In Pursuit of a Dream

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

Picture of Savannah

This blog is written by Savannah Treviño-Casias, a member of the Young Adult Leadership Council of the National Center for Learning Disabilities

My dream is to be a clinical mental health counselor!

I built my whole college experience around a plan to go to graduate school right after I completed my bachelor’s degree in psychology. Achieving that dream has been filled with challenges and many ups and downs.

You see, I have dyscalculia, a math learning disability. This disability requires me to be an advocate for myself in both school and life.

During my undergraduate studies, being an advocate meant meeting with my professors to explain my disability and making sure my accommodations were in place for all my classes. Even with the accommodations, it required a lot of hard work on my part. I had to complete a full summer of math classes to stay on track for my major and had to re-learn math concepts for what seemed like the hundredth time.

It was worth it, as I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in psychology.

Now on to graduate school!

My experience of applying for graduate school was somewhat like that of my classmates, but I faced a different dilemma. I made the risky decision to apply to only one graduate school—Arizona State University—because I did not want to attend any other school. I had taken the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) with accommodations for my learning disability. I managed to score in the average range (meeting my own personal goal), but slightly below the recommended score for the program.

While writing my admission’s essay, I had to decide whether to disclose that I had a learning disability. Up until that moment, I had been very outspoken about my dyscalculia and I was not afraid to discuss or claim it as a part of my story. However, I wondered if the admissions committee would think that I was incapable of succeeding in graduate school or that I would require too much assistance and guidance.

For me, this self-doubt and self-criticism comes with the territory of my dyscalculia. I had worked hard to overcome those thoughts and feelings, but they came back when confronted with the question of disclosing my disability at the application stage.  By disclosing, was I risking my dream of being a mental health counselor?  After much thought and weighing the pros and cons, I decided that my dyscalculia was a major part of my story and not only did I want to disclose it, but it became the central part of my admission’s essay.

After months of waiting, I was accepted into the Master of Counseling program at Arizona State University, and I was on my way to achieving my life’s goal. I am a month into my graduate program, and it has been amazing, challenging, enlightening, and everything I had hoped it would be. There are times when I wonder if I will be able to succeed and keep up with my classmates, the same concerns that have plagued me for as long as I can remember. I still feel constant pressure within to prove to myself that I deserve to be in graduate school and that I am meant to be on this path.

Despite this pressure, I have only been met with understanding and accepting professors in graduate school. Frankly, this has been a surprise. I sent an introductory email to all my professors to disclose that I receive accommodations and to provide an informational sheet I made on dyscalculia. To my surprise, one of my professors told me that she was previously a school psychologist, she knows about dyscalculia, and is open to working with me in any way to ensure I can be successful in her class and master the material. Her email was not uncommon, as I received similar emails from my other professors. I feel honored to have fully supportive professors and a graduate program that is well structured and will help me achieve my goal.

Graduate school is an incredible learning opportunity for me and presents its own unique challenges. I am still exploring ways to learn and process all the information I am taking in from classes and while my learning disability makes these things extremely difficult, it is not impossible.

I wish I knew more about how other students with learning disabilities successfully complete graduate school, but the research just does not exist beyond knowing that 7–8 percent of all graduate students identify as having a disability. There is not specific data on graduate students with learning disabilities or their completion rate. I think this information could be helpful to students and educators.

I hope that my story can be helpful to other students who may be struggling. I want them to know that they are not alone and that they can succeed in college, graduate school, and beyond. I believe that personal advocacy has built my skills to be a national advocate for me and for other students with learning disabilities.

I am on the way to achieving my dream!

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  1. Linda

    Thank you for sharing I too struggle all my life to this day . As I got married and had children my boys all had some thing wrong , teacher would say that my boys will alway struggle and be c students. I’m glad I did not listen too then because my son struggle and with no help he went to college and graduated with honors and today he’s a teacher , and he love to teach. We have teacher that I don’t understand why they went into that profession because they where no inspiration at all and I thing today the board of Ed does nothing to help our children with disabilities they fall through the crack why don’t know . These children’s who are our future just need the tools to master and move along .

    You are my inspiration for me to get help and finish school. I too had a seam to one day become a educational lawyer, but my dream died when I did not have any help.

    Thank you for inspiring me.

  2. Your story is very inspiring and gives parent’s and students a lot of motivation to work hard and accoplish your goals and reach your dreams the sky is the limit. God bless you and a lot of success and blessings to come in your life.

  3. Wow, compelling story (testimony). What other students with learning disabilities did to complete graduate school would make an excellent dissertation topic.

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