By Jeff Wheeler, Academic Coordinator, The Berkshire Center
The ultimate end of all revolutionary social change is to establish the sanctity of human life, the dignity of man, the right of every human being to liberty and well-being. No one has yet realized the wealth of sympathy, the kindness and generosity hidden in the soul of a child. The effort of every true education should be to unlock that treasure. – Emma Goldman
I have worked with scores of students with learning differences at the College Internship Program (CIP) for more than a decade. In that time I believe that I have encountered every possible LD diagnosis as well as great number of psychological and psychiatric diagnoses.
No two students in all that time have ever been just the same. Each one is a unique human being with his/her own set of strengths and areas of need. Each one presents me, a teacher, with a special challenge. As William Saroyan said in The Human Comedy, “Each one is a pleasant and exciting variation of all the others.”
The fields of psychology and education in the United States are too often a Procrustean bed*, particularly for students with LD. The description of those who are different is expressed as a “deficit model” in which all descriptive terms are negative. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition, the bible of the American Psychiatric Association, is a 900 page doorstop that is the paragon of insult for anyone with a learning difference or a psychological diagnosis. In less than two pages (66 & 67 DSM-IV) it describes people with autism using the terms: abnormal, disorder, dysfunctional, handicapped, impaired, failure, lack of, oblivious to, no concept of, delay, total lack of, stereotyped, repetitive, immature, disturbance, restricted, inflexible, preoccupation, catastrophic reaction, nonfunctional, unreasonable, odd, retarded, regression, and uneven.
It is small wonder that no parent would want their child diagnosed with Autistic Disorder; small wonder that any person would readily accept that label. Aristotle believed that no thing could be defined by describing what it is not. Yet that level of ignorance and insensitivity seems to be the standard to which those in the fields of psychology and education aspire.
In our society individuals with learning differences and psychological conditions are viewed as aberrations rather than as possible variations of the human genome. The neurotypical world that created the infrastructure in which we live too often excludes those who are different. Civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights: people who are different must fight the system to achieve what is promised to all by our constitution. In the 21st Century we must change the way those with learning differences and psychological differences are perceived by society. The United States Congress finds that–
‘(1) physical or mental disabilities in no way diminish a person’s right to fully participate in all aspects of society, yet many people with physical or mental disabilities have been precluded from doing so because of discrimination; others who have a record of a disability or are regarded as having a disability also have been subjected to discrimination (§ 12101. Findings and purpose)
More information about the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) can be found at:
ADAAA Resource Sheet
The students with whom I have worked at CIP are the smartest, most honest, most sincere, most original people I have ever known. They have enriched my life immeasurably. I am outraged at the discrimination, the bullying, and the hostility that these people must face in their every day lives. Educators, psychologists, parents, and most of all, those with the diagnoses themselves, must strive to change the attitudes and the perceptions of the neurotypical world.
* An arbitrary standard to which exact conformity is enforced. Procrustes was a mythological Greek highwayman who made travelers lie down on his bed before they could travel on his road. If they were too short, he stretched them; if they were too tall he cut off their legs.