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What I've Learned About Succeeding in Life With Learning Disabilities

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The advice I would give to a person diagnosed with a learning disability is that your brain works differently. Due to the difference in your brain, you will have to use accommodations and different strategies to learn. Choosing not to use these strategies will most likely cause frustration and make learning more difficult.

Metacognition refers to the process of thinking about one’s thoughts. Metacognition means that the person will self-monitor to see if they are grasping a concept or develop strategies to learn information. For example, using mnemonic devices to memorize items for a test. Another example is being self-aware when reading, that you are truly understanding the information as you read.

Metacognition is truly a process of trying and failing. I can remember not trusting the process and being frustrated. I would study for tests and feel confident only to do poorly. People would tell me that I could do better or shame the small improvement such as getting a C. I also had people blame my low test scores on test anxiety. My trouble with testing was due to how my brain processed information, rather than being nervous while taking the test. I learned that breaking information into small chunks helped me to retain more information. Studying a little every day was more effective than cramming the night before a test.

The stigma of having a disability and using accommodations will always be there. I have had people tell me that it was not fair that I got extended test time and thought I was given the answers. Fair is not always equal. Fairness left the day I was diagnosed with a learning difference. I have also had peers comment that they wished they had a disability to get accommodations. All I wished for at that time was not to have a disability and not to need accommodations.

The fear of stigma is what caused me to hide in the shadows and not get accommodations when I started college. Not having accommodations caused my grades to suffer and learning was a struggle. Everyone told me that I could do better. I had a professor suggest that I get extended test time in a class I was struggling in. I got the accommodations and passed the class.

I was able to graduate with my associate’s degree but always wanted more. When I went back to university, I found a program that I was interested in and had the least amount of math possible. I told myself during my first semester that all I had to do was try. I was not working so I was able to be a full-time student and focus on school. I also used accommodations such as extended test time and a note-taker. Most importantly, I advocated for myself by talking with my professors about my disability.

Using accommodations and being a self-advocate worked. My grades improved and I even made the dean’s list one semester. I had classes that I struggled with even with accommodations, but I knew the tools I needed to get through them. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree, despite everyone who said I wouldn’t succeed.

I believe the most important thing for a person with a learning disability to remember is that you can learn, but you are going to have to learn differently. Use the accommodations that are recommended to you and explore other ways to help you. Some methods you try may work and others will fail. Often, finding out what works means falling down and getting back up yet again. I had to learn the hard way to use extended test time and to advocate for myself.

Not everyone will fully understand your disability, but keep doing your own personal best. While using accommodations and doing your best will get you far, I can’t promise everything will work to plan. I have found that the unexpected often turns out even better.

Getty image by ismagilov.

Originally published: June 12, 2021
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