Highly Successful Adults with LD

In class last night we focused on extraordinary people with learning disabilities. After each presentation, I kept repeating to myself, “wow, these people are amazing.” Class presentations included successful adults like Diane Swonk, Gavin Newsom, Chuck Close, Jack Horner, and Gaston Caperton to name a few. What I found amazing was their list of accomplishments and unbelievable drive.  I didn’t even focus on the learning disabilities last night as much as I did their remarkable intelligence and creativity. For example, Diane Swonk’s ability to do complex, high level microecnomics and macroeconmics and articulate a complicated forecast to the average American. Or, Chuck Close’s ability to paint huge canvas portraits using a grid technique. Regardless of their learning disability, these human beings were incredible to learn about.

Another theme I took away from last night’s class was the fact that these individuals considered their learning disability a gift. Diane Swonk actually credits her dyslexia for her success. Her learning disability allows her to think multidimensionally versus linearly; therefore, she  can think in large scale, macro economic terms. This type of high level thinking gets her the title of most accurate forecaster each year by the Wall Street Journal, MSNBC, and others. Gavin Newsom credits his dyslexia for remarkable memory retention. He can actually memorize hour-long political speeches in his head.  This theme is directly related to Dr. Gerber and Dr. Reiff’s degree of success model because each adult had the ability to “reframe” their disability. In other words, each highly successful adult recognized the disability, accepted it, understood it, and took action. I’m amazed at how comfortable and positive each individual was about their learning disability. They knew who they were, but most importantly, they knew who they weren’t. In other words, they knew their strengths and weaknesses, and decided to capitalize on their strengths. I found myself writing down a quote or two from Diane Swonk’s interview with Dr. Gerber because to be able to accept yourself and play to your strengths are universal truths for anyone to live by. These extraordinary adults’ determination and learned creativity sets them apart from most adults. Finally, “goodness of fit” was another theme to last night’s class. These highly successful adults placed themselves in an environment where their skills and abilities could be optimized (Reiff & Gerber, 1992, pg. 462).  Each adult chose environments where he or she could “control their destiny.” Again, their remarkable self-awareness led them to choose the perfect setting to excel.

After reach class, I leave with a whole new appreciation and sensitivity to adults with learning disabilities. I often wonder if I’ve advised a highly successful student with a learning disability and never knew it. What kinds of amazing things are they doing now or going to do after graduating from VCU? Or, could I have advised a student who did poorly in college, but will go on to be the next Chuck Close or Richard Branson? This class has prompted to embark on a case study. I have a close friend who I’ve known since sophomore year in high school who has severe ADD/ADHD. In my next blog, I will write about her experiences as a adult with a learning disability using the degree of success model. She is someone who I consider highly successful despite her learning disability.


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