Academic journal article Adult Learning

Chasing the Rabbit: Metaphors Used by Adult Learners to Describe Their Learning Disabilities

Academic journal article Adult Learning

Chasing the Rabbit: Metaphors Used by Adult Learners to Describe Their Learning Disabilities

Article excerpt

Among the adults returning to school is a group of students who bring unique challenges-both for themselves and for the institutions of higher education that serve them. These adults with learning disabilities often come back to school with memories of classroom trauma (Adelizzi, 1997) and a history of academic failure which result in great anxiety at the prospect of re-entering the arena which engendered so many negative experiences and emotions. Like their younger counterparts, adults with learning disabilities are often plagued with a lack of confidence in their ability to successfully meet the demands that will accompany their return to school (Adelizzi & Goss, 1995).

Although they may have achieved success and acquired significant skills in other arenas of life, these students often need support beyond that required by other returning adult college students. In addition to the more obvious and commonly provided accommodations such as additional time on tests and use of assistive technology, it is important for colleges to provide the more subtle supports of empathy and sensitivity which may make the difference between success and failure.

An understanding of the subjective meanings assigned to their learning disabilities by adult learners can provide practitioners with important insights. A recent interpretive study explored the perceptions of adults with learning disabilities regarding the impact of their disabilities on their lives. In-depth interviews were conducted with 23 adult college students having diagnosed learning disabilities, including language-based learning disabilities, non-verbal learning disabilities and attention deficits. Participants, 12 women and eleven men, ranged in age from 24 to 48. All were current (20) or former (3) adult college students who had participated in a support program for adults with learning disabilities. During the interview, participants were asked to provide a metaphor that described their learning disabilities. Deshler (1991) notes that metaphors can be used to help learners "recognize major unexamined influences over their lives" (p. 296). Cooper (1991) notes the value of metaphors for creating "new ways of viewing the self" and Ozick (1986) describes the power of the metaphor to allow us to imagine and understand the experience and emotions of others.

Through metaphor it may be possible for adults with learning disabilities to express ideas and feelings which are painful to talk about directly Metaphors may allow them to express ideas that they do not fully understand but grasp intuitively or on an emotional level. They may also allow them to express ideas that they may not have the precise language to convey Careful deconstructing of the metaphors can give practitioners a new perspective on the experience of adults with learning disabilities.

Three types of metaphors emerged in the present study: those which emphasized the persisting, negative impact of the learning disabilities; those which stressed obstacles or restraints imposed by the learning disabilities; and those which focused on the difficulty of journeying through life with a learning disability

Five respondents used metaphors emphasizing the persisting, negative impact of the learning disability. A man of 38 stated, it is "like a headache that doesn't go away" Another middle-aged man described it as "a dripping faucet, an annoying dripping faucet ... If you could just turn it off, not have to deal with it any more." A 40-year-old woman stated, "Truly it's like a monkey on my back that just won't come off ... it's always there." Similarly, a younger adult described her learning disability as "a leech on my neck." Another, a woman in her forties said, "It's like a silent disease ... I'm struggling through my own little hell every day of my life. No one sees that ... It's not like it goes away ... You may look great, but you have that disability with you all the time. …

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