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