Flipping the Script on my Limitations

NOTE:  October is Learning Disabilities/ADHD/Dyslexia Awareness Month

Julia Kaback

This blog is written by Julia Kaback, a member of the Young Adult Leadership Council of the National Center for Learning Disabilities

When I was a child, I dreamed of working at the National Park Service and when an entry-level position became available, I applied for it immediately. After my interview, I had to start thinking about the words I would use to describe my learning disability if given a job offer.

Good news, I got the job!

Within a few weeks of starting, I was still trying to navigate the feel of a professional working environment. Given my learning disability and some challenges I was facing on the job, I needed to have a conversation with my employer/colleagues about my need for accommodations in the workplace. About a month after I started, we scheduled a time to have that conversation.

I never wanted to draw attention to my learning differences, but in a professional environment, every word matters. The day started like all weekdays. I took my regularly scheduled dose of 10mg of Ritalin and gathered my words in a note memo on my iPhone during my commute. A few hours of the workday went by, and later in the afternoon, we sat down to meet. I took a deep breath and attempted to get the words out. I froze halfway through my first sentence. I felt doomed.

This doom brought me to a place I dared not return to. As a kid, I was forced to remain silent. Having spent much of the first few years of my life with a speech delay, I forced myself to make up for lost time as a teenager. I realized in college that I could no longer let my learning disability define me. Silencing myself as I did when I was younger was going to set me back.

In that moment of pause, I decided to regain my words and return to the conversation —  and most importantly — take control. Upon returning to the conversation, my control spelled out almost instantly when I said, “What I need right now is extra time. If I don’t get something right away, I may ask you to rephrase it. This is what works for me and it may change. Also, I don’t always get sarcasm. Do you have any questions?”

Finally, I felt more at peace with my learning differences but remained uncomfortable about the way I interpreted tone of voice through text messages and email. I figured that to get past these challenges, I would now need to use my voice more than ever to get what I needed to succeed. I lamented to a close friend about a colleague:

“I wish there was a way to get her to understand that I am not reading the tone of her voice in emails or when we talk face-to-face. Does she hate me or think I am doing a great job?”

Bringing my needs to light to my employer and work colleagues was what I needed to help me and others recognize my non-verbal learning differences as an adult. I can’t change the way people speak to me but I can find ways to make the language barriers make more sense. Like learning a foreign language, figuring out my place in the workplace will take time. It’s an ongoing process and I am ready to face my fears and my learning challenges. I hope to use my voice to be stronger in my ability to own my learning differences in all settings.

I want to remove the silence that once held me back.

Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

Julia Kaback
Posted by
Member, Young Adult Leadership Council, National Center for Learning Disabilities


  1. Julia, your words express your specific struggle, but they also speak to everyone’s fear of how they’re perceived and how they’re perceiving others. Your clear and direct sharing of your experience really inspires me to be more forthcoming myself. Thank you for your clarity!

  2. Great Job Julia! I hope you continue to advocate for yourself and find what works in that a environment to help you succeed!

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