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Dear Student With a Learning Disability: Your Future Is Brighter Than You Know

When I was¬†a kid I swore I’d never work as a teacher because I didn’t like school all that much. The social aspect I handled just fine, but I found the work to be too much at times. Especially math. I’ve¬†struggled with math my entire life. Which is funny when you consider my¬†dad worked as an actuary, and my siblings were both academically¬†advanced. I like to say that by the time I came along, all the numbers¬†and logic genes had been taken. Plus I had a learning disability that went undiagnosed for many years.

Learning anything new was a challenge¬†for me, and I felt like¬†I lacked something my fellow peers¬†had ‚Äď the ability to know and understand the right answer. I also¬†struggled with keeping myself organized and was constantly losing¬†papers I needed to turn in. I remember one time in third grade we had an assignment to work on a small hand sewing project. This was a long-term project that we’d work on every day during story time. One day I¬†discovered I had lost the materials (they must have landed in the same¬†vortex as my lost homework and retainer) and panicked. Thinking that I¬†wouldn’t be noticed, I pantomimed working on this sewing project, my¬†hands under my desk, my head down. Of course I was caught. My memory¬†becomes a bit fuzzy as to what happened next, but I still remember being¬†embarrassed. My grades suffered due to my lack of organization and¬†inability to recall facts. It wasn’t for a lack of trying though. I¬†remember studying hard but still coming up short.

As I grew older, my struggles continued.¬†Mostly in math, but soon I added biology to the list. For biology I¬†obtained the book the summer before class started and began reading.¬†That’s the thing about struggling‚Ķ eventually you figure out how to make¬†things nominally better. And you follow through. Upon high school¬†graduation, my grades were a tiny bit better. But the struggle remained.

I moved away to college, a place¬†known for its intense academic environment. And wouldn’t you know, the¬†darnedest thing happened. I was passing all my classes. At the end of my second year of college I had accomplished something I had never¬†done in all¬†my years of school‚Ķ I made the honor roll (in college they call it the¬†dean’s list, which sounds even cooler). By the time I graduated college I had two dean’s list appearances under my belt.

So how did I suddenly accomplish academic success after years of struggling? Ah, young Padawan,¬†your answer is in your question. If it weren’t for my struggle I¬†wouldn’t have learned coping strategies that would help me be successful¬†in college. Being able to tape record lectures and playing them back
later ‚Äď a strategy I picked up in high school ‚Äď was one of my many lifelines. Acknowledging my learning disability without shame was crucial to¬†my later success. Oh, and that thing about not wanting to teach because¬†of school struggles? I’ve worked in tutoring and child care for the¬†last decade. See, I have a useful tool for the classroom. Empathy for¬†kids who are struggling. Kids who¬†sit in classrooms every day and feel “stupid.” Just like I did all those years ago.

So, dear student, if you are struggling with a learning disability¬†and have dreams of college, fear not. You are learning now the tools¬†you’ll need later for college success. And that will put you ahead of¬†the class.

I hope this encouraged you. Please share with anyone you know who is struggling in school.

Follow this journey on Be Anxious About Nothing.

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to your teenaged self when you were struggling to accept your differences. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.