Unlocking a Learning Disability This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

August 7, 2012
People are often surprised when I tell them that I have a learning disability. Many think that a learning disability is just a fancy term for stupidity or laziness, but this isn't further from the truth. And, although some students with a learning disability do become discouraged and lose motivated to try, there are scores of others who compensate for their difference. I have every intention of controlling my learning disability rather than letting it control me. Something that once held me back ultimately gave rise to inner strength and resourcefulness. I have learned that self-determination, hard work, and a positive attitude are the keys to managing a learning disability.

A learning disability is not a curse, a blessing or a disease. It is a permanent condition that can greatly impact one's life. It is a neurobiological disorder that affects the way the brain receives and processes information. This often makes learning through traditional methods difficult and frustrating. Children with learning disabilities do not understand that this is happening and often have trouble learning. They may feel different and inferior long before their learning disability is identified which then provides a sense of relief.

My learning disability first became apparent in elementary school when I was unable to learn how to read and write. Even in kindergarten, I remember feeling I was in over my head and wondered whether I was out the day my classmates got the “memo.” While they were already conquering chapter books, I was still stumbling over what sound each letter made. Masters of the written word, they floated through the classroom with an air of confidence while I was weighed down by an overwhelming sense of futility. No matter how hard I tried, I was unable to grasp this basic and ­essential part of reading.

I adored books because of the way they felt in my hands and the pictures they created in my mind. There were times when I sat in the corner pretending to read. I made stories up about the pictures and relied on my memory to repeat what I had heard. I was embarrassed and waited anxiously for my cover to be blown, for my secret to be revealed. The other kids were off to the races, and I had not even left the gate.

Fortunately, I had the blessing of walking through charted territory since my older sister also had difficulty learning to read. My parents quickly sprang into action and got me tested. The assessment process is critical ­because there are different types of learning disabilities, and it is possible to have more than one, which is my case. A lengthy evaluation revealed that I had several learning disabilities which impacted both my verbal and visual processing. Besides my struggle to read and write, I did not know left from right, and I had trouble with motor ­sequencing. I tripped over my feet in ballet class, and I could not balance myself on a bicycle. I adored music and wanted to play an instrument, but it was hard for me to discriminate sounds or to sing on pitch. So many doors were closed with many keys to find.

Of all my challenges, the most painful source of frustration was my inability to read. I longed for the day I would decode words and tackle books on my own. I attended a special school and received lots of tutoring, but somehow I wasn't responding to all the help.

I was convinced that I would never learn to read. I was on the verge of losing hope and then something magical happened. I finally unlocked the code. My triumph occurred one ­Sunday after our family had returned from the local library. I was sprawled across the couch, surrounded by a mound of books and eager to dig into my newest selection. I took Junie B. Jones is Not a Flower Girl from the top of the pile, squinted at the page (all text not pictures), and tried to make sense of the print.

Suddenly something clicked, and the lock was broken. Letters jumped off the page, and I grabbed them as they flew by. They combined into words and then, sentences. In a flash, the whole page belonged to me. I dropped the book on the floor and scrambled upstairs, screaming to my mother: “I am a reader! I am a reader now!” In an instant, my identity was forever changed; I gained passage into a new world. It did not come easily, and I did not get there on my own.

Unfortunately, this is not the end of my story since my learning disabilities present obstacles every step of my life, some small and some large. In order to manage these ­vulnerabilities, it is necessary to constantly adapt, adjust, and compensate. However, it is important to be a realist and realize that there are some things I will never be able to master regardless of my effort or creative problem-solving. For example, I will never become fluent in a foreign language, nor will geometry ever be my “thing,” and architecture is not a viable career choice. Instead of being bitter, I ­respect and accept my limitations.

In other areas, I can stretch beyond my comfort zone and find a solution that works for me. I study Latin now because it is not a spoken language, I use notecards on a daily basis, and I rely on Google to spell words. I try to remind myself that I am not stupid, only ­different. And, being different is not always a bad thing.

I cannot say that I am a better person because of this difficult part of my life or that I am grateful for having these challenges.

I know that I have become a more resolute and flexible person because of my disability. It is the way I think, the way I process information, and the way that my mind works. At times I am insulted when people make assumptions about my intelligence because of my learning disability. In the past, I felt compelled to educate others about what a learning disability is, but I have come to realize that it only ­matters how I view myself.

I am aware of my strengths, and I have become confident about my ability to prevail. I have learned to shift my thinking and focus from my disabilities to my abilities. Admittedly, there are times when my confidence wavers, and I question whether I hold the keys to success, after all. For these trying moments, I keep a copy of Junie B. Jones is Not a Flower Girl stashed in the glove compartment as a reminder of my moment of victory. Regardless of the obstacles I may face, I know that I have the determination and drive to reach my goals.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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This article has 7 comments. Post your own now!

kate matilda said...
Apr. 29, 2013 at 11:42 am
Amazing...this iz truely the pain felt by a disable person however we are not capable of feeling dat pain.......GR8 WORK
waterbendercarorainThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. said...
Apr. 14, 2013 at 3:45 pm
this is amazing i also have a learning disablity you wrote this so well. 
ShagunThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Apr. 14, 2013 at 9:32 am
WOW!!!!!! Are you sure you have learning disabilities? You did a wonderful job with this article...... Keep Writing. I look forward to reading more of your articles.
bethroseluv said...
Apr. 13, 2013 at 11:53 am
I really enjoyed this article. I have a learning disability as well and also Aspergers so I can relate to having two different issues both going on at the same time. This was really well written. You have overcome many obstacles. Keep writing!
midgetgrrl said...
Apr. 12, 2013 at 11:36 am
When I read your article, i had no idea that the person with the disability was you! you're so.... not disabled. the effort you must have put when you were growing up must have been so much, so difficult.  my sisters somewhat the same, so i can somewhat understand the frustration... keep writing! :D
PandaBearLouise15 said...
Apr. 6, 2013 at 4:14 pm
xMeadowx said...
Apr. 4, 2013 at 9:00 pm
This was really amazing. For someone who had a hard time learning to read and write, you sure do a very good job at writing. Don't let anyone tell you you're not intelligent because it's obvious you're a very smart person. I love how honest this piece is and I feel like I understand what it must be like to have a learning disability better. Thank you for sharing this piece. I think it's work like this that give people new perspectives on things. Really keep it up. :)
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