When it comes to discussion of identity I am somewhat conflicted on my feelings. On the one hand, I am obviously a cisgender straight white woman. I was born into an upper-class family, and I grew up in Los Angeles, California. In that regard, I am in the lucky majority and haven’t had much to worry about throughout my life. I am well represented in media. I fit the description of most lead female roles. As the culture of film has switched to more strong female characters and less manic pixie dream girls, I still fit the description to a tee.
While all of these things are always going to be true, there is one thing that sets me apart. Although it is invisible and would never be noticed upon first glance, it is something I always am aware of. I am disabled. I have a sensory processing disorder, or more specifically a sensory discrimination disorder but it all falls under the same umbrella. My eyes don’t focus, track, or read correctly. Although this is a minor issue compared to many peoples struggles. It has dramatically impacted my ability to express myself and be proud of my work. I was tested by a learning specialist during my sophomore year of high school who gave me the diagnosis. She told me that my understanding of grammar mechanics was at the equivalence of that of a third grader. This was a terrifying discovery for me because I had minimal exposure to learning disabilities or people who had them. My baseline understanding of disability was people with Autism and Down Syndrome and while I knew what I had been diagnosed with was nothing like that I didn’t want people to see me that way. Those were the only non-physical disabilities I had ever seen in media. And as put best by Greg Smith, “Othering does shape your experiences and your interpretation of them,” so I believed that was the way people would view me. I had never even heard of sensory processing disorders before. My diagnosis was milder and harder to identify than many others, but it still did explain a lot about why I had struggled in math and language classes in the past.
The one and only time I have ever seen something even slightly similar to my disabilities was the character Ryder Lynn in Glee. He had educational issues he got tested for, and although he got diagnosed with Dyslexia which I do not have it was the closest depiction I have found. It was really reaffirming to see somebody struggle in many of the same ways I did in High School. Although I did appreciate the acknowledgment by a major television show, it was still disheartening because he was still a classically attractive white man. Although they did address his disabilities throughout the show, it was overshadowed by how he was a heartthrob and all of his love interests. I really wish there were more depictions of invisible learning disabilities in the media. They are a lot more common than you would think and they can have significant effects on those inflicted with them. Even just the exposure of a major character on a television show or in a movie having one would drastically change the stigma.
Without the acknowledgment of modern media, it is particularly hard living with a disability. I need and legally am required to get accommodations in school, but it is challenging too because nobody understands what is wrong with me. When I try to explain it, everyone assumes its dyslexia or that I am making something up to get extra time or accommodations I don’t actually need. Until this stigma is lifted, which can only be done with the medias help, it will always be a struggle living with an invisible disability.