For those of you who didn’t know; I, author Clayton J. Callahan, am “learning disabled.”
At least, that’s what they called it when Jimmy Carter was president and I was in grade school. I spent most of my public education in “special education classes,” which usually meant I’d go to a small room behind the gym where Ms. Be-nice-to-the-slow-kids offered tailored programs in math or reading.
To be frank, I hated it.
I hated the label, I hated the separation from other kids, I hated being bullied for it, and I hated the fact that I needed any accommodation whatsoever. I never considered myself stupid, and I knew for a fact that in many ways I was smarter than the kids who picked on me. For instance, I have always been well spoken and good at reading social situations. I also had a knack for storytelling that made me a welcome “game master” at role playing games in my teens. But as to my math and spelling….well, I was always more than a bit behind in that stuff.
So, where am I now? Mr. Carter hasn’t been president for many of my reader’s lifetimes, and I haven’t walked into a public classroom since I got my bachelors at Miami of Ohio back in 1995. That’s right, I graduated from a university and it only took me five years (some classes needed to be taken more than once) to get my degree. I have since raised a family, served in Army Intelligence, worked as a deputy sheriff, taught public school and published three novels (with a fourth one on the way). Not bad for one of Ms. Be-nice-to-the-slow-kids students.
So why do I call my learning disability a superpower?
Because it forced me to keep learning! I’ve worked with “smart” people. By that I mean, folks who were told from an early age that they were smart and could expect good things to come. Not only are these people often arrogant jerks, but they have a very hard time improving themselves. When faced with failure, the “smart” people I am referring to just can’t handle it. They shift blame or make elaborate excuses instead of grappling with the real problem. They then try to pretend that the mistake never happened and continue to behave as they did before. People like me, however, never expected things to go perfectly and we react rather differently.
When things blow up in my face (and they do), I find it easy to take responsibility—because I expected to have problems all along. I then listen to criticism and change my behavior so that I am less likely to make the mistake again. Do I improve all at once? No, but I don’t expect to ether. I do however stay wary of my faults and improve by stages while I gain understanding about where I went wrong in the first place. I can then use my experience to help others. This makes me a pretty good teacher as I can clearly describe to a learner what problems they are likely to face and how to handle them.
I never let my learning disability stop me. I simply have too much to do before I die and don’t have the time to waste. I have talents and I am determined use them; even when that means facing my deficits head on.
People who read my books have sometimes pointed out a spelling error or two. “Thank you,” I say, “I’ll fix that in the second edition.” However, people have also told me they are impressed by how many good quality stories I’ve published in such a short time.
“How did you get as good as you are so fast,” they ask. I tell them, “I listened to the advice of every one who ever critiqued my work and fixed problems as I went.”
I never expected to be perfect. But I continue to learn and I continue to improve. That is my superpower!