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When I'm 'Caught in the Act' of Having a Learning Disability

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When I tell people I have a learning disability, I get a wide variety of responses. People tell me that I don’t look disabled, because you can’t see my disability. Some people say that I’m so smart and have accomplished so much that I couldn’t possibly be disabled. But when I face a situation where I am struggling and people notice, I am caught in the act of having a disability.

I am often caught in the act when dealing with math. I struggle with knowing how math works. In school, I struggled to remember math facts and to remember the steps on how to do a math problem. A calculator is of little help because I forget how to do the steps. Despite endless flashcards, I still don’t know all of my addition, subtraction and math facts. When people ask me a random math fact there is a chance that I may not know it. I am caught in the act of not knowing simple math facts that an average person knows.

My math difficulties go beyond an academic setting. I am unable to read an analog clock or a ruler. I am caught in the act when don’t have my Fitbit or digital watch on and ask what time it is. Most people say with disgust, “There’s a clock over there.” The hands on the clock have little meaning to me other than being able to tell time to the hour.

I am also caught in the act when I have to use a ruler or a tape measurer. The lines on the ruler or tape measurer mean only smaller and bigger lines. The language of measurement also makes little sense to me. I can visualize half or the whole of something. When people break things down into thirds and fourths I get confused. I also get confused when people use terms such as half-past or a quarter till.

I am caught in the act when I am standing in line in a busy store. I cannot total how much I am spending. I often have to ask the clerk to put items back because I have overspent the cash I have on hand. My limited hand dexterity makes it hard to grasp coins. If I use a debit card, I often forget the pin number. I also struggle to use different card readers. I know when I get caught in the act in a store; I see the looks of the cashier and the people behind me.

I am caught in the act when people find out I can’t drive because of my visual perception. Many people think the problem is in my eyes and that glasses will enable me to drive. My visual perception problem is in my brain and glasses won’t help me. I struggle with reaction time, controlling the vehicle, and watching out for other people. I have had people tell me that my not driving is annoying and complain about giving me rides. I also had a person who told me that I should be ashamed that I don’t drive.

I am caught in the act when people read my handwriting and see my coloring. Having dysgraphia makes my handwriting illegible. I was caught in the act with poor handwriting and coloring many times in school. People have told me that I have the handwriting of a serial killer. I got a W on my report card indicating weakness for handwriting in elementary school. A teacher said that my room must be a mess because of my handwriting. She was right about the messy room, but it wasn’t because of my handwriting. I can recall a peer saying that if I wanted to be a writer, I would have to be able to write neatly. I can also remember coloring a picture of a map during social studies. The teacher held up my picture up in front of the class and asked “Does this look like she is doing her best?” The evidence of my disability was on view for all of my classmates to see. Learning how to type was one of the most valuable skills I learned. My teachers could read my work and expected papers to be typed.

I am caught in the act when I can’t operate a manual can opener. I am unable to open cans of soup or ravioli. When I babysat, I would have to ask the parents to open the cans before they left. Now I use an electric can opener.

I have been caught in the act when I had to play completive sports and in gym class. I struggle with body awareness and coordination. I flinch whenever a ball or other objects come at me. I have had people tell me not to be afraid of the ball. My peers bullied me for my lack of coordination. Peers would also wave their fingers in front of my face and laugh as I would flinch. I may not be good at team sports, but I love non-competitive physical activities. I like going to group exercise classes such as boot camp, step and Zumba. I also like to lift weights and use the cardio equipment in the fitness center.

I am caught in the act when my executive functioning gives me difficulty. I have no sense of time and I’m always running to get out the door. My executive functioning affects how I process information. I need things broken down into small chunks. I also have trouble remembering dates and numbers. I can remember things about people and events that happened with loved ones. It’s not that I can’t remember; my brain doesn’t filter what is important and what isn’t. I found using accommodations such as extended test time and a note-taker to be helpful in college.

I am caught in the act when people question my career choices. I have people tell me that if I got my act together then I could become a certified teacher. I knew with my learning disability that taking the classes and certification tests would not be a wise choice. I love my job as a paraeducator. People have also wondered why I couldn’t do a job in retail or cashier work. I have to patiently explain that my disability makes doing those jobs difficult.

Every time I’m caught in the act, I have to prepare a defense. Often I will laugh it off and say, “I’m in my own little world” or “I don’t know what I am thinking.” I have had times where I had to disclose my disability. Many people are understanding of my disability and others don’t believe me. I have the privilege of being able to choose my audience because my disability is not visible. My disability may not be visible, but it is still there, causing difficulties in math, learning, coordination and other areas of my life. Learning how to live with my disability has involved many lessons I had to learn the hard way. I also had to go through a grieving process and let go of my dreams of not having a disability. Slowly, I am learning to not be ashamed of my disabilities and getting caught in the act.

Getty image by Nadia Bormotova.

Originally published: July 18, 2021
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