I hate the word "disabilities." But, hey, that's what they are.
My whole life — at least the life I have known with my disabilities — I have tried to hide. Here's the back story:
Around third or fourth grade, I began to be plagued by distraction and procrastination in school. I would sit and stare at the wall in class, reading the posters for hours, and not remember a single word from the lesson taught by the teacher. My parents and teachers would get irritated with me when I copped an attitude or stayed silent. I was irritated for reasons I couldn't understand at that point.
Sitting through class in elementary school was painful. I vividly remember staring at the clock, counting every tick the second hand made. I would get lost in my thoughts, then find myself called on to answer questions I hadn't heard because I had been daydreaming.
Tests were another element I wasn't fond of. Tests have never been easy for me. I can be involved when I choose to be. I can pick up on the basics. But when it came to sitting down in front of a piece of paper and recalling bits and pieces from past classes, I was screwed.
In my fourth grade class, I had Mrs. Hayes. She was a wonderful teacher. She took the initiative to help me in any way possible — even if it meant isolating me to force me to focus. During tests, I would be forced to the back of the classroom, where she would stack cardboard bricks around my desk, creating a barrier between me and everything around me that could be a potential distraction.
This caused a scene in class, and my classmates did not see it as something "cool" or "normal." I was picked on about it, but I held nothing against my teacher or my classmates. I knew my teacher was doing this for a reason — I just didn't know yet what the reason was.
I attended a fancy school from fifth through eighth grades and was surrounded by rich, international students who seemed to consider our rigorous academic curriculum a breeze. The few "day students" like myself, from local towns, were the same. I, on the other hand, could not seem to grasp what was being taught in my classes.
I would repeatedly fail math courses and struggle in classes that I could have easily passed (if I hadn't been distracted). My best friend would always reassure me that it was OK I didn't get the best grades. She would say, "They don't mean that much, really. You matter more than your grades. Don't worry about what other people say."
When eighth-grade graduation came around, I headed off to Marianapolis Prep. I was ecstatic to be attending the same school as my best friend Elizabeth and cousin Emily. Halfway through the year, I found myself failing most of my classes. Every day, I had eight blocks: English, Bible, Spanish, study, lunch, world history, physics, and Algebra 1. At my previous school, I'd had four or five.
The upkeep for Marianapolis was unmanageable. I was up until all hours of the night until I physically and mentally could not finish my homework. I would get into fights with my family over school, explaining how I was trying my best in my classes, when in reality, I was breaking down due to the utter exhaustion it was causing me.
I would reach out to my teachers, who would give me minimal feedback and attempt to help me. In retrospect, I think they just gave up after assuming I was too far behind everyone else to catch up.
It wasn't until that first year was almost over that my parents took me to a psychologist. Walking into that building and sitting across from a psychologist in a white coat was one of the most nerve-wracking things I have gone through. Sitting in his office, he made me put words to shapes and read paragraphs. He made me do puzzles, brain exercises, memory cards, and everything in between. It was completely exhausting.
After three visits full of excruciatingly boring, exhausting tests, he diagnosed me. I vividly remember sitting in front of him with my mom and listening to every word.
"She definitely has quite a lot of ADHD," he laughs and smiles at me. Then he turns and looks at my mom, "But I do believe she also has some kind of retention disorder and LDNOS, too." "What's LDNOS?" my mom asks. "It stands for Learning Disability Not Otherwise Specified," the psychologist replies. "We don't really know what’s wrong, so we put it into a broad spectrum."
Looking back on what has happened since my "diagnosis," I can proudly say that I have grown a lot. It took many years — well three — but I believe that in my senior year of high school, I learned how to handle myself. I was surrounded by wonderful people and teachers who taught me more about coping skills, learning strategies, and life lessons than anyone in my entire life. I was forced to teach myself — not be spoon fed — the learning strategies that helped me succeed in both school and life. I owe my past and future successes to The Woodstock Academy.
So, what did I learn from my "learning disability"? What strategies finally allowed me to succeed? There are five primary lessons that contributed to my success, and you can apply them to any challenging situation you might face: