Tonya Harris writes...

Looking Beyond Your Label

My daughter recently called me from school, hiding in a bathroom and crying so hard I could barely understand her.

My daughter has dyslexia, among other learning disabilities, and has had some rough times at school, surprisingly more from her teachers than from other kids. She’s such a strong girl to tell me it’s okay to start sharing her story if it can help others, and I couldn’t be more proud of her. But a few unkind words from a teacher a few days ago just about broke her.

Nothing is worse than that phone call from the school bathroom, or the dozens of texts I got last year from her hiding in the locker bays, begging me not to make her go back to class.

With an estimated one in five children having diagnosed learning disabilities (the undiagnosed number may be even higher), it’s possible that each classroom will have several children with learning disabilities and/or ADHD.

Although many of these kids are fortunate that they are getting help, in many cases, they are also being singled out and reprimanded at school. And while there are many great teachers out there, it’s the harsh words of the few that stick.

A majority of schools and teachers are simply not trained on different learning disabilities and what they can entail. School resources are tight, and I understand that. My original degree is in Elementary Education, and I know that when I was in school, we learned very little about dyslexia and the many other learning disabilities that can come along with it.

I found my Special Ed class binder this summer, and out of a few hundred pages, there was only one sentence about dyslexia. And it had more to do with how they see letters but not about the other things that can go along with it: short-term memory issues, problems with copying things from a chalkboard or book to a notebook, and trouble keeping up while taking notes in class…the list goes on. Not to mention the fact that when they are able to “read,” they may not be understanding the material because they are concentrating so hard on the words.

When my daughter was first diagnosed (and I finished ugly crying in the garage), I decided to read every book on dyslexia and ADHD that I could.

I wanted to look beyond her label so I could help her do the same.

And what I started seeing was a pattern beginning to emerge.

Engineers, actors and performers, NASA scientists, athletes, authors, entrepreneurs, scientists, Scotland Yard detectives…the list goes on.

There are many successful people with dyslexia, ADHD, and other learning challenges, and many of them claim they didn’t succeed in spite of their learning disability, but BECAUSE of it.

They learn skills early in life that many of us don’t learn until much later. They need to learn quickly what modifications to make for themselves (usually through much trial and error), how to advocate for themselves, and in many cases, they learn to work much harder than those around them.

Although learning disabilities are definitely a challenge, they can also come with advantages. If there’s a negative, there also has to be a positive, and this is what we need to let our children see.

Most children with learning disabilities see things differently, and many are very creative. They also typically have average to above-average IQs. One of the things I tell my daughter often is that a learning disability is just a way of learning differently. If everyone learned and thought the same way, this would be a very boring planet.

One thing I’ve done is made a list of successful people she’s heard of that have dyslexia and/or ADHD and put it in a frame in her room. Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Steven Spielberg, Richard Branson, Henry Winkler, Justin Timberlake, and Jamie Oliver, just to name a few.

I want her to see their names everyday to inspire her, and to help her realize what the world would be missing if they (and many others) all thought and learned the same way.

We need to help our children see the positives in themselves and how to look beyond their label. While the school years may be tough, these are the kids that are going to change the world. It reminds me of my favorite quote, “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?”


About the Author:

Tonya Harris is an Environmental Toxin Specialist, childhood cancer survivor and is Board Certified in Holistic Nutrition. She is the founder and CEO of Slightly Greener: offering busy moms simple and doable solutions to reducing toxins, one product at a time.

Tonya is also a mom of three, and when she’s not busting toxic products or explaining why you CAN keep your favorite mascara, you’ll find her raising money for her organization Clubs to Cure Kids, from which she has donated over $160,000 for childhood cancer research and family support programs.






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