|Perseverance: a "symptom" of a developmental disorder|
My Tom is not unique. He is "differently abled."
While the term "differently abled" may be used by some as a euphemism for "incompetent," the concept of a person with disabilities also having unique and significant abilities is very real. In some cases, those abilities are pretty obvious (as in the case of a person with autism who is also a genius-level savant). In other cases the abilities are less obvious - though none the less real.
Don't get me wrong. Developmental disorders and challenges are not insignificant. But those qualities that create huge barriers for a person making his way through a school system focused on verbal learning, standardized testing and complex social expectations may be the source of very real advantages outside of the school (or office).
A few cases in point.
- The person with ADHD who, because sitting still and conforming is tough, is more willing than his peers to take on physical challenges, try a new activity, or be the first to raise his hand.
- The person with autism who, because he is unconcerned with (or even unaware of) the judgements of others, is able to get up and perform as a musician or singer without a touch of stage fright.
- The individual with learning disabilities, who, because writing is difficult, finds creative and dramatic ways of expressing what she knows.
- The person with Asperger syndrome for whom 100 hours spent programming a new video game isn't work: it's a joy.
As we consider authentic opportunities for inclusion, it's critical to think about building on different abilities - and not solely on remediating or dodging around perceived disabilities.