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The Toll My Learning Disability Takes on My Sense of Direction

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One of the biggest challenges of my learning disability is the concepts of directions. I am unable to tell someone how to get to my house. I also don’t understand when people give me directions to places and I often get lost. Most people do not understand that it is a part of my disability. I have been labeled “dumb, difficult or not trying” because I can’t give directions.

My issues with directions began as a child. I had problems with telling right from left. I would often put my shoes on the wrong feet. Everyone would ask, “can’t you tell the difference?” Other than the discomfort on my foot, I could not tell the difference. My difficulties with this concept where not with my eyes, but my brain. My visual spatial processing cannot tell the difference. It is common for children to have difficulty telling my right from left and most can master this by age seven. I never mastered this concept. I can remember one of the most frustrating part of working with young children, is when their shoes would come off. I struggled to put the shoe on the right foot of the children. I would usually downplay it with a laugh and say I don’t know what I was thinking. Most people were not understanding of not being able to do this and was told that I need to pay more attention.

Visual spatial processing also presented academic difficulties. Geography was always challenging for me. I could never
understand longitude or latitude, and I also had trouble reading maps and remembering when places were. Directional concepts such as north, south, east and west had little meaning to me. I can remember coloring a picture of a map in elementary school. I thought I was doing a good job, but my teacher did not think so. He held my paper up in front of the class and asked, “Does this look like she is doing her best?”

Visual spatial processing also created difficulty in gym class as well. I flinch when the ball comes to me. I can remember other students telling me not to be afraid of the ball and making fun of me. My peers would often put their hands in front of my face and laugh when I flinched. My flinching was not due to fear, but my brain not processing the ball coming to me. I also struggled to perform actions such as catching or kicking a ball. I have found that participating in noncompetitive exercise classes have helped.

If I miss a step it’s not a big deal now. I also enjoy classes such as Zumba, bootcamp and Tabata. Movement is not just for athletes. My learning disability and visual problems also created issues in math. Dyscalculia had me struggle with basic math calculations and concepts. The visual spatial processing made reading graphs difficult. I am also unable to read an analog clock.

I still struggle with visual spatial processing as an adult. People will often ask me for directions on how to get somewhere. I know how to get there but cannot put it in to words. I often do better with going somewhere with the person and showing them. Most people are understanding, when I tell them I am bad with directions. Usually after giving me a ride home for the first time, they understand my struggle. I have experienced some people who weren’t understanding. I can remember a man asking me where to get food at. I told him, “I’m sorry, but I am terrible with directions.” He asked someone else where to go and they were able to direct him. The man looked at me and said, “See it’s not that hard,” as he walked away. For a person without visual spatial problems, giving directions would not be a challenge. Most people are satisfied with, “I’m not good with directions.” I have attempted to give directions in the past. I like the quote, “I often wonder what happened to the people I gave directions to.”

I also struggle when people give me directions on how to get somewhere. I will listen politely and often write down instructions. I have found writing down instructions to be frustrating and ineffective. My slow process speed makes, and poor handwriting make it difficult to take directions. I have often written down directions and ended up lost. I have found that exploring a place on my own, helps me orient me. I use details such as signs or the color of houses to help me build a mind map. Signs can be taken down and houses can be painted a different color. Usually before those changes occur, I know where I am going if I have had enough practice. One place I am good at navigating is the mall. I can find the exits, and the elevators. Much of that is because I am used to looking for elevators, because my visual perception I cannot use the escalator. The stores also have signage that is easy to read and available in different formats in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act I am also good at finding stores and the sale rack. I may not much help if your stranded in the woods or need to find a way to get out of
an escape room. I can help you find the perfect outfit for a good price, at the store.

I can learn to do new things. My brain just needs more time and more practice. I have often learned best, by taking the information given and teaching it to myself. Having a learning disability, means my brain processes information differently. I realize that not everyone will understand why I can’t give directions or struggle with understanding them. There will always be people who think that I am not doing my best. I may not be able to control what someone else says or does. I am only responsible for what I do.  The important thing is I understand what is happening and find a different way to do things.

Are directions challenging for you? Tell us about it in the comments.

Photo credit: Maryna Patzen/Getty Images

Originally published: June 1, 2020
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