Corrections or additions?
This article by David McDonough was prepared for the October 4,
2000 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
The ABCs of LD & ADHD
You know these kids. They used to say, "He doesn’t
test well." Or, "She’s disorganized." Or, "He has
a lot of energy — try to cut down on his sugar intake." Today,
we know a lot more about learning disabilities and attention
but we are still in the beginning stages of creating strategies to
enable those millions of students to succeed scholastically.
Jonathan Mooney and David Cole aren’t sitting around waiting for
to improve. They have written "Learning Outside the Lines: Two
Ivy League Students with Learning Disabilities and ADHD Give You The
Tools for Academic Success and Educational Revolution," a unique
guide to learning, which has a good chance of becoming a standard
in the world of special education. The book was published last month
by Fireside Books, a division of Simon & Schuster.
Mooney will be the featured speaker at the final meeting of the
Outreach Center’s three-part program on "Life After High School:
Preparing the Adolescent with Learning Disabilities and/or Attention
Deficit Disorder for College, Work, and Independence," on Tuesday,
October 24, at 7 p.m. The three-part series begins on Tuesday, October
10, and also meets October 17 and 24.
For Mooney, writing his first book was anything but an academic
Mooney, now 23, is dyslexic, and did not learn to read until he was
12 years old. His early struggles in school were the stuff bad
movies are made of, and yet, with incredible grit and creativity,
he graduated from Brown University with honors in English, and is
now a Truman Fellow in the field of education.
Mooney’s co-author, David Cole, has ADHD (attention deficit
disorder), and dropped out of high school at 15. He received an honors
degree in visual arts from Brown earlier this year. What Mooney and
Cole had in common was tenacity and a determination not to be denied
the education of their choice. Now they are passing on what they have
learned to others.
"We had two main goals with this book," says Mooney.
I want people to realize that school, in a broad sense, is often a
limited learning environment that doesn’t embrace all the ranges and
intelligences and ways of thinking about the world, and it often
one way of thinking on the whole. Some kids can be successful in that
environment, but most have to make some sacrifices. In my case, I
was marginalized — I dropped out of school. There is more to
than what is represented there."
Mooney was a classic case, an extremely bright child for whom the
system held no promise, and for every teacher who vaguely sensed how
much he had to offer, there was always another who insisted that there
be no exceptions to the accepted learning process. Even in grade
Mooney was clinically depressed, angry, and ashamed of himself,
that he was the obstacle.
"The biggest problem," he recalls, "was that I was in
a school that was incapable of understanding cognitive diversity.
So the message was always `Something’s wrong with you, you’re stupid.’
I remember listening to my mom screaming at these teachers, telling
them that I didn’t have to take the spelling test. She used to take
me out of school on spelling test days; we called them `mental health
A talent for soccer might have saved him — it did,
in fact, earn him a scholarship to Loyola Marymount University, but
it also threatened to consume him. If he could succeed at soccer,
he reasoned, he and his family would have reason to be proud. Trouble
was, the joy went out of playing because of the pressure, and when
he was injured, his depression mounted. He also continued a pattern
of self-destructive substance abuse, releasing the energy that was
never allowed out.
But there was a epiphany coming. Mooney had not identified himself
to the school as dyslexic until a final exam turned out to be an
essay. No accommodations for spelling and grammar, Mooney’s toughest
challenges. He failed the course. Eventually, that failure ignited
a cold anger in Mooney. He pushed himself academically, and, a year
later, applied to transfer to Brown, but with a difference. On his
application, and in his interview, Jonathan Mooney told just who he
was. He was accepted. But Brown presented new challenges for Mooney
and another transfer student, David Cole — the challenges, as
they put it, of "truly using education to redefine ourselves and
find personal empowerment."
"The second theme of the book," explains Mooney, "is that
often we are disabled by the environment. We are trying to hold and
balance the idea that we do have very specific weaknesses, that, under
the letter of the law, do impair major life function. Yet at the same
time we can have strengths and gifts that deserve actualization within
the educational environment. We do a really good job in our culture
of understanding and diagnosing and labeling the disorder part, but
we don’t do a good job at all of understanding the good part of it.
That’s where the book intervenes. We are presenting study skills that
often will access some alternative learning styles to allow you to
mitigate a weakness, and at the same time you are learning in a way
that is good for your mind. This is not a remediation guide, it’s
an empowerment guide."
Mooney and Cole divide their book into three parts: "Deviant
"Schooled," and "Beyond Beating the System." The
section could be described as the book’s practical, "how-to"
section: tips and strategies for taking notes, organizing your tasks
and thoughts, participating in classroom discussion, getting through
the required reading, writing, studying, and taking tests. All their
strategies are based on using the strengths of the learning disabled
students, and they are so well thought out that any student, LD or
not, could benefit from their approach. In fact, the ideas expressed
could be applied in many aspects beyond school, especially the
"Our work force is way ahead of our schools," Mooney points
out, speaking of the varied strengths and skills that are used in
today’s high-tech business world. "But the perception of LD is
still stupidity. There’s lots of diversity training in the business
world, but none of it involves LD. It’s not yet entered our perception
Mooney is also uneasy about current calls for more standardization
in the educational system, particularly in an election year. "The
concept that we need to uphold and improve the standards of our
is great, but the implementation is relying primarily on standardized
tests," he says. "Kids develop at different paces. George
W. Bush’s brother is dyslexic, and he is, too. All the red flags are
there: the class clown, the chummy guy, the drinking. If he was a
kid now, he’d be referred right away. But it’s typical Republican
hypocrisy that he can’t integrate his own experiences into any of
his policies. We are at a crucial moment. Novartis, the manufacturer
of Ritalin, is being sued. College education courses do not address
inclusion. The only teachers trained to deal with LD students are
special education teachers so classroom teachers don’t know what to
do with these kids who are put into their classes."
In 1998 Mooney started Project Eye-To-Eye, in which LD/ADHD college
students are matched with elementary school children with similar
learning profiles. The college students are brought in as role models,
tutors, and mentors in both mainstream and special ed classrooms.
The program has met with great acclaim, and raising money for the
project, and lecturing, have become a full time occupation for Mooney.
"We’ve recently incorporated," he says, "and in addition
to the original program at Brown, we have seven other chapters in
development, in Providence, Rhode Island, New York, and New Jersey.
The demand is so far ahead of our ability to implement the program.
I must get 25 E-mails a day from parents, counselors, administrators.
My challenge is to build a program that focuses on kids on a
basis, not teachers or parents. For the first time in their lives,
they are being presented with a program that focuses on their
and when that happens, it’s unbelievable."
There is real passion in Mooney’s voice when he says, "You see,
the first big step is that emotional step away from `There’s something
wrong with me,’ to `I’m going to work around my weaknesses, and I’m
going to find my strengths.’"
— David McDonough
Disabilities , Newgrange Outreach Center, Pennington School,
112 West Delaware Avenue, Pennington, 609-924-6204.
Series begins Tuesday, October 10, at 7 p.m.; and also meets October
17 and 24. Mooney’s talk is on October 24, at 7 p.m. Preregister;
$45; $75 family.
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