When a person has a disability that affects them physically, like Down’s Syndrome, or Cerebral Palsy, the world can see it. They have a plate full of challenges, for sure, and it comes as no surprise to the general public.
However, when a person’s brain isn’t working as it should, but they look for all intents and purposes, like anyone else, that’s where life can be a little bit of hell; especially, for a child in elementary school. You see a kid who has trouble paying attention for much longer than the first hour of the school day, and it is assumed they just like to daydream, or are weak-willed, or undisciplined. He can’t sit still for very long, and is constantly wiggling around.
No matter how hard he tries, with his low muscle tone, his handwriting is barely legible, and it takes all his effort to make it readable. His speech is pretty clear these days, but can be a little bit difficult to understand when he’s tired. And there is something that isn’t connecting in his brain, that makes spelling and the concept of time, things that he just doesn’t get (yet).
With his weak visual system, having to read, shift his eyes from his desk to the black board and back, while doing it all under a bright, flickering, buzzing fluorescent light, leaves him visually exhausted by lunch.
With an auditory system that doesn’t filter sounds very well, the girl next to him who insists on whispering to the kid behind her, may as well be yelling at the top of her lungs. The distraction is such that any other talking in the room, makes it so he can’t hear and understand the teacher. Directions are taken in slowly, and they must be repeated for him to fully understand what is being said.
After two hours of his brain and system being pushed hard, his body is screaming out that it needs to run, jump, swing, and more, and he can’t wait to go out to recess. But first he is expected to sit quietly and eat a lunch that he doesn’t care about. By the time his system has calmed down enough to be able to eat, lunch and recess are over, and he’s expected to function in the classroom again (having eaten two bites of his sandwich and one slice of apple).
By the time this child gets home from a full day of school (after a ride on the bus that further taxes his poorly processing brain), he runs down the driveway, bursts through the door, kicks off his shoes, strips off his socks and pants (because his tactile system has taken all it can), and heads for the kitchen, with an, “I’m starving!” He grabs a snack, grabs a throw blanket from the sofa, and wraps up in the blanket as he downs his snack.
So, if you work in a school and the next time one of your students can’t pay attention for very long, has trouble reading and writing, lives for recess, and doesn’t seem to remember directions, it’s not because he isn’t trying. He is. He really does have trouble remembering what you have just told him. And the thing he wants most in the world, is for his brain to work like that girl’s. The girl who is reading chapter books with ease. The girl who gets all her spelling words correct every week. The girl who breezes, effortlessly, through every day. The issues this kid has to live with are not visible to the untrained eye; but they are every bit as valid as the issues a child with Cerebral Palsy has to handle.