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Coping With Failure in My Life With Learning Disabilities

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Growing up with a nonverbal learning disability (NVLD) can bring a lot of worries and confusion, as each day has its own unique challenges. The tricky part about NVLD is that special educators and school psychologists often still lack an awareness of the nature of the disability. Please know it’s not their fault. Nonverbal learning disability is not yet listed in the DSM, so people who have it are often either overserved or underserved. You may think more is better, but for many people like myself, it was not.

While my self-esteem was never the greatest, starting in sixth grade I received so many services it made me believe I was “stupid.” I was receiving speech and language therapy four times a week! I believed learning to speak clearly was hopeless and the service was a waste. Furthermore, I had to leave the classroom for individual help for math as I wasn’t able to write the problems down or draw the shapes by myself. Later I failed multiple tests, as doing my homework and preparing for tests was very difficult. Each piece of information given to me seemed impossible to learn, and to make matters worse I was losing friends each year. I kept thinking “I am going to be a complete failure.”

Things did get better. Eventually my speech therapist decreased my services and since coursework became more lecture-based, I didn’t have to leave the room as much for extra help. This lead to some positives, however my peers were becoming more and more aware of my disability, so many chose to leave me. My emotional struggles became apparent and working with me was hard at times. I was the most difficult for my speech therapist and teacher’s aide as I wanted much more independence. However, I wasn’t ready yet and I needed to keep moving forward. Throughout it all my resource room, teacher’s aide and speech therapist were incredible to me and each day I strove to do my best. Of course like all aspects of life, some days were better than others.

In high school, I was the student who drove my support team up a wall. I was never going to take the easier path and easier courses. My team tried to explain it may be necessary to graduate, but I was stubborn and never gave in. I had dreams of going to college and I wasn’t settling for anything less. As a result I did experience some failure in the process. I learned it was much healthier to fail in the harder courses than experience average marks in the easier ones. I failed the state math test over and over, but I was bound and determined not to have a failing grade on my transcript. After the fifth time, I passed!

In addition to my coursework, I experienced a lot of failure in cross country, but never because of lack of trying. Having a seizure disorder and NVLD made running long distances a challenge. Each day I learned to accept failure and continued to improve. If I hadn’t learned to cope with failure, my life would have been way more depressing.

In the middle of senior year of high school, I learned my decisions in life so far were the right ones. I got to enjoy an acceptance letter to my first choice college, Dean College. Many adults were stunned and believed attending college was a mistake. At times I did think to myself, “maybe they were right,” but once I went to my orientation I knew my decision was right. Arriving at Dean was truly amazing. My professors and peers truly believed in me and gave me a chance. My seizures gradually disappeared and my anxiety was way down. I know now my past failures made me a better college student.

After my two years at Dean I went to Curry, another college with the same philosophy towards students with disabilities. My experience here was much like the positive experience I had at Dean. I made friends and felt like I finally belonged.

After college, things took a turn for the worse — but unlike high school, I had a peer group to help me cope with it. I now understand life isn’t without its challenges, and failures occur in everyone’s life; we just have to always remember to see our positives and keep following our dreams.

As difficult as it was, I am proud to say I can now accept failure and I hope you can learn to do the same. You will always have people who believe in you, and I know from personal experience they will be there to help you. If I had given in to all my failures, I wouldn’t have my wonderful friends, my college education and the stories I have now to write about. Always remember, in order to reach success, you will almost certainly experience some failures along the way.

Getty image by Paul Bradbury.

Originally published: August 1, 2019
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