Updated: Oct 18, 2020
A friend went for an interview the other day and, when he told his prospective boss that he had a Specific Learning Difficulty, the response was 'I think we all have some of that in us, you know, losing focus, memory etc.'
When I heard this story, I was saddened, but hardly surprised. The woman in question intended to be inclusive and empathic, however, her response speaks volumes about the lack of understanding in the general population of the impact that SPLDs have on sufferer’s lives. To make matters worse, the job was in an educational establishment.
Those who live with conditions such as dyslexia and ADHD often spend their lives waiting to be ‘found out’. Your condition is invisible and the chances are that no-one will guess until you inevitably make the kind of error that leaves you 'exposed'.
Years of this intense version of imposter syndrome can be exhausting. On the other hand, if one gets up the courage to tell people in advance one is taking a risk. You may be offering people a reason to silently discriminate against you. You may be seen as ‘getting your excuses in early’, or your openness may be greeted with a response such as the one described above.
So... what’s so wrong? Wasn’t she only being kind? Supportive?
Can you imagine a 21st century conversation where someone tells an amputee they understand their challenges, because they sometimes suffer from sore feet.
When you flag up your condition and are in turn reassured that everyone has problems like you, are you not being told that everyone else seems to manage? Are you not being warned not to make such a big deal of a few common difficulties? The answer is yes. If you have spent a lifetime embarrassed by a disadvantage, that may well be how it feels. I'm not saying being non-neurotypical is worse than being physically disabled or persecuted for looking different. Specific learning difficulties do, however, present an arguably unique paradox. In order to avoid being the victim discrimination, you have to tell people you are vulnerable to discrimination.
To my mind, it is impossible for a neurotypical individual to fully understand the psychological struggles and emotional scars of the non-typical. It would be unfair to expect this when the person trying to understand has a mind which fundamentally processes things differently. That isn't their fault, however, it would be helpful if more people could start from this premise.