Stigma Hates Company: 5 Ways to Challenge Stigma as a Community
Among the challenges in contemporary education is the fight against stigma aimed at the 1 in 5 who learn differently. Stigma in education can keep a child struggling. However, we all have the tools to make a difference. The 1 in 5 who learn differently can be among the most powerful voices in fighting stigma, and in bringing along the 4 in 5 as well, changing the trajectory of all learners.
When you tell your story to others, you are no longer alone. You have an amazing community at your side. Something that was once faceless now has a face. Something that was invisible is now visible. Storytelling is one of the most empowering tools in the fight against stigma.
If you have a story to tell about learning differences—whether it’s your own life story or the story of a loved one—make a point of sharing it. All it takes is 2 minutes. Here are some pointers to consider in your daily acts of challenging stigma.
1) Bust common myths. Learning disabilities like ADHD or dyslexia have absolutely nothing to do with native intelligence. Pervasive myths about learning disability—myths that keep kids struggling in the back of a classroom in silence—need to be broken. Don’t be afraid to confront stigma when you see it.
2) Invite people in. Once someone knows they are in the company of different learners, they can comfortably and purposefully address their individual challenges in community. The more we share, the more everyone will know about the 1 and 5 among us. Stigma hates company, so let’s bring everybody in on the conversation.
3) Language counts. The flames of every movement are sparked by the unacceptability of certain language. We all know deeply hurtful words that were once, sadly, commonplace. A piece of providing a successful education for all students is gaining fluency in the language of learning and attention issues. When we tell our authentic stories of the lived experience of LD / ADHD, we will change the language. Phrases like “ADD moment,” “I’m numbers dyslexic” and “People with learning disabilities are just lazy” will be a thing of the past.
4) Highlight success. Hollywood directors, senators, arctic explorers, self-made millionaires—some of the most prominent and daring people out there have succeeded with a learning disability at their side. Scott Kelly, the first astronaut to spend a year in space, recently released an interview about his struggles with attention issues as a kid. There are countless examples of adults who have succeeded not in spite of their learning styles, but because of them!
5) Become an ally. Teachers, parents, scoutmasters, firefighters, school guidance counselors, soccer coaches, software developers, librarians. These are all potential allies and advocates. In fact, 1 in 5 are likely to have a learning or attention issue themselves!
You might be the “4 in 5.”
You might be or become “LD /ADHD and Proud to Be.”
You or a loved one might have an undiagnosed learning difference.
No matter who you are, our community is never more than one voice, one face, one mind away. Share your story, listen to a story. With stories we build community, and in community, stigma has no place.
What about social differences? When a child is normal on the learning scale but has difficulty fitting in socially? There is a stigma attached to this child also. Maybe more difficult to define than a difference in learning types but needs to be addressed for the healthy development of the child.
You make an excellent point, Marilyn. In some circumstances, social differences can indeed stigmatize a child. The focus of this blog post is learning differences, and Eye to Eye has done great work in that field. That is why we support them. Check out their website, http://www.eyetoeyenational.org.