MariAn Gail Brown
January 6, 2011
Moments after taking his oath of office, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy mused about the tough road that lies ahead for Connecticut and offered some details about his own life -- being "different" -- because he had learning disabilities and how his parents never let him believe this might limit his future success.
Elementary school classrooms in the 1960s when Malloy was growing up were not the inclusive places they are nowadays. A kid with dyslexia (if it was even diagnosed) might expect to be placed in a special class where expectations were a lot lower. Malloy's mom refused such a designation for him.
He was a floppy kid, he says, "fairly spastic," with developmental delays that involved both gross motor and fine motor activities. He had coordination issues with his eyes and hands working in concert. And he had a hard time grasping a pencil and writing. With physical therapy both within and outside of school, Malloy caught up with his peers by the end of eighth grade. Reading, however, was always hard. Not because of any lack of intelligence. It's the written word that challenges him. It still does. Malloy has dyslexia.
He had to learn compensating techniques and other strategies for absorbing the written word.
"My parents both worked very hard while raising eight children. But my mother, who was a nurse, knew I was different," Malloy told his audience of 2,600 at the Gov. William A. O'Neill Armory in Hartford. "She knew I had learning disabilities, but she never let those challenges overshadow my strengths. She never gave up on me. And in doing so, she taught me to never give up: to press on, to recognize challenges, but focus on strengths and possibilities."
These are empowering words. You could see it on the faces of many in the audience. I looked down from the balcony in the armory to see a dad pat his son on the back and murmur something that made the boy smile and sit up a little straighter. A grandmotherly looking woman a few rows up hugged a little girl closer.
To be sure, it's no secret in Stamford or among many advocates, such as Beryl Kaufman, executive director of the Connecticut Association for Children and Adults with Learning Disabilities, that Malloy has learning disabilities.
Nonetheless, using his inaugural speech to remark on his learning disabilities is significant. This is a new governor's best time to capture his constituents' full attention. And Malloy made the most of it.
Outside the armory, plenty of everyday folks were saying they never realized Malloy had to learn to cope with any learning disability. He's an accomplished guy, a former prosecutor with a winning courtroom record. Married to his college sweetheart. A former partner in a law firm and a former Stamford mayor, who helped rekindle his city's reputation and make it a corporate and cultural mecca.
"It certainly is a message of encouragement for children and adults who struggle with these issues, and their parents, who may be worried what their child's life will be like as adults if they have problems with reading," Kaufman says. "What you have to do is identify what's going on, and get the proper support and necessary interventions."
People with dyslexia, like Malloy, are wired differently in the brain. It doesn't make them less smart. In fact, what stands out to me about Malloy is that he's a phenomenal listener. I've had conversations with him over the years where he has recalled other, long ago ones with amazing specificity. Scary, huh.
Malloy is low key about the impact of his statement.
"I talked about myself. It's who I am," Malloy says. "You can't really understand who I am without understanding how it's shaped my reality."