Note: October is Learning Disabilities / Dyslexia / Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Awareness Month.
By Kayla Helm-Queen
The Young Adult Leadership Council, a community of young adults aged 18-30 with learning disabilities and attention issues, unite their experiences and voices to advocate for the learning rights community.
My biggest leadership journey has been learning to let go of the idea that there is an archetype of a leader. I’ve had leadership opportunities in my life, from working in my university’s student government, to being an ambassador on National Center for Learning Disabilities’ Young Adult Leadership Council. I’ve learned that honoring yourself and discovering your own leadership style comes before influencing others; you don’t have to be a certain type of leader to be effective.
I’ve always had this independent mind, but I really struggled with thinking perfectionism was the way to raise my aptitude as a leader, especially when trying to reconcile the tradeoffs brought by my learning disability. But realistically leadership isn’t about titles or being the most competent. It’s about identifying your values and determining what you can do about it. Sometimes this is even in opposition to what is expected of you by others.
Magic happens when leaning into who you are and what you care about. Being your authentic self attracts like-minded people. Those who share your values emerge, and suddenly you are able to create teams and movements. With them come complementary strengths to your cause and community. You do not have to do it all alone. It’s been empowering to make change and build a cultural identity as people with learning disabilities together with my fellow advocates. From an advocacy standpoint, sway is secondary to cause and community. When we know who we are and what we stand on, we can use our presence to put pressure on power brokers to address power imbalances in society.
More than any other teacher, my U.S. history and U.S. government teacher emphasized independent thought and discussion. He would tell us, “don’t blindly follow others off a cliff like sheep do,” but just as importantly, he helped us identify our values and helped us practice turning our insights into arguments.
This was very integral to helping me put a voice behind my actions as I didn’t always follow along with what everyone else was doing. This helped me be independent without isolating myself, especially since I don’t learn or work the same way that is expected a lot of the time. When I was recruited into my university’s Student Advisory Council as a freshman, I got to exercise my critical thinking and utilize my voice as a liaison between student and the university. I’ve continued to love dissecting issues and inspiring others to join me in taking a vested interest in addressing them.
As a leader in the learning disability movement, I know if I am persistent in the risks I take, more than just our advocacy group will reap the reward. This summer I had the privilege to attend LD Day of Action in Washington, D.C. to lobby for change.
While facilitating a meeting with a guest from the U.S. Department of Education, I went out on a limb and brought up a new issue I had been looking into on course accessibility. I didn’t know if others would share my same experience and support me in dissecting the issue and brainstorming, but they did! I now know more about the lived experience of others and what alternatives are likely to address the problem because I was willing to voice a value and explore potential solutions. This is a long way from where I started, when I thought I had to be perfect or know it all to lead, which had left me feeling lonely from the pressure to fit in.
There is so much potential in diverse leaders, and while there are definitely ineffective and inhumane ways to lead, there is no universally correct way to lead. Some leadership styles may not be for you, and you may find yourself drawing upon different tactics at different times.
You don’t have to lead a certain way to be a leader. You add value by showing up and doing what you can in community with others.
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