When I first learned about disability studies, I empathized with the scholars and understood the field academically, but I still felt distanced from the field. Then, while I was working on my master’s degree, two of my children were diagnosed with ADHD, and a year later another one was showing signs of autism and dyslexia. My own children, who appeared to be neurotypical if you met them outside of a school environment, were dealing with significant learning disabilities. As I fought against the major stigmas that accompany ADHD, I realized that in my academic reading, Brueggemann’s student’s observations that “certain ways of becoming [disabled] were more acceptable or fashionable or exalted than others” (324) was correct. ADHD is on the less fashionable side.
ADHD can be considered an invisible disability. Many people with ADHD live their lives, trying to pass in a neurotypical world. Tobin Siebers refers to this idea of passing—just as light-skinned black people in the past would try to pass as white–as the “masquerade” (4). My own children were trying to hold onto the façade that they were neurologically wired like everyone else, trying to overcome their disability. All it was doing was building anxiety. Once I understood what was going on, I realized how much the educational system was stacked against them. However, in her article about mothers with disabilities, Blum shows that I am one of the fortunate mothers. I have the education and the time to be the best advocate for my children. I have the cultural capital that I can use on behalf of my children (209). Still, my battle has been an uphill one.
I share my experience as a mother of three children who are dealing with learning differences, because it affects how I approach teaching. For example, I had a student once who I realize now was dealing with an extreme case of ADHD. ADHD affects the executive functions such as time management, regulation of attention, organization, and working memory, which are all vital skills for composition. Writing is hard for many people with ADHD—males in particular. My student was struggling with writing his first paper. He panicked the night before it was due, and he copied a Wikipedia page. He made an appointment with me to go over the paper. When I pointed out the plagiarism, I thought he might cry. I found out that he was really good at engineering and math, so he was allowed to get by without learning how to write. He took part in the “masquerade.” He and I worked to generate ideas, but in the end it overwhelmed him, and he dropped the class. Later I found out that my class was his third attempt to pass Core Composition 1. He dropped out each time before the first paper was due. Now, I would be able to recognize the source of his issues and use specialized exercizes for ADHD writers, as well as direct him to get additional help through Disability Services. I still wonder if he attempted the class a fourth time. Would that class be the reason he would not be able to graduate?
Now that I am aware of ADHD along with other neurological differences like autism and dyslexia, it informs the way I approach teaching. You will note the influence in my portfolio:
Curriculum Vitae: Please note that I spent a year working at the Writing Center, which was an invaluable experience. Justin Bain taught me a lot about how to teach writing and my own personal writing process. After that, I spent a year as a Teaching Assistant under the supervision of Amy Vidali, where I learned to take what I was taught at the Writing Center and apply it in a classroom setting. You will note that I stopped working beginning in 2014. I had to quit working in academia to support my children who were struggling with learning differences.
Revised Seminar Paper: I chose to revise a paper that I wrote during one of my first semesters at UCD. I was in the Applied Linguistics program at the time, and I was very interested in texting, how it connects to speech, and the possibility that it was a misunderstood form of communication. Since I wrote that paper, I was hired as a teaching assistant, and I experienced first hand how students use technology in the classroom. My own daughter also grew old enough to own her first cell phone, and I was able to observe how she interacted with it. My original paper proved that texting was more like fingered speech instead of written language; my revised paper takes this concept a step further and shows how texting is not detrimental to written language and can even be useful in the composition classroom.
Teaching Portfolio: My portfolio is firmly rooted in process pedagogy. As I edited my teaching portfolio, I wanted to add sources to help support people with learning differences. I was unable to add my FCQs to my portfolio, so you may access them here.
Revised New Project on ADHD: For my new project, I chose to do an annotated bibliography about ADHD and how people with ADHD are stuck between the neurotypical world and the world of disability. As a backdrop, I share the story of my own husband, who had undiagnosed ADHD, and was moved back and forth from the special education classroom to the regular classroom as he grew up. I included resources about ADHD as an invisible disability and about how people with ADHD often try to pass as neurotypical.
When I started my master’s degree, I expected to attend some classes, learn how to be a better writer, and explore deeper topics than I had as an undergraduate or as a work-at-home mother. What I experienced was so much more. I discovered that I was really passionate about linguistics and literacy. I worked at the Writing Center, which pushed my perception about how to teach writing. I was awarded the opportunity to teach composition as a Teaching Assistant. Once my children are settled, I plan to continue teaching composition at the university level. Since it may be a while until that happens, in the meantime I am planning to use my knowledge of disability studies and my personal research on ADHD to increase awareness of disability outside of the academic world through blogging and sharing my family’s personal story. Thanks to disability studies, I will have the writing of scholars who have been through a similar journey to guide me.
Blum, Linda M. “Mother-Blame in the Prozac Nation: Raising Kids with Invisible Disabilities.” Gender and Society 21.2 (2007): 202–226. PDF.
Brueggemann, Brenda Jo. “An Enabling Pedagogy.” Disability Studies: Enabling the Humanities. New York: MLA, 2002. 317-336. Print.
Siebers, Tobin. “Disability as Masquerade.” Literature and Medicine 23.1 (2004): 1–22. PDF.