School Struggles

poster - see it another way - Change our perspective of dyslexia from disability to gift

A graphic challenging us to change our perspective on dyslexia - © Patrice Steele

Patrice Steele, Graphic Designer, contacted Headstrong Nation to share her story as a young adult dyslexic. As a child, Patrice had much difficulty in school and couldn't figure out why she struggled in reading, writing and mathematics. In the 10th grade she was held back and needed to take evening classes to make up for lost time. She credits her mother for doing things for her, but acknowledges that both her parents and others close to her did not truly understand her struggles with dyslexia and dyscalculia. Her teachers would tell her parents that she was not paying attention or trying hard enough, and like so many adults with dyslexia, she was a child whose learning issues weren't properly identified and she therefore "Fell through the cracks" and didn't get the assistance and support that she needed. In school, Patrice felt like an "Outsider". She felt her teachers were judgmental and not supportive. They assumed that Patrice didn't want to go to school, that school wasn't for her and her struggles were her problem.

Graphic of peace of a face with words on it  - Serene, tranquil, centered, peace

A graphic about Peace - © Patrice Steele

Patrice had viewed some episodes of the TV shows 20/20 and Nightline which featured other individuals with the issues that she was experiencing, including difficulties with reading and writing, poor memory, difficulty telling time and counting money. She wondered if she too, might have dyslexia, but since she wasn't getting much support at home or in school she felt alone and was scared to bring up the subject. It took Patrice an additional two years to pass the standardized testing needed for her to obtain her high school diploma. She experienced great difficulty and had to re-test many times before passing the ACT and finally obtaining her diploma in 2007.

Despite her struggles with school, Patrice applied to and attended the CBT College for Graphic Design. At CBT, she experienced success in her art courses, receiving A's and B's. She still obtained C's and D's in Math and English, however. Patrice persevered, worked hard, and graduated. She's currently dealing with student loan debt and continues to seek employment, but it has so far been difficult for her to find a job in her chosen field of graphic design.

Patrice recently obtained a formal evaluation to confirm her dyslexia in Fall, 2015 at age 28. Evaluation results indicated that her reading had improved but continues to be low for her age, and that her performance in math is low. Patrice is tired of feeling embarrassed over not reading on a higher level that she feels an adult of her age should be reading. She’s worked to understand basic information, but she still mixes up words and describes her math skills as "horrible". She feels lucky that she has found other ways to obtain higher education, but acknowledges that it wasn't easy to do so and feels that no one should have to struggle like this. She's come this far, but has other challenges ahead of her, and she hopes that she'll have the strength to tackle these challenges and find her true place in life, pursuing her passion as a graphic designer.

A graphic of a man sitting with words - sit, think, be creative

A graphic telling others to be creative - © Patrice Steele

Patrice has created a website of her creative graphic design work here:

She's also filmed and uploaded a series of videos to her YouTube channel to describe her experiences of feeling fed up from being "jerked around" by the school system where she felt she was unfairly judged and misunderstood during most of her schooling. She also shares some beautiful examples of her art and design work. Below we’ll share the first of Patrice’s videos on her dyslexia, and you are welcome to view the others at the YouTube channel link above.

My Talk About Dyslexia. Learning to Have No Shame 1

Many thanks to Patrice for sharing her story and beautiful, inspirational art work with us!

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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 of cloud with text: The learning disability I didn't understand

(Photo Credit: Eileen Tait-Acker)

Hi Eileen,

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!

Please visit the Headstrong Nation Facebook Page, follow us on Twitter at @headstrongnatio, and check out our videos on our YouTube Page. Thanks for being a part of our community!

- The Headstrong Nation Team

Dr. Richard Selznick

In October I had the pleasure of attending the workshop: Dyslexia-Reading Disability:Myths and Realities, presented by Dr. Richard Selznick and hosted by Center School in Abington, PA. Dr. Selznick is the author of The Shut-Down Learner- Helping YourAcademically Discouraged Child, a book I had read years earlier that really resonated with me and my struggles as a parent of a dyslexic child. With Dr. Selznick’s expertise as a Licensed Psychologist and Director of Cooper Learning Center, I knew he had a lot more to offer me on this journey with my son, and this workshop did not disappoint!

A little background:

Years earlier when I read The Shut-Down Learner my son Evan, then a third grader, was struggling with reading, writing, math, and ME. As Evan’s primary teacher in our home classroom, using a public cyber-model of education, I came to realize that much of what I was doing in an attempt to help him wasn’t actually helping him at all. Nagging didn’t work, nor did raising my voice. Bribing didn’t reap much either. I wanted so much for my son to learn like other children, but it didn’t take me long to realize that when it came to educating Evan, I couldn’t fit this square peg into a round hole. He learned differently. I needed to reevaluate what I was doing and to change how I delivered his instruction. More importantly, I needed to give my son a break and stop being the task master that I had become, expecting him to perform like other children. I needed to get out of denial, and get out of his way. I consulted his cyber school teachers and began an honest dialogue to get us all on the same page with what Evan was experiencing each day as a child with dyslexia. Dr. Selznick’s book helped to guide me. The book was filled with no-nonsense pearls of wisdom that hit home with each page that I read. I began to realize that Evan’s instruction needed to be modified and chunked. He needed to get up and move to keep him engaged in learning, and assistive technology needed to be introduced to help level the playing field for him so we could get through the day more efficiently. I began scribing for him when he needed it, and I encouraged him to do his best every day and to let me know when he was “at his max” so we could avoid meltdowns. I changed, instead of expecting him to, and we began to see success.

Back to the Workshop:

Dr. Selznick presented in a down to earth way. His humor broke the tension in the room as he reminded us all, that with the proper remediation and supports for our children, they will get through K-12 education and beyond and become successful adults. As parents and educators we can be instrumental in helping them travel along this rough road as unscathed as possible. Dr. Selznick is generally uncomfortable with labeling kids, as he sees them more in gradations and shades of gray. He does acknowledge, that in a given family you may see both “rough road” and “smooth road” children. Smooth road kids have an easier passage from preschool to college. Rough road kids tend to have a bumpier passage throughout. Many kids are deemed “average” by the schools standards. They may be in the “lower average range”,but these kids struggle and because they are lumped into the “average” category they may not be getting the appropriate support they require in order to thrive. Kids need help despite whether they are of average or above average intelligence, and as parents we need to push for this help in the schools.

Dr. Selznick emphasized the importance of what he refers to as the Three Headed Monster of Reading: decoding, fluency and comprehension. He spoke about the myth of upside down/backward reading as an indicator of dyslexia, and how that can be a real obstacle to a full understanding of what dyslexia actually is. The importance of phonemic awareness, phonics/decoding, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension as key building blocks to a child’s academic success were also outlined. He spoke about the importance of verbal/non-verbal abilities, processing speed, cognitive efficiency, and working memory and their relationship to the above building blocks required for fluent reading. When it comes to assessments and testing for children with dyslexia, Dr. Selznick stressed the importance of going “beyond the scores.” There is a combination of quantitative and qualitative data that goes into the assessment and diagnosis of a child, but as Dr. Selznick put it, “dyslexia is not a score.”Visual processing tasks need to be looked at in addition to spelling and written expression. He encouraged us to communicate to educators to look at the” total child.”

The level of severity drives the level of intervention. Some children may not meet the criteria for formal services because they fall in the “average” range, yet they still need remediation. Suggested remediation is multi-sensory instruction (Orton-Gillingham), which can be provided individually or in small groups, as soon as possible after the child is identified. As the child ages, the focus shifts to incorporating more assistive technology (text to speech, speech to text, audio books, etc.) and accommodations for continued success in the classroom. Just as no two snowflakes are alike, neither are our children, as they are all neurologically diverse. Dr. Selznick ended the evening emphasizing the need to nurture the strengths in our different learners. He reminded us to help them discover their “smarts,” whether their skills are interpersonal, spatial/visual, mathematical, musical, linguistic, artistic, or even something we haven’t yet uncovered.

Moving Forward:

After four years of cyber educating Evan at home he has transitioned into our public middle school as a 6th grader. With a few solid years of Orton-Gillingham instruction, he is now tackling advanced Greek and Latin roots, so remediation does continue. As he is getting older our focus is shifting to using accommodations and assistive technology. He is getting trained to use some really cool apps on his iPad. The future is bright! As for me, I am still getting used to my new role as “just” mom and advocate now that my son has returned to public school. Evan and I don’t bump heads as much, and we are both happy about this. He’s a bright boy who has learned to self-advocate, and I am very proud of him. I cheer him on daily as he learns something new each and every day.

Did we travel down this road totally unscathed? No, not quite. But we are doing much better. Our school struggles have decreased. There is light at the end of the tunnel and hopefully years of smoother traveling ahead. Thanks Dr. Selznick for helping me along in my journey with my rough road child, and thanks to Center School for hosting this fantastic workshop. Visit Dr. Richard Selznick at -, on Facebook at The Shut-Down Learner: Helping Your Academically Discouraged Child, and on Twitter at @Dr.Selz.


Dr. Richard Selznick will be one of the experts presenting on Dec 5th at Learning Ally’s first ever virtual conference on dyslexia for parents. Ben Foss, Headstrong Nation Founder and Board Member will also be presenting alongside Larry Banks, the new Chairman of the Board of Headstrong Nation. Here’s the link for registration (Early registration until Nov. 15th) –

Dr. Selznick is also the author of another great resource: School Struggles-A Guide to your Shut-Down Learner’s Success.

Listen to Dr. Selznick interview Ben Foss on the Coffee Klatch – Blog Talk Radio

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