The Harry Potter Character That Helped Me See Beyond My Learning Issues

With the film release of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I find myself overcome with Harry Potter nostalgia. As a child, I struggled in school with a nonspecific learning disability (LD-NOS), but nevertheless managed to read and be inspired by the Harry Potter books.

People usually don’t think of Harry Potter and learning differences as connected, but they were for me. That’s because of a supporting but integral character: Neville Longbottom.

Neville was one Harry’s classmates at Hogwarts, the wizard boarding school. Harry described him as an “accident-prone boy” who struggled to remember even the “simplest of spells.”

In one class, Neville accidentally “transplanted his own ears onto a cactus.” In another, he was the only student in flying lessons to crash his broomstick.

Neville was disorganized and forgetful. He had a lot of trouble following multi-step directions. Sometimes, his weaknesses even hurt Hogwarts. For example, when Neville couldn’t remember the password to the Hogwarts student dorms, he wrote them down on a piece of paper. Then he lost the paper, which endangered the school.

The Harry Potter books never said outright that Neville had issues with , motor skills or learning. But to me, it felt like he did. So many of the difficulties Neville faced seemed taken directly from my own life and experiences with LD-NOS.

Like Neville, I struggled both in and out of school. I had problems with organization, memory, attention and multi-step directions. I lacked confidence and was always unsure of myself. If I’d been a character in Harry Potter, I might have been Neville’s timid twin sister.

I also related to how Neville’s teachers and family were often frustrated with him.

At one point, his grandmother tried to help him by getting him a “Remembrall” (a smoke-filled glass ball that turns red when the owner forgets something) to help him keep track of his things, but he managed to lose it. She was often at a loss as to how to help him.

When Neville lost the password to the student dorm, even his supportive teacher Professor Minerva McGonagall couldn’t contain her frustration. She punished him with a full year of detention.

Then there’s Professor Severus Snape, who taught the potions class. Snape was often impatient with Neville’s trouble following directions. In one class, when Neville turned a potion green rather than orange, Snape yelled at him: “Tell me, boy, does anything penetrate that thick skull of yours? What do I have to do to make you understand, Longbottom?”

Although I’ve never had a teacher quite as cruel as Snape, I can vividly and painfully recall trembling with fear when I was being called out for not paying attention or for not following instructions in class. These scenes hit too close to home.

But Neville also had some areas of strength. He was good at herbology and did well in a class called Defense Against the Dark Arts. Neville also found a supportive teacher in Professor Remus Lupin.

About halfway through the series, there’s a wonderful scene where Lupin asks a timid and nervous Neville to assist him with a lesson. To demonstrate a point, Lupin has Neville confront a “boggart,” an organism that takes shape in the form of the viewer’s biggest fear.

It’s no surprise that Neville's boggart turns out to be Professor Snape. But with the encouragement of Lupin, Neville successfully casts a spell to fight boggarts. Lupin shows how supportive teachers can have a big impact on students with learning and thinking differences.

In college, I found my own Professor Lupin. This professor saw what I could do despite my challenges, encouraged me and made a big difference in my life.

In the books, Neville never becomes an academic superstar. I actually found this inspiring. Instead, his greatest qualities were outside of academics. Neville was loyal and brave, and Harry was one of his first peers to draw out this strength.

Neville is one of the first at Hogwarts who believes Harry’s warning that evil has returned, and he’s eager to help Harry stop that evil. Under Harry’s guidance, Neville masters defensive spells as they prepare to battle against dangerous wizards. In the last book, Neville follows Harry’s lead in inspiring his peers to stand up to the villains threatening the school.

My life was never as dramatic as Neville’s. But in my journey from childhood struggles with LD-NOS to finding my strengths, I always drew hope from his story. You can struggle in school, and still be a hero in life.

The new Harry Potter film—Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them—is a prequel. That means Neville won’t be appearing. Nor will Harry Potter. But I’ll still be watching, remembering how the series made such a difference for me.

Neville Longbottom: You are often on my mind, as one of the biggest inspirations of my childhood.

Interested in where to find fictional characters who may inspire your child? Check out books with characters who have learning and thinking differences. And see a list of TV and movie characters with dyslexia.

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About the author

About the author

Beth Jacobson is a writer and disability activist with learning and thinking differences. She is based in New York City.