Tales from Humber: My slow processing speed is not a shortcoming

Apr 18, 2023 | OP-ED, Tales From Humber

In early childhood, I was evaluated at a psychological assessment to have had an issue with the speed at which I processed information. Consistent with this, I was identified as having a “learning disability” in my early elementary school years. I was given an Individual Education Plan (IEP).

According to the provincial government, an IEP outlines special education programs, accommodations, and services to help exceptional students according to their needs.

Through elementary school and into secondary school, my “disability” was characterized as issues with paying attention, studying, doing homework, and writing tests more slowly. I also had a “daydreaming” problem.

I struggled to express information through handwriting. Thus, I was given a laptop to do assignments most students wrote with pencils and pens.

A good example to explain my difficulties is my experience writing tests in Grade 10 mathematics. Another accommodation I had was to take up to twice as long to write those tests, but my mark would still be in a higher percentile of the class.

I was slower but still understood it when I was done processing it.

It was easy for my fellow Grade 10 students, some of whom did not get as good grades as me, to mock me. In their defence, they were ignorant.

But later in my high school years, I would be called a politically incorrect slur from time to time.

According to an April 4, 2022 news release from the Ontario Ministry of Education, just under 351,000 students, or about 17.3 per cent of the student population in the 2020-21 school year, relied on special education programs.

I wish I had known about a statistic like that when I was a teenager, considering how exceptional I felt.

The release also outlined how the Ministry of Education would expand access to special education support. For the 2022-23 school year, the provincial government increased the Special Education Grant (SEG) funding by more than $92 million to $3.25 billion. This was the largest amount of money ever provided in such funding.

The Special Education in Ontario – Policy and Resource Guide said issues with processing speed falls under the “Communicational” category of exceptionalities. And, within that, it is classified as a “Learning Disability.”

As I know from personal experience, it is not necessarily an issue with me communicating to other people, but rather me receiving communication from others, including teachers.

Such a disability, according to this guide, is a neurodevelopmental disorder that has a strong and continuous impact on a student’s ability to learn, and use academic and other skills.

It also “affects the ability to perceive or process verbal or non-verbal information in an effective and accurate manner in students who have assessed intellectual abilities that are at least in the average range.”

That is a perfect description of what happens in my head. However, I dispute the term “learning disability” or “disorder.”

An abnormality does not equal a deficiency. With that logic, I am also “disabled” because I am left-handed. I learn in different ways, at a different speed, and the fruit of that labour may come later than it would for most.

There are times when performance under pressure is what matters, but slower thinkers like me have an unexpected plus-side — attention to detail. As I think about things slower, I consider every detail more carefully than a normal-speed processor.

This applies to my career in journalism, especially when I’m looking at written material, as I need to read over it multiple times in order to understand it. I have the time to consider each detail repeatedly.

An example of this is my article from last semester on the aviation industry’s carbon emissions. As I meticulously and repeatedly went through an intricate academic study, I scrutinized the details to find the right ones for the article.

“According to the study, 32.6 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide were emitted by global aviation between 1940 and 2018. About half of those emissions were made in the last 20 of those years,” the article said.

I am also simply less likely to make the “little” mistakes, such as spelling and grammar errors.

As a former high school student with that so-called “disability”, I believe referring to it by the politically correct term “neurodivergence”, and educating very judgmental people of all ages on that matter.

It would make the lives of today’s exceptional students easier.