I’ve worked with students who struggle with learning disabilities for many years. If school was always easy for you, like it was for me, it can be hard to relate to the challenges these students face. Frustratingly, I often meet teachers, parents, and other students who seem to lack empathy and patience when working with students with disabilities. When one of my co-workers introduced me to this website, I knew it would be a valuable tool.
PBS produced a special called Misunderstood Minds, a look into the various types of learning difficulties students face, as well as commentary from experts. While I haven’t seen the documentary, I think the accompanying website is really helpful.
The reason this site is great is that it presents interactive activities that simulate what it is like to have attention deficits, decoding difficulties, dyslexia, recall problems, math difficulties, and more. These short activities are eye-opening, and I anyone who works with students who struggle should try them.
While reading a passage that simulates dyslexia, I quickly became frustrated at how painstaking it was to read more than one sentence. The letters were so mixed up that I had to stare at each word for a second or two before realizing what it said. As a strong reader, I began to feel what it would be like to struggle. Soon, I felt like giving up would be the best option, and I started to understand why my students seek distractions from their work so often.
By the time I made it through the short passage, I was exhausted. I wasn’t really sure I had understood what I’d just read, and I started to worry that there would be a set of questions following the passage (luckily there weren’t).
I thought of all of the multi-paragraph and multi-page readings that my students are expected to read each day, and understood how they could be so frustrated when asked to complete what seem like basic assignments. I imagined being asked to read this passage aloud in front of my peers, and the shame I would have felt when stumbling and struggling through it.
I believe that understanding and empathy are key parts of building the right mindset to teach all students. When you get a glimpse of the reality they face, you will be able to greet them with the patience, understanding, and strategies they require.
The Misunderstood Minds website is packed with expert opinions on ways to support students with learning disabilities. I’d definitely recommend using it for your next professional development session, emailing it to parents, and even showing it to students.
Do you have any great resources for understanding what it means to have a learning disability? Let me know in the comments!