Childhood. You envision innocence, vibrant colors, and laughter. Children aren't taught to be ''broken''. But I was. I was critical of the person in the mirror for my manner of critiques, instead of my manner of etiquettes. Creators try too hard, my critic shouts like a cranky old scrooge. We're taught from a young age not to judge a book by its cover. We do, especially by those somewhere in the spectrum of talent.
Here's the truth, I have a learning disability and struggle with the cognitive areas of learning. I cannot filter out background noise like the average person. I'm not abnormal. I'm not unique either. What does that make me?
It makes me stand out, for sure. I'm a visual creature. I am easily distracted by the blur of textbooks and the rush of conversations. If I can't see it and picture it in my head, then forget it! I'm open-minded and easy-going. I'm told I'm wonderful with people, just extremely irritable when I'm overwhelmed.
My list of criteria is a fact, not an idea that people close to me should be empathetic about. Hold up! Did I suggest lack of empathy? No. If a family member confided in you that their loved one was deaf and that using hand signals was appropriate for communicating with them. You wouldn't shout in their ear and insist to your friends their only, ''hard of hearing''. You can care about the person, but where facts are involved; using sign language is not just being ''empathetic''. It's communication.
- I will ask you to repeat things back to me.
- To look at me when addressing me.
- And don't assume I retained the information just because I AM looking at you.
Hearing and computing are two different processes. A majority of people take theirs for granted. I never was ungrateful for my strengths. I am hard on myself when dealing with my weaknesses.
I played this game as a kid. Green light, red light. I woke up one morning and realized that is the function of my brain. There is no yellow light, no warning. I have the green light to proceed, and the red light is the crashing halt. Let me add some context, with concise words that won't give me a headache.
You stand at the end of a grassy field, across from the ''traffic officer''. They'd call out ''green light''! Kids run with all their might before the inevitable ''red light''! Half the time kids collide into each other and trip on their feet trying to stop. The first child to get to the ''traffic officer'' wins the game and is the NEW ''traffic officer''. The giggles emerge when the traffic officer repeats ''green light, red light'' over and over to keep the kids from reaching them so they could stretch out the game. It's fun...when that isn't happening in your brain on a daily basis!
When it comes to handling someone with a cognitive challenge, it differs for each individual. Maybe my own frustrations will relate to anyone out there.
Red lights. The big NO.
- Don't tell me there is nothing wrong with me, and I look normal to you.
Reasoning: I won't be mad if you are well-meaning and not rude. Although from my perspective, you are saying there is a degree of abnormality that comes from my disability where a subtle vibe of uncomfortableness arises around ''weird behaviors''. Again, I'm not abnormal. I'm just not ''average''.
- Defensively discourage the word ''disability''
Reasoning: Mental retardation. I want to break the taboo, because I have been referred to by that terrible and insensitive label. The "R" word should be worse than cuss words in general. A cuss word comes from a slip of the tongue or general disrespect. "R" words like the one above attacks the core of someone's identity.
I am not afraid to call it what it is. Take your pick. Cognitive challenge. Learning disability. A disability, by Google's simple definition, is: a physical or mental condition that limits a person's movements, senses, or activities.
This doesn't limit my potential. This limits my mental or physical capacity, which in my case, is processing my environment.
- Not properly explaining what ''overstimulated'' means
Reasoning: I am not asking you to be a doctor. It's embarrassing, nonetheless. I am visibly bothered when others account from word of ear, "I heard you had a mini episode''. You just ''freaked out''. Not only is it invalidating for those that suffer from serious panic disorder, which involves more than simply ''freaking out''.
"Over stimulation" is like a mental collision. It won't go away by deep breathing exercises. It's my brain reminding me of its limit. To remind you, I cannot control this.
- "So, were you born this way?"
Reasoning: Often, it can be genetic. Personally, it was a result of a head trauma, head injury/illness. Thank you for asking.
- Tough love.
Reasoning: Tough love shouldn't be brute honesty. You should have tactfulness and grace, with an ounce of patience. I'm not ''too sensitive''. It's personal, naturally. It's part of my identity, who I am.
We take the hit, the blow. We want to be able to express that without our ''disability'' getting attached to that cry for help like some bulky, unwanted luggage. Trust me, we have enough baggage to carry with our struggles. You can tell someone the truth without hurting their feelings.
- But you are so intelligent! You articulate your feelings so well, or write fantastic!
Reasoning: ... Uh, yeah. I have emotional reasoning. Maybe things go over my head or I don't always pick up on cues. But on a factual basis, I've seen ''average'' people have less awareness of their environment too. It happens when you have a narrower focus.
Talent in writing or composition is a passion for many, a thorn for others. I am creative. I visualize to remember. And again, you are suggesting a cognitive challenge makes it impossible to make friends, so much as speak with sense, or be intelligent.
A majority mean well so I try not to be harsh, however it needs to be understood how it may be perceived to some hearing, "But" accompanying "you are so intelligent". They may accidentally send across this message,
"You have a learning disability? But you aren't stupid, you're intelligent. Which means you might be putting undue hype on your disability, because in order to have a mental or physical impairment it has to be visible enough that I can tell you struggle intellectually."
I want to end this on a positive note. If your physical or mental impairment is visible by first impression. Your strengths speak on behalf of your character, not your disposition in life. And the weaknesses that leave you inhibited are not a result of punishment. You can be intelligent and struggle, those two terms CAN coexist. I feel this is also an important aspect to consider, even if you are less ''intelligent'' than average, it isn't on behalf of your disability or your character.
I wasn't born a rocket scientist. Put me next to Thomas Edison and I'd feel like I was a bumbling fool too. He invented electricity, a concept that is helping millions today. What mark will I leave behind?
My cognitive disability?
No. I hope it's my compassion and creativity.