“If disabled kids don’t learn to advocate for themselves and if schools don’t learn how to teach them, their differences become a real disability,” said Sally Spencer, assistant professor of special education.
CSUN’s chapter of the Student Council for Exceptional Children hosted Ability Awareness Day on Friday with a presentation by Jonathan Mooney, a writer and activist who is dyslexic.
Mooney did not learn to read until he was 12. During his earlier years in school, he had much difficulty reading. He struggled with every word, sentence, paragraph and page he read.
“It made me feel that if you didn’t have that reading brain, something was wrong with your brain,” he said. “But just like the idea that you have to sit still is wrong, the idea that there’s only one way to be smart is wrong, and I had to move past that in my life.”
He also he had such difficulty keeping still as a child that in elementary school that he spent a lot of time hanging around janitors in the hallway.
“I was a kid who had such a hard time keeping his mouth shut in middle school that I spent most of the day on a first-name basis with the receptionist in the principal’s office,” he said.
Mooney was diagnosed with dyslexia in fourth grade and ADHD in fifth grade. In the sixth grade he dropped out of school for two years.
In high school Mooney’s guidance counselor told him he thought he had a 50/50 chance of graduating. And when he graduated from high school, the same counselor told him he would be lucky to flip burgers because people like him usually ended up on jail.
Mooney went to Loyola Marymount University on a full scholarship to play soccer. Afterward he went on to Brown University where he obtained an honors degree in English literature, even though he was told he couldn’t pursue that field of study because he couldn’t read or write very well.
Today he has written two books, “Learning Outside the Lines” and “The Short Bus.”
More than 150 high school students from Northridge Academy, Cleveland, Verdugo Hills, Polytechnic and Frostig attended the event.
“The turnout was phenomenal. We also had several more high schools ask if they could participate but we just didn’t have the ability to fit anymore,” said Vanessa Goodwin, professor or special education.
Spencer said Ability Awareness Day was held to raise awareness on campus about disabilities.
“We’re all surrounded by people who learn differently and we have to be willing to accommodate that and figure out how to make our teaching accessible to everybody,” she said.
Spencer, Goodwin, Ivor Weiner and Virginia Kennedy, professors of special education, helped plan the event.
Students also participated in activities, including a scavenger hunt for information on careers options at the different colleges throughout CSUN.
The Student Council for Exceptional Children also partnered with the Center for Teaching and Learning and Disability Resources and Educational Services for Ability Awareness Day.