Social Skills and Self Esteem

NALLD Center


Summer 1994 Newsletter

Vol. 1, No. 1


Quick Links to the Articles

How Not to Feel Stupid When You Know You're Not: Self-Esteem and Learning Disabilities

by Sally L. Smith

One of the biggest battles we have teaching people with learning disabilities is dealing with negative self-images. Many of them have been teased and taunted all of their lives, and they feel so rotten about themselves that, even when they succeed, they are not comfortable with themselves.

Usually, as early as in kindergarten, children with learning disabilities are smart enough to figure out that their peers are able to recognize letters and play with symbols successfully and they are not. This sense of inadequacy is nailed down by subsequent defeats and failure. Some individuals with learning disabilities have an all pervasive feeling of not being on the same level as their peers. They may feel that they are stupid and dumb. And they fear others feel the same way about them.

They are constantly looking for any situation where they could possibly fail and be made fun of. So much of their energy is consumed by fear of failure that the learning disabled often don't have much energy left to tackle their learning disabilities and invent strategies that will help them to learn.

The image we have of ourselves as children often affects how we feel about ourselves as adults. Children who feel overweight often turn into adults who are obsessed with their weight even though they are thin. Similarly, children who feel like failures may turn into adults obsessed with failing even if they are successful.

There are many ingredients that contribute to success in life that tests do not measure and that traditional teaching most likely does not reward. These include subtle ingredients that have to do with drive and determination, the setting of reachable goals, ingenuity, resourcefulness, and inter-personal skills.

What we find with adults with learning disabilities is that often they have a wealth of untapped potential. To photograph with an unconventional eye, to build a beautiful boat, to compose a sonata, to organize a party, or to ease the last days of someone who is terminally ill these are the skills that humanize our civilization and make life worth living. People with learning disabilities can realize that they are not stupid, or lazy, or bad, or incompetent, but, rather, that they are intelligent people with a mass of potential. They can begin to prize their uniqueness and feel better about themselves.

To build self-esteem, a person has to know his or her strengths and interests, at the same time knowing what he or she has the most trouble with and what strategies help. As actor/director/producer Henry Winkler told children at the Lab School of Washington the feeling of feeling stupid when you are not is terrible. Your person, your personality, your inner song is a lot more important than the speed at which you get things done. When people like themselves, everything seems possible. They can dare to risk a little failure.

Elizabeth Daniels Squire, author, says, It certainly is more inspiring to think of yourself as a person with a problem you can get around by working a little harder, trying alternatives, and not giving up, than trying to think of yourself as an awkward klutz who is jinxed and has bad luck... People with learning disabilities must not view themselves as victims of fate. They must see themselves as agents of change and think of their learning disabilities not as problems but as opportunities to problem-solve.

Accomplishing what one wants to do can be done even if it is not done the way everyone else does it. Learning disabilities are simply one of the facts of life part of the way in which some people operate. Being learning disabled doesn't have to keep a person from chasing dreams. It just means that he or she chases them differently. No matter what we do, we are in charge of ourselves as we chase our dreams. The responsibility for learning and growing rests with us.


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Another article on self esteem: