My son Quinn went to the Lab School in Washington, a school for learning disabled kids. Every year they honor several LD adults for their achievements. One year it was the enormously successful President of CBS News, the late Fred Friendly, who was happily married and, as it turned out, was seriously dyslexic. He was interviewed on local TV and my mother called to say she had seen him and she was stunned by what he said. "I never knew Fred was gay", she said. I told her that he was not gay and she said that he had admitted it on the air. I asked her exactly what he had said.
This is the first time I've ever come out of the closet," he had confessed.
Of course he meant that he had come out about being LD. But here was a man in his fifties who had been hiding one of the most important facets of his personality all of these years for fear of being embarrassed and humiliated. This tome is one of the saddest things about so many people who are LD and who are afraid to admit it. They live their lives as a lie, they feel fraudulent and inauthentic.
Ironically, like Fred Friendly said, it's not unlike being gay, where so many people suffer so for not being able to admit who and what they are because they are afraid of being ostracized or ridiculed.
Recently I was told of a young family who had a five year-old child who was learning disabled. They were so ashamed that they had revealed this to nobody. The child was in therapy and had seen all kinds of specialists but the teachers had not been told. Neither had the parents of friends. Now it seems, the child was being isolated in class and other children were beginning to see the differences and ignoring him. It nearly broke my heart. Nobody should be ashamed of any disability. We should applaud and admire and respect, not shun those who manage day after day to try to overcome their problems.
Being able to "come out of the closet" is the first step. The more who do, the easier it will be for others.
When we first realized that Quinn had severe learning disabilities he was only two. After the initial shock anger, denial, shame, grief, I realized that the best way to deal with this was openly and honestly, not only for ourselves, but more importantly for Quinn. He was the youngest child (age 4) ever admitted to the Lab School and I am a firm believer in early intervention. We talked about it to anyone who asked. I could always see people flinch a bit when I told them about him but I tried to do it in a matter of fact, unself-pitying way. "Uh, Okaaaay ," they would say, clearly uncomfortable and embarrassed. But I found that the more I talked about it frankly the more comfortable they would become, asking questions and almost always, at some point, admitting that there was somebody in their family who had the same problem.
What I told Quinn was this: Everybody has problems in life. Nobody gets a pass. This is your problem. Aren't you lucky that you have found out about it early and can deal with it now. (He was also extremely sick for most of his first 16 years, starting with open heart surgery at 3 months old). When kids your age who have golden lives reach their thirties and forties and things hit the wall, as they always do, you will have survived and overcome so much you will know how to deal with adversity.
Today Quinn has written a book, A Different Life: Growing Up Learning Disabled and Other Adventures which will be out April 6. He has also started his own web site, www.FriendsOfQuinn.com for young adults with learning disabilities. He is definitely, openly, proudly, confidently out there. And here's the best thing. His attitude is, "This is my problem. If you have a problem with that, then that's your problem."
How far we have come since Fred Friendly had to wait for over half a century to admit his.
Some of the happiest people I know are those who are learning disabled or gay who have been able to admit and celebrate who they are.