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What It's Like Having an Academically Gifted Sibling When You Have a Learning Disability

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One of the biggest challenges, but also incredibly rewarding experiences, I faced growing up was trying to keep up with an older sister who excelled in everything. She received awards and honors I could only dream of. While she was making honor roll and winning class elections, I was having a hard time just trying to get all of my homework done on a daily basis and getting zero recognition. I often became very frustrated and jealous. She made it look so easy.

Because of her example, I developed a strong desire to be like her both in and out of the classroom. I took a traditional college bound academic program and tried to develop the dedication to be as connected as possible in everything I did. However, I always knew my levels of achievement would be much different from my sister’s given the nature of my nonverbal learning disability (NVLD). In middle school I attended my sister’s athletic banquet, which at first I was angry at my parents for making me go. But as I listened, I learned that each team had awards for those who put forth outstanding effort and also for those who were very coachable. That inspired me to stay with sports like my sister did. because I saw that there was hope and that my hard work and respectfulness could be valued and recognized. Sure enough my observation was right and I went on to receive five awards throughout my athletic career. In fact, my junior year I received the sportsmanship award all three seasons which speaks volumes for how much my coaches valued and respected me. While there were many times when I felt hopeless, I never gave up and always believed there would be a positive ending.

I watched my sister receive academic honors that eventually led to her being accepted to her top college choice. This motivated me to take the most challenging courses I could in high school. My decision brought some tension at times between my resource room teacher and I, because it required a lot of work from both of us. I really wanted to follow my sister’s lead as the journey seemed so wonderful, but also knew that the two schools we ended up at would be completely different academically given she was gifted and I had a NVLD. Fortunately it all worked out. She went on to Georgetown University in Washington D.C. and I graduated from Dean and Curry College. They are each outside of Boston and both of us greatly enjoyed our schools and all that city life had to offer.

The first challenge I faced was due to my slow processing speed. I often didn’t finish homework until 9 or 10p.m. because I couldn’t start my homework until I got home after practice or meets. My sister could just finish her homework either at school, or on the bus and still get great grades. I had to understand that at times I would have to work with my mom (not what every high schooler wanted to do) so she could use her resource room teaching methods with me and I could complete assignments at a faster rate. My sister, on the other hand, required very little help from our mother.

Because of my athletic schedule  I would also have to  connect with my resource room teacher ahead of time to make plans  to finish my classwork because it occasionally required me to leave school early and in rare cases miss school altogether. At times this was difficult on my teacher because she would have to make changes to her teaching schedule in order for me to have a chance to finish a test. It was frustrating at times and certainly nothing my sister had to deal with, but I always knew following her lead and taking the harder path was the right choice.

While it is challenging having an accomplished, older sibling, in the end it can be a wonderful experience. As you grow and mature you will understand you aren’t as different as you thought. My sister and I have many things in common now such as enjoying being connected and loving city life in general. None of this would have been possible for me had I not followed her lead and joined activities and took the proper courses which allowed me to go to a college near a city. Professionally we will never be at the same level, but her path inspired me to find my own interests and get the experience of being away from home.

Photo submitted by contributor.

Originally published: January 17, 2022
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