- Craig Carter-Edwards
- Toronto, Ontario
Fostering a Mentally Healthy Society
My grandfather is a south-paw. When he went to school, there was still a huge stigma against lefties; his teachers tied his left hand behind his back and forced him to learn to write with his right hand. It was a difficult challenge; he learned to write with his write, but his right hand was never as strong as his left.
I myself was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder in high school. This diagnosis of having a learning disability, putting me “below” standard learning capacity, came a couple years after I was labelled as gifted – being “above” standard learning capacity. After years grappling with what this meant, in practice, I came to the conclusion that the terminology itself was wrong; the educational system, by looking for a baseline standard from which to build universal educational processes, was mislabelling and, as a result, stigmatizing kids with alterative cognitive abilities. As with the stigma against left-handedness of yore, the system was forcing square pegs into round holes, and wondering why the results were less than stellar.
Think about it – we all know people who are great at math, but bad at art, or great in sports but not so good at deciphering allegorical literature. There are personality-identification spectrums that distinguish between logical thinkers and creative thinkers, analytical processors from emotional processors. We would never suggest that someone who’s lousy with a hammer has a “learning disorder” – why should we stigmatize people with alternative cognitive abilities the same way?
While there are basic societal skills that are essential – understanding street signs, for instance, or working out change for a purchase – there are ways both through training and technology to mitigate difficulties in this regard. The real advantage to properly identifying and nurturing alternative cognitive abilities is to gain access to the value-add these people can bring to the table.