Not “Learning Disabled,”
but Learning Abled!

Many thanks to Sharon Soeller, a resource specialist in Southern California, for allowing us to reprint her article first published in the “Drawing Board” in November 1996.

I can no longer call my students “learning disabled” because I now know that most of them are quite “LEARNING ABLED!”

I have been a teacher of the “learning disabled” for all of my teaching years and yet it is only recently that I realized that many of my students who were labeled as “learning disabled” were in fact right-brained learners! I put two and two together about this when I took two workshops within a couple of weeks of each other.

First, I was privileged to attend Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain I and II under the tutelage of Arlene Cartozian and Marka Hitt-Burns this year at California State University, Long Beach. It was in these classes that I began to learn how the brain functions.

A few weeks later I attended a workshop entitled “Attention Focus” at the Stowell Learning Center in Diamond Bar, California. It was at this workshop that I realized many of the characteristics of the learning style of the “learning disabled” were really right brain-mode characteristics.

These characteristics include the spatial, the intuitive, the emotive, the creative, no sense of time, the nonverbal, synthesis, the non-rational, and global processing. Often these characteristics show up in my students as difficulty processing information step-by-step, high visualization skills, “leaving class” mentally, strong intelligence, creativity, difficulty concentrating on L-mode subjects even for short periods of time, and confusion with symbols (ABC’s and 123’s).

They sometimes have basic reading skills, but have poor reading comprehension. They often can process several trains of thought at one time, and they lack awareness of the passage of time.

The right brain-mode characteristics are very different than the left brain-mode characteristics. It is the left-mode characteristics which are required by regular classroom students: verbalization (being able to put your thoughts into words on paper), analysis (as in doing steps in math sequences), being able to categorize, digital thinking (as in counting), time orientation (all tasks are to be completed within a time limit), rationalizing (drawing conclusions), logical and linear thinking styles.

I was able through the years to think of several ways to get information across to my students that I now know are right-mode techniques, but it was not until I attended Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and the “Attention Focus” workshops that I realized I could begin increasing my students’ academic gains. Several methods were taught to me in the “Attention Focus” workshop by Jill Stowell of the Stowell Learning Center. Many of these techniques use right-mode characteristics that result in left-mode learning.

Because I took the workshop at the end of the ’95-’96 school year, I had only a couple of weeks to implement the new techniques I learned. I look forward to using these new techniques during the ’96-’97 school year.

I have included a list of several books and methods on working with the “learning disabled” that may help you with a loved one or a student who has been labeled “Learning Disabled.” These books may give you more of an understanding of the kind of learner you are working with:

  • You Don’t Have to be Dyslexic by Dr. Joan Smith, Ph.D., is available through Learning Time Products, Inc., Sacramento, CA (800 50 LEARN. This is a definite book on several methods and approaches to learning through other than left-brain modes.
  • Switching On and Brain Gym by Paul Dennison, Ph.D. and Gail Dennison are available through Edu-Kinesthetics, Inc. (800) 356-2109. These books teach exercises that develop integration between the right brain and left brain. I will be using the “Brain Gym” techniques in my class this year.
  • The Gift of Dyslexia by Ronald Davis with Eldon Braun is available from Ability Workshop Press, San Juan Capistrano, CA (800) 729-8990. As a child, Ronald Davis was considered to be severely “dyslexic.” He shares his methods that teach attention focus and assist in learning for those functioning using the right-mode of the brain. Ronald Davis explains why dyslexic children who try to learn with the left-mode methods are often labeled “attention deficit” (often these children “leave the classroom” mentally because their spatial/visual abilities are so greatly developed that apparently they are creating highly entertaining “movies” in their own heads that are vastly more fulfilling and less disorienting than the left-mode symbolic ABC’s and 123’s). I will also be using these methods as taught in his book in my classroom this year.
  • Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and Drawing on the Artist Within by Dr. Betty Edwards are available through G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York and can be purchased or ordered at any bookstore. By reading and working with these books, or by taking a class in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, you will have more of an understanding of how a “learning disabled” person processes information. You will have the opportunity to fully experience the right-mode processing as you learn to draw.