As a child, Jonathan Mooney spent a lot of time in the hallways of his school, away from the classroom. His days were filled with fear and avoidance, and reading aloud in class was especially a nightmare for him. Diagnoses of dyslexia, dysgraphia and ADHD in his early school years increased his sense of misunderstanding. His teachers had little hope for his success and at times he felt that they had already given up on him.
Labeled and unwanted
Jonathan remembers growing up with an array of negative labels. He was labeled “stupid”, “evil” and “lazy”. This culminated in the label ‘special ed kid’. He moved between different schools, including special education schools and alternative schools. At the age of eleven he even temporarily quit school. At the age of twelve, he still could not read, and with minimal expectations for his future, he even contemplated suicide.
Fast forward 10 years and Jonathan graduated with honors from the prestigious Brown University. People often ask him how he achieved this incredible turnaround. His answer lies not in a secret medicine or trick, but in a deeper change of perspective.
The key to success
Jonathan found success by no longer seeing himself as the problem. His mother fought for his right to receive education in a way that suited him. By focusing on his strengths and talents, his self-confidence grew. He learned to see his differences as something to celebrate, not pathologize.
Redefining the problem
Jonathan emphasizes that the problem does not lie with the person with the learning disability, but in the way the education system deals with these differences. He recalls how his dyslexia diagnosis was treated as a tragedy, when in reality, the problems arose from a system that was unable to adequately educate him.
Jonathan criticizes the passive learning environment in which many children find themselves. He advocates active learning and the use of accommodations such as more time for tests and the opportunity to exercise in the classroom. These adjustments, he argues, are essential to create a level playing field.
Change the system
Jonathan proposes transforming the education system towards a universal design, where the environment and curriculum are more inclusive. This would mean that students would no longer have to be forced to conform to rigid standards.
Focus on strengths
Instead of focusing on what he couldn’t do, Jonathan learned to play to his strengths. His confidence grew when a teacher recognized his talent for storytelling. His mother introduced ‘Get Good At Something Day’, a day to explore and develop skills and interests, a crucial factor in Jonathan’s later success.
Every child has talent
Jonathan’s story is a powerful reminder that every child carries something valuable with them. His message is that we should focus on finding, naming and developing these unique talents. This, more than anything, is the key to true fulfillment and success.