jonathonrooney“When I entered 9th grade, my counselor sat me down and said, ‘Do you know what happens to people like you?’ He said, ‘People like you end up flipping burgers’ … Four years later, when I was about to graduate, he sat me down again and told me, ‘You would be lucky to flip burgers, because people like you end up in jail.’”

That was Jonathon Mooney, who was diagnosed with dyslexia in 4th grade and ADHD in 5th, talking at the Alumni House this afternoon. Two decades later, he has not flipped burgers or been in jail, instead choosing to graduate from Brown as an English major with honors, write books about his own experiences with learning disabilities (“The Short Bus: A Journey Beyond Normal”) and the state of alternative education (“Learning Outside the Lines”), as well as develop a nationwide mentorship and advocacy program for learning disabled students called Project Eye-to-Eye. In your face, evil high school counselor! (He didn’t say that, we did.)

What strikes you first about him is not, “My god, this man is diseased and in great need of pity,” (we hope that’s not how anyone is struck by learning disabled people) but, “Wow, this guy is cool.” His red hair is slicked up in a dangerously hip hybrid between spikiness and bed-head; thick-rimmed, vintage-style glasses adorn his face above a well-groomed beard, and his hands are alive as he talks, narrating, emphasizing, punctuating his words.

He talked about how ADHD and dyslexia are not sicknesses: “The idea that my brain is a broken brain and needs to be fixed is a dangerous way to think…Like they say, the only person that is normal is the person you don’t know very well. ‘Normal’ is inherently contextual and cultural.”

In fact, disabilities can be assets, as in the case read more »