NOTE: October is Learning Disabilities / Dyslexia / Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Awareness Month.
By Kayla Queen, a member of the Young Adult Leadership Council of the National Center for Learning Disabilities
When attempting to draw conclusions as to why I have been spared from many of the unfavorable statistics encountered by large percentages of people with learning disabilities, I have been able to explain it in part by the self-worth I was taught to have for myself and the times I have felt valued in school.
Navigating formal schooling hasn’t been an easy task for me. I’ve had several hits to my self-esteem when I’ve underperformed, and I have had a disproportionate amount of stress and anxiety regarding passing classes and scoring well enough on important tests. It often felt like I never was really standing on solid ground or like I was living in a world not made for me.
Early on in my first semester of college, I had a professor hold me back after class to instruct me that I should start using the reading and writing center as he found my writing skills not on par with what they needed to be to succeed in college. I had barely passed the writing proficiency needed to graduate high school, and I started to break down when I told him of my learning disability. Thinking of all the snags I had hid that had beaten down on me over the last 18 years, all I could think was “this is where my dyslexia catches up to me.” His response, however, was surprising and exactly what I needed.
He told me that while the other students were more proficient writers, I had a deep way of thinking that was unteachable and that I should not get caught up on that. His comment and others like it helped pull me through hundreds of hours of writing papers that were often marked down due to grammar and organization or because I couldn’t articulate an idea clearly. When critiques were mingled with words of praise, when educators showed an interest in me, who I was and what I had to offer, it engaged me and challenged me to push myself to further my contributions both in written thought and through my participation on projects.
I did not feel like learning disabilities and the experiences of people with dyslexia were completely understood by my teachers and professors, but it made a difference when they would take an interest in me. As a person with dyslexia in this society, I run a higher risk of dropping out of high school or college, struggling with mental health issues, enduring law enforcement actions, experiencing poverty, and more. All of those are statistics that show the grim reality faced by people with learning disabilities. But I have been spared the worst of it in part due to my sense of self-worth, even in discouraging times. I would not have been as well off as I am if it was not for the supportive words and actions of some of my educators.
There will always be more we can do to promote the welfare of people with learning disabilities. We need more research to be done, better teaching practices to be implemented, and to devise strategies that can address the social issues we face. Making these changes can lift up students with disabilities and change their lives, and the lives of all students. Caring educators enhance and improve the experiences of students. If it weren’t for the educators who taught me, the life experiences that prepared me, and the self-worth I developed throughout my life, I might not be here today to write this blog and to fight for systemic change for students with learning disabilities.
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