Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Development of Super Abilities

One thing that many people never think about is the fact that a disability is not entirely negative.

Having a disability merely means that an individual sees or interacts in the world in a different way.  The word disability itself encourages this type of thinking.  It focuses on the lack of an ability and evokes sympathy for this deficit.  

To truly understand the nature of a disability you must understand what it is like to view the world from the lenses of someone who lives with it.

When bodybuilders lift weights they isolate the strain to a particular muscle.  They do this act because working each of the muscles individually allows them to develop at a much faster rate than if they worked them all at once.  Without this isolation, the muscles would distribute the burden- and collectively not allow any individual muscle to experience the same amount of work.  

Athletes do similar things, baseball players practice with heavier bats, swimmers with flippers, and skiers on one leg.  By removing or exaggerating one element the other can develop faster.  For every action there is an equally powerful reaction.

When you live with a disability your lack of one ability, or its expression in a different way, can make the world difficult to navigate.  

Imagine waking around the world in a blindfold, or with plugs in your ears.  Having this different experience would require that you alter the manner of nearly everything that you do.  Although this may make it more difficult- soon you would begin to experience more rapid development from this unique strain that is not experienced by others.

Wearing a blindfold would require that your ears work harder.  Without vision to warn you of obstacles- your hearing would need to adapt to shoulder this burden.  Like a skier who runs drills riding on one ski to work on their balance, this exercise would make uneven ground more challenging to transverse and demand more from you.  Having plugs in your ears would require you to pay closer attention to body language and facial expressions.  Perhaps you would learn to rely upon your nose to tell you supper is ready.  

The unique strain would require you to adapt and with enough practice you could engage in the world nearly as well as you could when you had this sense.

In short, your experience would put you at an advantage because the typical person has not learned to adapt, or more importantly grow from, this unique strain.  The lack of one sense made the others work harder.  This additional ability should be viewed as power; a super power if you will.

Unlike a skier who is running a drill, a person with a disability does not have the option to return to life outside of an exercise.  

As a result, people tend to underestimate their unique skillset because it is hidden in the appearance of functioning at the status quo.  Often the person who has the disability won't recognize their strength either.

If the individual could identify this strength they could go through life maximizing the value of their unique skill set. In certain activities they would do much better than those who just never took the time to walk around the world wearing a blindfold for 20 years.

Personally, I have a disability that affects my processing.  My mind tends to organize thoughts in different ways than virtually anyone else.  This made some tasks in school very difficult.  It was particularly difficult for me to do things like identify the main topic of a paragraph, conjugate a verb, or write an essay in a logical manner. 

Mostly because I was stubborn I spent large amounts of time explaining to others why my viewpoint, while different, was just as valid as their own.  Since I knew I had difficulty identifying what others thought a passage in a book meant, and I cared about their intellectual perception of me, I spent more time than my peers considering different interpretations of what I had read. It was frustrating to be told I was wrong and as a result I tried harder.

Until very recently I could only see the negatives associated with the way I processed the world.  It made me different and feel weird when my viewpoint was so different from the norm. 

It was in law school when I first started to think about my disability as a source of power.  I discovered that all the time I had spent struggling to put the world in the right order had allowed me to engage with materials in a way others could not.  I could think outside of the box and explain the advantages of my unique perspective.  I have discovered that this skill set, while unorthodox, has a high demand.  

My disability has given me the gift of creative thought that has been 36 years in the making. While I have an extraordinarily difficult time spelling, conjugating a verb in a foreign language and technical reading. I also have an analytical mind that can do amazing things others could not even comprehend as possible.  To me the fact that an answer is wrong is the most helpful way for me to identify which ones are right.  I’m different and I would not change it for the world.  

I have found my superpower.

Viewing a disability as an ability is a difficult thing to do and something many people do not understand.  Hopefully, the ideas I have expressed have made that process easier for you to do in the future.  My suggestion is to be as empathetic as possible and consider how your child experiences the world.  If you can understand how they engage in life you will have an easier time identifying what things they have spent a large amount of time practicing. 

Evaluations can also identify some of these strengths, if the proper one is given.  Once these strengths are identified- your child’s IEP team can begin teaching them to put that power to good use.  If you do so your child will begin to not only make improvements in their academics but more importantly how they view themselves.

If after you have thought about this and you can’t seem to identify your child’s superpower send me an email at and I’ll help you out.  After all, thinking outside of the box is my super power.  

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