The Learning Disability I Didn't Understand
Note: The following letter was submitted by a member of the Headstrong Nation community who would prefer to remain anonymous at this time. The writer discusses personal experiences living with a learning disability, and the desire to be a part of an inclusive and supportive community of other adults with dyslexia/LD. We appreciate this writer's honesty and willingness to share with us. - Eileen, Headstrong Nation
(Photo Credit: Eileen Tait-Acker)
So I feel like I need to start with this; I hope this doesn't change anything but I need to clear something up. I am not Dyslexic. I have an auditory information processing disability. Whether it is appropriate or not other LD's get lumped into Dyslexia quite often (my guess is because it's the most common LD). One of the things I have learned through reading or listening to other people with an LD is that we all share similar "symptoms", experiences and feelings.
It has never been easy for me to talk about my Learning Disability (as I'm sure others have found the same) so know that I have taken a breath and am walking really far out of my comfort zone in doing this.
Although my mother was aware of my Learning Disability (and a speech impediment) when I was a child and teenager I did not know about or understand it the way I believe I should have. I was in my twenties before I got another diagnosis and then fully learned about and understood my LD. We could have an entire conversation about the negative feelings I have about that. But it is definitely why I'm so adamant about parents telling and helping kids to understand theirs as young as possible.
My inquiry to you about including personal stories to the website came about for two reasons; first because over the years since my (adult) diagnosis I have found that many LD organizations, 'experts', people giving LD advice usually talk about us instead of to us. To parents instead of the child with the LD. Speaking to adults with an LD seems to be even rarer (Or letting them speak for themselves). To me it seems the LD adult experience on any topic has been rare. (That is one of the reasons I like Headstrong Nation so much). :) Or everyone written about is a success story. Do A, B and C and your Learning Disabled child's school and later life will be a breeze. (Oh ok…) I have never understood those things. And I have always hated them. The other reason I asked about direct personal stories came out of frustration. Feeling frustrated one day last week I wrote my history on one topic. I've attached that experience about my life.
I always find it interesting and a little troublesome that LD organizations and others in the LD community concentrate so much on school. It’s important of course, and when you’re a child or to parents it seems like everything but the truth is more of our lives are spent as adults than the twelve (or sixteen with college) years that we spend in school. A learning disability (of any type) doesn’t go away; you just become an adult with a Learning Disability. And “symptoms” come with you (along with long held thoughts and feelings about yourself). Those things don’t seem to be addressed much.
Lower grade school through high school were difficult and trying and awful in numerous ways for me (yes I’ve got several ugly stories just like other LD adults do) but believe it or not college was much easier (academically anyway). I was in high school before I was placed into any type of consistent “special ed”. I didn’t understand what was “wrong” with me and I didn’t know what the adults thought I was supposed to get out of the “resource” class I was in. It didn’t feel like there was “a goal”. It would be another eight years before I got the diagnosis that changed anything for me.
It was the one that actually provided information to me. The one that helped me to understand “what was wrong”, that I had strengths just as I had weaknesses, that I wasn’t dumb, stupid, damaged or just always wrong. It was the one that let me be able to starting standing up for myself. It was the diagnosis that gave me accommodations in classes (I was in college when this happened). And It was the one that allowed me to gain some self-confidence, to believe that I might be successful in something, the ability to feel a little tiny bit less confused, ashamed, guilty and hopeless. I have no way to tell you if I would have felt and looked at school, myself or life differently if I had grown up knowing about and understand my Learning Disability, I can tell you that learning it as an adult was at once comforting, heartbreaking and devastating.
Looking back now somehow challenges and hardships in the school years look different; it’s not that you forget them or even necessarily feel different about yourself but they get blurry as the years go by. The importance of school somehow changes. As an adult I know that all grades levels in all schools are regimented in what they teach in subject and that it is done in a regimented way; it is not made for a student with any Learning Disability. It may never be. I suppose this is why all of the emphasis is on the school years though. It’s probably also why I was more successful in college.
What I know about my living with my learning disability is that the cliché isn’t true; in school all the focus was on what I couldn’t do (because curriculums are designed for “normal” students) and once I was an adult and out of school…The myth says that once we’re out of school an LD child will no longer fail all the time. Only it’s not true because I haven’t changed, I still have the same Learning Disability and I still struggle with the same processes I did in school. The difference is it no longer has to be the focus of your life. If you go into a career where your weaknesses are minimized and the things you are good at are the things you do, your learning disability will only be 50% of your daily struggle instead of 100% of it. (Calculations may vary by person). Haha.
With my Learning Disability I still have constant frustration, constant distraction, frequent times of information overload, and constant doubt and failure.
I wish I could tell you I felt like my learning disability has had some type of benefit or strengths. I have never felt that way. I have never understood calling it a “difference” or “gift”. That has not been my experience with it. In the years after my (adult) diagnosis I wanted to find a way to share my negative experiences and hard lessons. Not for sympathy but for others lives or the people in them. I hope that one day I will be able to say that became the benefit of it.
So, this is the overview of my life with my learning disability. I have left the details and feelings out on purpose; they are difficult to get across in writing.
Thank you for listening to my ideas and experiences. I appreciate and have enjoyed our conversations very much.
Thank you, Anonymous, for taking the time to share your experiences and thoughts!
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- The Headstrong Nation Team