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Making a Difference with a Learning Difference

Last week the world watched the inauguration of the 47th president of the United States. Undoubtedly, the star of the show was 22-year-old Amanda Gorman, a poet and activist. Her “gritty, honest and moving poem was one of the inauguration’s most talked about moments” (Sky News). So, it may come as a surprise to many that she struggled at school with language processing, auditory processing, speech and reading.

So how did she get to where she is today? How did she end up on the stage in front of the world speaking so eloquently and beautifully? Perhaps this is due to her strength and determination but also her sense of positivity that she can “change the world”. She has spoken up about the importance of focusing on strengths and getting help for learning differences. The daughter of a teacher, Amanda was fortunate enough to have gone to private school in LA where she received accommodations to meet her needs. Although she initially refused the extra help, over time she grew to appreciate the extra support. Amanda was always very aware of her difficulties, but she was a determined and, as her mother says, “a stubborn child”. She didn’t allow her speech and auditory difficulties to become a stumbling block in her life. In fact, she recognised what she refers to as her “magic” with words and became a lover of poetry and the power it held for her to express her ideas.

In her speech at the inauguration, Amanda speaks of a dream she has of one day “becoming president only to find herself reciting for one”. Indeed, a momentous climb for anyone but even more so for a person with learning differences. It is clear that her mother had belief in her and it seems her teachers did too. Amanda’s headteacher commented that Amanda was “always destined for greatness”. So, despite her struggles, they saw what she COULD do and worked with those strengths, while reducing barriers that so many children with learning differences (such as dyslexia) face. She was able to show what she was truly capable of.

Perhaps the message from Amanda Gorman’s inspiring story is that having a learning difference can be a positive difference. It can be empowering. It can be a gift. It can enable you to do what others can’t. But let’s not forget the effect those around us have on their success. A positive belief in working with what a person CAN do will inform what support they need, and what barriers need removing so a person can be the best they can be. Amanda says she wants to be president in 2036. Watch this space world!

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