Putting the “Able” in “Disabled”: Local Politician, Dodge Landesman, on Dyscalculia

By: Rory Mondshein

Dodge Landesman, who suffers from Dyscalculia, ADHD, and Non-Verbal Learning Disorder, uses his disabilities to create more equitable policies for the City of New York.

Dodge Landesman, who suffers from Dyscalculia, ADHD, and Non-Verbal Learning Disorder, uses his disabilities to create more equitable policies for the City of New York.

“Five hundred, twenty five thousand, six hundred minutes. Five hundred, twenty five thousand, six hundred minutes moments so, dear. Five hundred, twenty five thousand, six hundred minutes. How do you measure — measure a year? In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee. In inches, in miles, in laughter and strife. Five hundred, twenty five thousand, six hundred minutes — how do you measure a year in the life?” — Rent

Dyscalculia — or, as it is more commonly known, “math Dyslexia” — affects individuals’ ability to process numbers and related mathematical concepts. like measurement and analog clocks. As it stands, Dyslexia affects around 6 percent of the population — around the same range as Dyslexia — but is hardly ever talked about because its causes are unknown.

As it stands, there are many different theories about the causes of Dyscalculia. Some research has suggested that Dyscalculia relates to genetics, while others attribute it to environmental causes (including Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and pre-term birth).

While we cannot pinpoint the exact root causes of Dyscalculia in patients, scientists have identified that Dyscalculia is characterized by a difference in brain function and processing. In fact, previous studies show that populations associated with Dyscalculia exhibit less grey matter in the intra-parietal sulcus part of the brain — which is the area responsible for mathematical processing.

Unfortunately, however, many Dyscalculics are not diagnosed due to the many misconceptions around the disorder.

Firstly, many believe that Dyscalculia is synonymous with math anxiety, which is why many Dyscalculics are thought to have anxiety. In truth, while many Dyscalculics do have some form of math anxiety, these are two separate conditions.

Secondly, many believe that Dyscalculics are less capable, but that is simply not true. Scientific research has shown that the brain has the ability to change with every piece of new information — which is called “plasticity” — so, with the proper training, some believe that Dyscalculia can be mitigated with auditory processing assistance.

Thirdly, Dyscalculia can occur with other learning disabilities, including Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and language impairment, which affect the same areas of the brain. Given the comorbidity as well as the general lack of knowledge about Dyscalculia, many Dyscalculics spend their lives thinking that they are simply bad at math or unteachable.

However, Dyscalculia does not preclude individuals from getting their education and leading happy and successful lives — local politician, Dodge Landesman, is a living example. State Committee candidate, Dodge Landesman, uses his Dyscalculia, ADHD, and non-verbal learning disorder (NLD) to help him generate more equitable policy proposals.

Son of Broadway theater producer, Rocco Landesman, Dodge sought to find his place in the world through politics. In 2009, Dodge was the youngest person to run for City Council, and then set the record for being Manhattan’s youngest Community Board Member.

Dodge has continued his political path and is currently seeking to reform Lower Manhattan in the wake of political corruption by running for State Committee; however, Dodge is not waiting until he gets into office to make some power moves in New York City.

In the past, Dodge has been involved with the 504 Democrats — which is the first Democratic Club to focus on disability rights. He is currently running for State Committee on the platform of transparency, inclusion, and accessibility, which he is facilitating through the commissioning of the mobile application, “Make It Appn,” which centralizes all social services information to communicate information more clearly, as well as allows New Yorkers to both book shelters for the homeless and contact their politicians directly.

It is no surprise that Dodge has been extremely successful at a young age, but he is here today to discuss the ways that his success and quest for inclusion can be attributed to his experience with his disabilities. During this interview, Dodge will measure his years in the life in a qualitative sense in order to change the conversation about disability rights through personal narrative and empowerment.

  1. Tell us about yourself (background, history, basic bio, etc).

I was born and raised in New York City to parents involved in Broadway theater. Attended special education school for about three years, then got mainstreamed, became involved in local politics by running for City Council at the age of eighteen and then later got appointed to the local community board, which deals with ultra local city issues. I attended Manhattanville College then transferred to Fordham for my junior and senior year.

  1. What is your position? // (What do you do?)

I’m a candidate for State Committee in Manhattan’s 65th Assembly District. State Committee shapes the platform of the Democratic Party for the entire state, and the position can be used to get attention for number of issues in the press. I hope to be the Lower East Side’s strongest advocate. My position entails shaping the platform of the Democratic party, we have about five meetings a year, and represent our neighborhoods to see which candidates could get on the ballot for statewide office like US Senate, Attorney General, etc.

  1. What inspired you to do what you do?

The current occupant of the State Committee seat wasn’t unlocking the full potential of his position. He had used it to consolidate loyalty for the power structure in his district, and was never vocal at any rallies, or any meetings — never went to the community board. And in a new era, with a vacuum of leadership, I felt like I had to make my move. I felt the LES needed a conscientious communicator.

  1. Tell me about your disability

I have the math version of Dyslexia — Dyscalcula. I also have non-verbal learning disorder (NLD), so I am on the very high functioning Autism spectrum. I also struggle with ADHD

  1. When were you diagnosed?

I was about 12-years-old when I had the ADHD and Dyscalculia diagnoses while it wasn’t until I was 18 when I was diagnosed with non-verbal learning disorder

  1. How do your disabilities affect you?

My disabilities have affected me a variety of ways. My Dyscalculia makes it very difficult to tell time on an analog clock, and I can’t comprehend measurement — like in inches, feet, or in any way whatsoever. My ADHD makes it tough to pay attention and sit still, but it also inspired my creativity and allows me to have more fun. My non-verbal learning disorder makes it tough to pick up on body language and non-verbal cues, which means that I’m never one for subtlety, but allows for my speaking to be particularly exemplary. My disabilities have both hurt me and provided me talents and opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise. Truly a double edged sword.

  1. How do you treat it?

Some disabilities have become more of an issue than others. With Dyscalculia, I was able to work through after attending a small special education school. But still it takes me about two minutes to tell time on an analog clock, and I can’t grasp measurements at all whatsoever. ADHD makes my mind wander all over the place, but I’ve learned to channel that successfully.

  1. Why did you decide to open up about your disabilities?

I was never too shy about it to be frank. I figured it made me different and we should all be proud of our differences.

  1. How did you deal with your disabilities?

I use to annoy/amuse my teachers when I blamed a failed test on my disability. So I would use humor to open up really.

  1. How did people react?

Many people were amused that I was so open and humorous about it. That being said, because I dealt with my disability in such a nonchalant way, they would often not take me seriously when I said I needed additional test time, etc, because I didn’t frame it an an ultra serious way. Kind of a case of the boy crying wolf.

  1. What was the best reaction you got? (Give details)

I remember I was campaigning at the age of eighteen and I talked to a special education high school group. One kid said, “I have no confidence, and have similar disabilities to you.” He had NLD, and it was harder for his to communicate subtly. But he saw how I could compensate that by using my verbal skills, and he felt inspired, that he too could be successful in the community. If I can do it, then I feel like many with my disabilities can.

  1. How did that make you feel?

Relieved. That I was doing something right. That my mission, when entering politics, was already successful, My mission to inspire others of disability and allow them to use their adversity into an advantage. I make my disability a compelling part of my life story because it is.

  1. What was the worst reaction you got?

When I was campaigning a voter said that because of my disability I wouldn’t be competent

  1. How did that make you feel?

More determined than ever to prove her wrong

  1. If you could turn back time, would you open up about it?

No because I have

  1. What do you think the biggest misconception about your disability is?

That we can’t function in society. That we can’t be social, or kind, or enjoyable, or fit in. We do, just in a different way.

  1. What do you wish people would know about your disability?

That it can allow for greatness. For example, what I lack in not being able to pick up non-verbal cues (ie body language, facial expressions), I make up for in verbal success. People have told me I am a commanding orator, and that’s because my verbal skills are remarkably high. If one has a strong disability, they often have something else that compensates for it, making them uniquely talented in a different way.

  1. What is the worst thing about your disability? Why?

Dating was always awkward! They say the best way to see if a girl is interested is in her subtle facial expressions and body language. I can’t understand any of that!

  1. What is the best thing about your disability?

My ability to communicate and emphasize with other members of the disabled community and speak for them in a way.

  1. Why?

I can be a leader and show that even the disabled can achieve the remarkable. In a sense, perhaps it is them that are meant to do just them.

  1. To what extent does your disability affect your daily life? How?

When you’re campaigning, you have to do a lot of measurements, ie poster size, size for ads, etc. I don’t understand that so I make a lot of errors.

  1. How does your disability affect your political stances?

Many of us get involved to advocare for a community who doesn’t have a voice. My disability will allow for me to be that vessel and directly reflect the needs of the disabled community.

  1. What are your hopes and dreams? Are they the same as when you were little?

They are. I enjoy being in the spotlight, to be frank and proving people wrong. But in a bigger way, I enjoy helping people and using my talents to improve their lives. I hope to be on television perhaps and have a program about disability issues.

  1. Who inspires you and why?

The quiet struggle that people in our disability community go through. In the political conversation, many communities, and justly, do, have a voice. But it’s not in vogue to advocate for the disabled. They have a quiet dignity to them and are not playing the victim card, even though they would have a right too. Their ability to just keep living while there are so many obstacles is inspiring.

  1. What do you want to see for the world and why?

Have all public venues be accessible. Have more funding for autism centers so kids could be with like minded people and not feel ostracized. Have our country be far more respectful of disabilities than they are now.

26.. What do you think needs to be done to reduce the stigma?

We need successful people, good communicators with disabilities who say “look what we can do”. I hope to be one of them

  1. How can we change the conversation?

Create landmark legislation, hold rallies against people who don’t accommodate the disabled when they should, educate on disability issues in the classroom just like sexuality and race is being discussed.