Lukes discussion of eye contact falls into that category. Its considered normal to
make eye contact when speaking with someone, but it isnt actually necessary, just something
people expect.
Being comfortable deviating from the normal or the expected when teaching is my
biggest takeaway from Lukes story. Not all my students will react to or perceive things the same
way, so it is important that I not get caught up in the rut of normality. Flexibility is key. If one of
my students is sensitive to light, whats wrong with them wearing sunglasses indoors? Nothing,
except that its generally considered an odd or impolite thing to do. Or, if a student is listening to
me, I dont need to demand eye contact, so long as we are communicating effectively.
After reading this chapter, Im interested to read more writing by people with autism. You
learn the most about something by hearing from those with first-hand experience, so Id really
like to hear more accounts from men and women with personal insight into living with autism.

Finally Reflection
Throughout Learning Disabilities & Life Stories, theres been many instances of parents
who dont recognize the nature of their childs struggle, or who fail to accommodate or teach
their child to accommodate for their learning disability. Then you get to Garrett Days mother,
who recognized when he was very young that he was developing differently, and then spent
years trying to get a doctor to take her seriously! Thats incredibly frustrating, you have to

wonder how much of a difference it would have made in Days life if his mother had been able to
get him help earlier.
Another theme Ive noticed in these stories that really came to the forefront in this
narrative is just how unequipped most teachers are to deal with students with learning
disabilities. With some notable exceptions, it seems that most of the teachers in this and the other
stories have no idea what to do with the learning disabled students in their classroom, and so
default to doing nothing. Thats a big systemic failing that needs to be addressed, particularly as
inclusion seems to be the name of the game right now (rightfully so, in my opinion.) Days
elementary experience was particularly ludicrous. Open classrooms with students learning by
completing worksheets independently? Thats a terrible model for anyone trying to learn, let
alone a student with a learning disability.
Looking to my own teaching, the importance that I keep myself educated was really
highlighted by Days essay. More is learned about learning disabilities every year, so taking this
one masters course isnt going to set me up for perpetuity. I need to stay up to date on best
practices and new and better accommodations, for myself as well as for my students.
I left Days writing still a bit confused as to of what his learning disability consisted. He
has auditory and verbal processing issues I believe, but I was never solidly sure of exactly how
his learning disability manifested. Its not particularly important narratively, but I am curious as
to whether he had a specific learning disability or a combination of several.

Figuring Out My World Reflection

The term learning disabled has felt a little wrong to me since the beginning of this
course. Theres nothing wrong with the words themselves, but they seem so out of place with the
chipper, euphemistic, and sometimes politically correct terms that we use to label a lot of
difficult subjects. Alison May changed that for me. She rightfully points out that saying learning
disabled emphasises the struggle that those with learning disabilities go through, and to call it
something else would be to minimize that struggle. Its struggle that has defined May, and so
many of the other people who have shared their stories in Life Stories, and to minimize all
theyve come up against and overcome would be wrong.

Mays discussion of how her learning disability has created a perceived dichotomy with
her natural intelligence got me thinking about a student in one of my classes that Im student
teaching. The young woman Im reminded of is an English Language Learner, a junior in one of
my on-level English classes. Obviously not speaking much English is in no way a learning
disability, but I see a parallel in that both are extremely intelligent but struggle to have that
reflected in their work. Every time I work with the young woman in my class, its so obvious to
me that she is extremely bright, and Im so frustrated that she doesnt get the chance to showcase
that in my class. I cant even imagine how frustrating it is for her to be working so hard to scrape
a pass while others are slouching through the class with minimal effort, all because of a language
barrier. It would be the same feeling that May describes, slaving for something that everyone else
is able to do instinctively.
Between Mays story and working with the young woman in my class, I think Ive
stumbled into a personal experience with something that I intellectually knew should be an
obvious thing in teaching. A barrier to understanding or disability in learning is in no way a
definitive indicator of intelligence. Those students have just as much of a chance of being highly
intelligent as any of their peers. Never, as the cliche goes, judge a book by its cover.
Finally, one thing about Mays story left me with questions. She describes how in her
younger years it was several times recommended that she receive special education services, and
that at one point it was even suggested that she may be mentally handicapped. Later though, she
references being in a gifted and talented program. She obviously belonged in that program, but it
left me curious if that involved any kind of fight. Also, Im interested in learning more about
auditory dyslexia, while Ive gained some familiarity with how to accommodate students with
visual dyslexia, Id like to know more about how a person with auditory dyslexia could be

I Will Not Succumb to Obstacles Reflection

Immediately after reading Kevin Marshall Jrs essay, I tried looking him up online.
Something about his seemingly type-A, no excuses, no easy outs voice makes me think hes
probably a very successful man. I dont think I found him, no one I saw online by that name
attended an ivy-league university. Still though, I assume that whoever and wherever he is
Marshall is doing very well for himself, he writes like the kind of person you find in business
One thing I found striking about Marshalls story was how many strong people he had
come alongside him. His mother was a powerful and uplifting force in his life, he had a strong

mentor in his youth basketball coach, and a great academic advisor who helped him come to
terms with his learning disability. His father is the obvious and glaring exception (and Marshall
discussion of his experience during those years seems almost clinical), but Marshalls story is a
great example of how the right people at the right time can make a difference. Corny though it
may be, I hope to one day get the opportunity to be that person to a student. Its a reminder that
what I do in a classroom matters to the young people who will sit in front of me each day. Good
or bad, Im in a position to make a difference, and that is not something to ever be taken lightly.
I found it interesting that Marshall didnt discover his learning disability until college,
and in fact was surprised by it. More so, Im intrigued that Marshall didnt notice problems in his
reading until later in elementary school. Did his learning disability not manifest until then, or
was he until that point a more advanced reader than his peers, and it was only when they caught
up that the disparity was noticeable? In any case, I applaud Marshalls self-awareness of how he
is affected by his learned prejudices of learning disabilities. Finding out so late in life that you
have a learning disability when youve usually counted yourself among the best and brightest
would be a strange thing to process, especially when your school and life experiences didnt
prepare you to view those with a learning disability with much empathy.