Eileen Herzog

@eileenherzog | contributor
I have been overcoming NVLD
Eileen Herzog

Support That Helps Students With Visual Processing Disorder

When I was a young kid, there was very little research on nonverbal learning disorder, so I was diagnosed with a visual processing disorder. Like with a nonverbal learning disorder, people with visual processing disorder often have a poor sense of direction, messy handwriting, weak reading comprehension, significant spatial skill deficits, difficulty reading visual maps and outlines, and accurate copying details. These symptoms can make it especially difficult for teachers to see beyond students’ visual processing disorder because so much learning takes place visually, especially as you reach higher grades. One of the most common classroom difficulties students with a visual processing disorder may face is being able to copy something presented visually to them — like class notes presented on a screen. While this seems like a “simple” task, students with visual processing disorder may lack the required visual skills, so this may become too much for them. As a result, sometimes teachers may think these students “aren’t listening” or see them “drifting off” due to their lack of focus. What is actually happening, though, is that due to their visual processing deficits, students may become overwhelmed and may not be able to remain focused on what the teacher is saying while they try to copy what is on the board. This is why they may seem disengaged. In addition to classroom challenges, visual processing disorders can make navigating the world  difficult. This disorder is a “hidden” disability, so it can be hard for others to understand all the challenges it brings — including navigating personal surroundings. Whether it be walking down the hall in between classes, finding your next class, or going to a friend’s house, navigating with weak spatial skills can bring a lot of frustration personally and for others too. With this disorder,  visual information can’t be processed and saved into your memory, so going from place to place can be a challenge. Fortunately, strategies like following another student to class or making those around you aware of your visual processing struggles can make life much more manageable. Also, with today’s technology, this struggle may have more solutions, as many phones and GPS apps read directions out loud. Due to these difficulties, making friends can be hard at times, and it isn’t necessarily connected to social skills difficulties. Moderate to severe visual deficits can cause peers to be impatient and confused about what is “wrong.” For example, a game of kickball can be a challenge, and riding a bike may be nearly impossible. Doing less active activities — like putting together a puzzle or playing video games can be difficult too. Therefore, it can be hard to socialize with peers because they may not understand the challenges their friends with visual processing disorder have with playing. However with more awareness and acceptance of visual processing disorder and other disabilities, you may end up with a great group of friends. One way to treat a visual processing disorder is with occupational therapy — which is effective when it begins early. Occupational therapy helps people with visual processing disorder coordinate their hands and eyes — visual processing disorder can cause deficits in this area. Things like reading out loud, using bright highlighters, and playing with puzzles may be things children with visual processing disorder do in occupational therapy. For older students, overcoming a visual processing disorder may be geared more towards academics and homework completion. Reading out loud can improve visual processing skills, but the academic support students receive may change as they get older. Occupational therapy is often removed from older students’ IEPs. Not everything that may help students with visual processing disorder is a service for students with disabilities. Being in a sport, like cross-country, can be a wonderful experience for students with this disability. Being on a sports team can help you form great personal connections with coaches and teammates. More importantly, for cross-country, you are required to use your visual processing skills often with trail running and running routes around town. With hard work and dedication, students may not even realize that they are improving their visual skills while having fun being part of a team. A hard part of visual processing disorder, though, is that it doesn’t go away — it just becomes more manageable with good coping skills. For example, I still struggle with directions and need to understand it will take me a longer time to get from place to place and that I may need to take a cab or rideshare instead of trying to go on my own. Furthermore, even something as “simple” as emptying the dishwasher can be difficult — especially if it includes a lot of fragile dishes that can break easily. On a positive note, though, I can be honest with myself about my deficits, and fortunately those around me are really accepting, so I often get the help I need. Overall, while visual processing disorder may seem complex and difficult, it can often be improved by taking advantage of support services like occupational therapy and being honest with yourself and others about your struggles. Not being aware of your challenges can make life with visual processing disorder harder — especially if you continue to bump into people or struggle with chores like putting the dishes away. I have always been honest with myself about what support I needed and this allowed me to have the successes I have had in my life with visual processing disorder.

Community Voices

It takes a Village to a raise a child

Running for  Penny Sharrow and Dianne Jeneault I was always given endless equal opportunities and they made sure I was respected and valued by everyone in the field.  Yes there were some meets where I wished I was faster and was thinking “is their care genuine or do they just feel sorry for me?” However I quickly learned that their care and support was real and it led to me gaining a full “village” of supporters. It was more than I could ever imagine.

For example I will always remember running the 1500 for the first time. I was incredibly nervous as the previous season I could barely run 400M without stopping. Penny was truly coaching me like I was projected to win the race even though I was projected to finish in the bottom of the pack.  Through this encouragement I finished 20 seconds faster than we both predicted and her post race talk was something I will never forget. While Penny was so excited for me she ended the conversation with how I could do even better next week. This meant a lot to me as it was clear that she believed in me and was focusing on my ability rather than my “disability” .

Through this experience  I continued to run this race each meet with a goal to lower my time.  With Penny’s and Dianne’s  incredible encouragement this  happened and by improving each week it allowed me to meet the other runners in the race and many of their coaches too. They all became impressed with my drive and dedication to just focus on doing better despite being a slow runner. This continued throughout the season and my support team grew larger and larger each week. What was really special about this though was when one of the top runners in the 1500 not only gave me a pre race hug she also wanted for me to cross the finish line. Her support along with Penny’s  and Diannes’ gave me the strength to always do my best and was a great reminder of why running is a great sport. As the season progressed I became great friends with her which led to us  supporting each other throughout every race we did together in all three seasons of running.

Besides always  having support from a top runner I also had Canton’s Coach,John Casserly’s support who was and is the  track icon for our section. His support meant  so much to me as he didn’t just support me because he felt sorry for me, he  supported me because he supported those who were the  hardest workers regardless of talent.  For example, before each race, just like Penny, he would give me the right advice of how I could lower my time and how to never get discouraged by the distance behind I was from the other runners. As the truth is this doesn’t matter what matters is that you get the team points and that you feel confident that you gave it your all. His famous words to me always were “The great thing about running is that it is all about doing your best” and to this day I still remember this. His support was and is  a true reminder that it takes a “village” to raise a child.

Through everyone working together it greatly increased my self-confidence and I knew so well who my best supporters were and still are today. Honestly the running circle welcomed me into their village without any hesitations. It was an experience I wish more could have and I strongly believe  students with an NVLD or similar disability are missing out on having strong  mentors and  friendships. You just don’t  gain a “village” of supporters by showing up, you gain them by putting yourself out there so others get to know and understand you.  Now years  later I continue to think that had other resource room students been encouraged to join activities,whether it was sports or other school activities they would have had widespread support  too. It is truly so discouraging that this didn’t happen. Understand I do agree with the saying  “all  it takes is one person to believe you” though through my experiences  I know  greater results come when you have several people who do.  Having a large “village” increases your dedication and social skills as you can see the many people who believe in  and like you.  This certainly isn’t easy and I  understand it doesn’t just happen right away. It requires hard work, patience and dedication but in the end you will understand how it does take a “village to raise a child”. Most of all you will be so grateful for having a “village” of supporters.

Community Voices

Why I believe inclusion isn't common in sports yet

While I fully agree how full inclusion in sports like track needs to become more common for students with an NVLD or a similar disability I am also realistic as to why  it still isn’t . I believe this happens because  resource room teachers and counselors believe “playing it safe” is best when they are developing  academic #Programs for these students  because they want to prevent the “hurt” that comes with personal failure. Regretfully this  decision academically can make being a full inclusion athlete in a sport like track even harder.

Being in a sport like track requires a lot of extra determination, hard work, and the ability to be resilient.Therefore the level of grit and determination  needed to be successful hasn’t  been developed as academically attaining success has come with very little challenge by choosing a lower path.Therefore during practices they can’t process why coaches expect so much from them, which results in  some pressure and puts them at a greater risk to give up.

I believe this  is because the majority of learning disabled students  in my school chose to take   “C” level courses in English and Social Studies which are for resource room students only   therefore  expectations were lower which made going after a challenge harder. As a result some practices were truly a shock to them as coaches have a high level of expectation for all practices for all athletes. As I was always in the full inclusion classes I was challenged regularly which at times brought some failure however through this experience I learned how to be resilient and to always work hard as this leads to success. As a result  I could always  comprehend the goals and expectations our coaches Penny Sharrow and Jim Adams had for us whereas the others like me who gave sports a try were in an easier academic  path ended  up giving up because it was overwhelming for them. This happens  because often these students are so rigid in their overall thinking and routines that they think every school program has the same setup in regards to their disability. As a result they don’t understand why the coach is expecting so much from them because often in their academics their teachers don’t. So having  the coaches asking  them to do a workout exactly as they have it planned for everyone becomes hard for them to comprehend as they have seldom been in that position before. The truth is that while teachers for students with a NVLD or similar disability can modify assignments, coaches don’t modify practice routines and expectations are the same for them as everyone needs to be prepared to compete at the highest level.

I understand that the harder path can bring stress as the expectations are generally higher. Therefore, I highly recommend adjusting grading methods to make effort a larger factor when calculating a  final grade. This  works well as it  greatly motivates students to always do their best and teaches them how to overcome challenges in the process. They would see their weaker points but still would have the drive to be successful knowing that effort counts. I credit my success in both academics and athletics to this as  both my teachers and coaches  loved watching me succeed with all the effort I put in. I believe others would experience the same success in both sports and academics.

Understand though  if you do decide to place students in the harder path with accommodations it must be done at a reasonable level and the goal should be to help students grow and learn to take on challenges that develop  grit and determination. For example it doesn’t mean a student with an NVLD or similar disability should necessarily enroll in a class like Calculus or Regular Physics as shooting too high isn’t appropriate either.

Overall when resource room teachers choose to lower the exceptions  rather than placing these students  in the highest level courses with accommodations their heart is in the right place. However, for inclusion in sports to be as successful as some would like,  these students need to go a step further in the classroom rather than playing safe when appropriate.  I can’t say this enough, those with an NVLD or similar disability need to learn how to overcome obstacles and be resilient and these are skills you learn  in the classroom. Therefore I believe by  recommending the hard path with appropriate accommodations  more often you would see full inclusion in sports be more common. As a result  these students would be happier  as they would realize their true abilities and would love being included outside of the classroom too.

Community Voices

Making Awards and Honors more inclusive

While inclusion is normal and quite successful in the classroom,for award ceremonies and special recognition assemblies it is still a rare occurence for an NVLD student. This is because NVLD students generally have more weaknesses than most students so honoring them can be challenging as their overall achievements aren’t as obvious.This type of recognition needs not be so rare as recognizing effort should be as important as recognizing overall achievements when giving out these awards.

For example, while I was in highschool  Penny Sharrow, my track coach chose me as the most improved award winner despite the fact that I  always finished races at the bottom of the pack. This was a surprise to many as typically the most improved winner was someone who made it to the top of the leaderboard after finishing in the middle during their previous years.. My coach believed change was needed  and that this was the perfect opportunity as I had lowered my  time in the 1500 every meet that year after only being able to run exhibition sprint races  the previous year. The crowd truly was so excited for me as students like me are typically left out of special recognitions. Receiving this award was a real confidence booster for me.

In addition Jim Adams, my Cross-Country coach, chose me as the Sportsmanship Award winner twice while I was in high school. To me this was incredible as I was honored with other kids from other teams in our section therefore it gave me a real sense of normalcy. However, just like at our district’s athletic banquet it was clear that here I was the weakest athlete chosen as  I knew none of the other teams award recipients  finished in the bottom of the pack like I did. Years later I have talked about this award and disappointingly it still surprises some that my coach didn’t choose a faster runner but instead chose a winner based on true effort.  An individual’s progress  should not be measured  by how many places they  go up on a leaderboard but by their level of hardwork and overall performance. Winning this award  was an incredible moviator for me to keep doing my best.

Receiving these  and other awards motivated  me to continue running throughout high school where I was able to enjoy being recognized on senior day and attend a special gathering for seniors who were three season athletes. It also made me realize my coaches really valued me and this kept me coming back each season.Furthermore what was incredibly special about this was my coaches, when talking about me, were nothing but positive despite the fact that I was  the slowest athlete on the Cross-Country and Track Teams. This truly made me realize that recognizing excellent effort was important  and I give credit to my coaches Penny Sharrow and Jim Adams for doing this and understanding that sometimes just finishing is the best the individual can do and it is important to value effort. Individuals like me work exceptionally hard and may only make small gains but even the smallest honors can do wonders for them.

As you can see none of the awards and recognitions I received were academic related which was disappointing.  In my personal experience it is a real reason why students with a disability like  NVLD  aren’t working as hard in the classroom as teachers may want them to as they only see the top students receiving praise. Understand I am not taking away from other students’ achievements as they earned it too although I do believe  if you want students to always do their best you need to show them effort is important too. It can be something as simple at the end of the marking period honoring a few students for effort regardless of their GPA. For example,  have an all-star effort award in addition to achievement awards. Yes there will still be some negatives as you can’t honor everyone though I believe more students would be willing to work hard by seeing a mixture of students being honored. Since students will understand effort is an important trait.

Overall it is my hope that more teachers will  be like Penny Sharrow and Jim Adams and will start valuing  effort more when giving out awards or recognition.   I know from overcoming an NVLD and being close to others who overcome their own #LearningDisabilities how much of a difference being recognized makes as they begin to understand their own strengths in the classroom. More importantly you  also start to  realize  teachers  really do love to see effort in their students and it will give them the courage to never give up.

Community Voices

An Open Letter to my track coach

With National student athlete day being in April I think about how lucky I am to have been coached by you Penny. It truly allowed me to be a student athlete which is unusual for someone like me who has an NVLD. There was never a day where you weren’t supporting me and making sure I always had equal opportunities. I know it wasn’t always easy and I greatly appreciate how far out of your way you went for me. One thing that comes to mind is that it was clear I had gross motor skills deficits given how low my endurance was. This made practices even harder for me and as a result  there were so few events that you could put me in. Fortunately for whatever the reason you still enjoyed having me on the team and you always made sure I was doing my best. This encouragement  gave me the motivation to train harder and after a couple of years I  finally became a distance runner.All of this happened because I knew  you were an incredible supporter of mine and how  you believed in me and you  always had a love for my “Yes I can” attitude. As a result I wanted to keep being on the team.  I knew if I had ever  left the track team I would have also lost so much of your support.By choosing to become a distance runner  rather than leaving the team I began to understand what you meant when you said  “that everyone brings something special to the team regardless of your ability”. For me this was to run whatever race you needed me to do, to be  the  hardest worker and to be a role model to the younger runners. Doing these things truly gave me the strength and courage to never say no to you as I wanted to be successful in this role just like everything else I took part in. Sure enough I was successful and I hope you realize this happened because of your  deep love of my  excellent work ethic and determination. Since it allowed  me to see what I was offering to the team which made me understand you were right. I was a great student athlete.  It truly speaks volumes about how incredible of a coach and person you are. Understanding my role also allowed me to have a widespread support system which meant so much to all of us. With my Mom being a resource room teacher and my Dad being school counselor  we were aware that it is common for students facing similar challenges to have few mentors and friends. This was something we didn’t want to experience and you went out of your way to make sure it didn’t.  Your confidence and faith in me led to my meeting so many people and I realized in sports like track every one supports each other regardless of your ability. This wouldn’t have been possible without you seeing the true me.Also while this isn’t directly connected to my NVLD deficits  I will never forget how many times you needed to step away from your traditional coaching duties to  care for me . I  was so aware that my needs were taking away from you coaching my teammates as they too needed your guidance and support.  Having an NVLD I was already experiencing emotional issues and this only triggered it more. However you always were so reassuring that what  my teammates cared the most about was that I was going to be okay. This made me  realize you were right about that  and also made me more relaxed.To those with an NVLD or a similar disability understand you can be a great student athlete. As  work ethic, determination, being a great teammate, and  a great listener is what coaches truly look for especially in a sport like track. Therefore  I believe if you can exhibit these qualities you will be a great student athlete as everyone brings something special to their teams.  In addition  your drive and dedication towards your academics will increase too as  you develop the drive to be the best person you can be. As , the support you get from your coaches and teammates  will be so much more than you realize. For me personally years later Penny continues to be an incredible support and I very strongly believe if you are now or become a student athlete you and the coach would have this same type of #Relationships .

Community Voices

The best peer mentors for Learning Disabled students

One thing that can be overlooked by many is how much a neurotypical  sibling does at home to help their sibling (s)with an NVLD or another disability . As a result  during the school day these siblings may not  appear to their teachers and other educators as supportive and caring to their peers who have a  disability. I believe this happens  because these same siblings go the extra mile everyday at home  supporting their  learning disabled sibling that when at school they just want to focus on their academics and their own social groups.However I do think these siblings can recommend or encourage others in their school who would be great mentors.

For example, some teachers at my high school didn’t totally realize how caring and empathic my sister really was as she really wasn’t looking to be a peer mentor for others with similar challenges as me during the school day. This was difficult for them to  understand as they would see me laughing away with her friends however  she didn’t really look to interact with other students like me and some thought she should have.  I honestly believe her being there for me is all she could have handled.

The only thing my older sister did for me at school was let me sit with her and her friends at lunch whether it be with her best friends or her basketball teammates. Some wondered why my sister never did this before for the others with similar challenges like me. What they didn’t realize was this only occurred because of a unique scheduling situation which resulted in me being the only 9th grader in the cafeteria. This seemed odd to my sister so  before she included me she asked her basketball coach who was the lunch monitor  if I was  right about this.  Learning I was  right she and her friends then had such empathy for me and always let me join them as they knew how uncomfortable it was for me to not sit with someone I knew.  This arrangement wasn’t just because of my disability which was what many thought and understandingly was hard for some adults to see.

In terms of being there for me at home and outside of school my sister did more than most realized as both of us were completely private about it as we really didn’t like talking about it. For example she knew I love basketball so she always made sure I got to many of the boys games with her and her friends. It wasn’t always easy as some of her friends didn’t quite understand why I was tagging around with them.  In addition she also included me for going out for pizza or things like mall trips on the weekend as it was disappointing for her to see me starting high school without a peer group due to my peer group going in different  directions.  None of this  was easy as developmentally I was behind socially and emotionally.

Through my personal experiences the neurotypical siblings aren’t the right choice to be  peer mentors to the student(s) with an NVLD or another disability during the school day. Honestly they need to have their own life at school as they do so much at home and are occasionally needed at times during the school day for the NVLD sibling which includes so many emotional challenges. So come school time they should be with their friends as much as they can as often they need someone to talk to about what they are going through at home.This being said one thing they could do is possibly provide encouragement to classmates to be a peer mentor as they know all of the challenges and rewards associated with supporting someone with NVLD or other disability.

Overall I understand why and how teachers/administrators think neurotypical siblings of those with an NVLD or other disability students are the right choice to be peer mentors. However, because these siblings give so much at home and need to focus on themselves while in school I would suggest they ask these siblings to recommend who would be a good  peer mentor rather than expecting them to be one. Personally so many neurotypical students were good to me and this was largely because my sister encouraged others to see the true me. For example she spoke to two swimmers with whom were also on the winter track team and throughout the season  they became great peer mentors/friends to me. So I believe with more direction and encouragement from non-learning Disabled siblings  those with an NVLD or similar disability will receive more meaningful support during the school day as there are more kind and caring teenagers who would make great peer mentors than many realize..

Community Voices

Why I never gave up running cross-country and track

In the beginning of my varsity cross-country and track career I was  asked a lot “why are you a runner?” as I worked so hard just to finish near the bottom.  Later on the question changed to “how did you get your coaches to like and respect you”? In many ways I understood where they were coming from as I was working hard just to finish the race. while teammates were competing for top finishes. However, it was so disappointing to me they couldn’t see the full picture as to why I  never gave up running. Couldn’t they see running  led  to  so many personal and social gains and learning many life lessons?.For example  right away after joining cross-country those around me noticed a tremendous difference in my demeanor. I believe this was because at each practice I was increasing my miles therefore my confidence was growing. I noticed I was capable of doing so much more than I was giving myself credit for.  While I always had a great work ethic but my demeanor and confidence needed some work. I found running made me less stubborn and more pleasant therefore adults working with me truly enjoyed being with me so much more. Jim Adams, my cross-country coach , had two key expectations;  to do your best and to always be respectful. I followed these and as a result more and more adults wanted to support me.

Being a three season runner also   helped me be so much more connected to my peers and the faculty.   For example  during Cross country season  I loved it when  my track coach and other coaches would ask me  how my races went and regardless how good or bad it went there was always a  great conversation that followed. I also loved how teachers and peers would read the articles about our races and would often have nice comments to share about me and seemed so impressed by my determination to run 5K’s.  I had always participated in winter and outdoor track but given I only competed in exhibition sprint races these kinds of connections weren’t there but by joining cross country too I was able to develop these types of connections.

Furthermore, socially this experience was especially beneficial for me during my winter track season as our meets were on Friday or Saturdays night so I never faced being alone on the weekends during the winter months. Being an incredibly involved member of my track team I was with such great people and my social skills greatly improved. One of my best memories was when one of the top jumpers and  an overall school  leader said to me “Eileen you’re hilarious”  and running two track seasons together we  gradually formed a meaningful friendship.  In addition on Monday mornings I was often asked by others how the meet went or was given a nice compliment about what my coach  Penny Sharrow had said about my efforts in the races. These types of conversations and friendships continued  in spring track too.  I can’t tell you how good this made me feel. I truly saw how structured activities allow for social and personal growth for students with a disability like an NVLD.

In terms of gaining  respect and being liked by both Penny Sharrow and Jim Adams what many couldn’t  understand is how  these two coaches  enjoyed supporting the underdog as much as the winner especially if they worked  as hard  or even harder..This was the case for me therefore I was given a tremendous amount of respect and was well liked by both of them as  regretfully some of the stronger runners on my teams weren’t capitalizing on their talent. In my personal experience the majority of Track and Cross-Country coaches seemed to value hard workers too as they liked and respected me as well.Therefore I believe sports like cross-country and track are very beneficial for an individual with an NVLD or similar disability as  regardless of your talent, your  hard work and determination will lead to  positive outcomes like gaining wonderful mentors and life long friends.

Overall I hope more and more people will begin to understand how beneficial individual sports like running are for the NVLD student. It really leads to gaining more friends and becoming a better student  as typically NVLD students learn  best by experiences and observation.   It also leads to gaining  widespread  support too as your coaches and teammates see daily how much you are overcoming so  they want to help you be the best person you can be. Honestly when I think about my teenage years I still say being a three season runner kept me from doing the journey alone and increased my self-confidence which helped me tremendously be the person I am today.

Community Voices

The Challenges and rewards of Inclusion in sports

While I am a true believer that inclusion in sports is successful  given I was a three season runner , I feel it is important for you to be aware there may be some bumps in the road as you become a success story. Being part of a team successfully requires many important skills including having appropriate social skills/behavior , being a great communicator , strong listener and possessing a high level of determination which for  some students with an NVLD or similar disability at first can be hard and very disheartening. However in the end I believe the hard moments will be outweighed by all the successful memories.

For example, my first year of winter track  I spent a lot of time with a few people who were far from being good teammates. They were truly taking advantage of the NVLD kid which I didn’t realize until I had a seizure at one of the meets so I  asked them to get our coach. Regretfully they said “ No Eileen we are not getting Mrs. Sharrow, she  will just yell at us” in a laughing tone as we were in an area where we were not supposed to be.Thankfully  Coach Sharrow’s daughter overhears us and immediately went to get her mom who  of course arrives  beyond angry and deeply concerned about me as she could see I was in distress. It was probably one of the most worrisome moments of her coaching career. Thankfully afterwards she redirected me  to a group of varsity girls and with their support socially I wasn’t again taken advantage of.

The next bump  along the way was when I first joined the track teams my coach,Mrs. Sharrow, was only able to  put me in one sprint event for dual meets and for the rest of the meets I didn’t run at all.  It was so discouraging and somewhat depressing .  I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep running. However, rather than quitting, we talked about how track could  be more enjoyable and successful for me and her advice was for me to join the Cross-Country team. Since Cross-Country races are 3 miles I would have  the endurance to be able to run everything  but hurdles .   I listened to her advice and came to the winter track season following my first season in Cross-country being able to run whatever events Coach Sharrow asked me to  and I never looked back. This move allowed me to become a great teammate  and through this  my communication, listening, and social skills became age appropriate as I was so driven to be the best person I could be.  It also made me realize Penny Sharrow   was my best cheerleader on and off the track with how she loved my “Yes I can attitude”. Today this hasn’t changed and I am eternally grateful as this is another example that a negative experience can be turned into a success story with support of a great mentor.

While running distance was a difference maker for me, running relays was still hard at first  because  I was significantly  slower which sometimes brought me some unwanted attention.. For example, some teammates who didn’t run this event said to me after my first time running the 4×800 “I hope you know you caused your team to finish in last place”. However rather than saying what I was thinking I said “it is unfortunate and I wished one more person would have said yes to run this race as I don’t like running relays because I know I am much slower. But when Coach Sharrow asks me to run  to get the team points, I am going to say yes.  As getting some points is better than getting no points by not having enough people to run  the race at all. Through facing this negativity my honest answer to these teammates made running relays more enjoyable as they were now impressed by my courage and strength  to help my team while knowing I was slower.

So my advice is to always work hard and trust your coaches as  this will lead to tremendous success while social, communication, and listening skills difficulties  will become a distant memory.  I know how true this is as my coach,  Penny Sharrow,  always remembers my “Yes I Can Attitude” and  being a special teammate  not as the athlete who could hardly run at all.    I shared the same feelings and I am grateful for Penny taking me under her wing as it was her widespread support that led to  so many successful memories.   It is certainly not easy, however with your  coaches’ support and your own determination you will  succeed and begin to  understand me.

Community Voices

An open letter to encourage inclusion in sports more

There is nothing that frustrates me more than reading that only 1% of those with an NVLD or a similar disability are fully included in sports during the high school years. As my Cross-Country and Track Coaches proved 20 years ago in a sport like running we can have inclusion since it is more about doing your best and supporting all runners.So as you read this I hope you understand why I strongly believe this percentage needs to be so much higher.

To Penny Sharrow- When you first coached me in the 7th grade   I didn’t  believe you really liked me given I was not a strong runner.  Two years  later after crossing the finish line for the 1500m I knew I was wrong. In fact from  that moment on I knew you were an incredible coach and advocate to me. It was such a special feeling as I was told by many that no varsity coach would support me and you proved them wrong. .One of my greatest memories is still hearing you yell  “Eileen you forgot to check the board” as I entered school. I was stunned to see  I was running the 1500m for the sectional meet. Afterwards you taught me that sometimes excellent efforts outweigh talent in some situations and this was one of them. Also winning my first award for spring track in 10th grade was special too as I never thought a coach would respect my abilities enough to give me an award.I could really go on forever about how eternally grateful I am that you were my Indoor and outdoor track coach as you proved daily we can participate in sports and be successful.

To Diane  Jeneault- When I first joined track in 7th grade I was very nervous as I didn’t know you but knew my mom liked you a lot so I had great confidence you were going to be an incredible coach for me. I was right as you not only understood the sport of track and field but because you were a resource room teacher you understood that at times I would face some challenges like coping with change. For example when I became a distance runner you were so good at communicating with me about how I needed to try different events. With your encouragement I ran every single distance race and was happy to do it. I am forever grateful to be coached by you for 7-12th grades. You were a coach who always used your educational techniques on the track which just showed that inclusion works in sports too.

To Jim Adams- When we first told my support team that I was joining the Cross-Country team many believed  you wouldn’t be able to support me and that my parents were pushing inclusion too far.  Right away at the first practice I knew they were wrong as you communicated in a way that no other adult had before and we quickly formed a special relationship. I don’t think I will ever forget my first varsity race as your pre and post race advice was incredible.. These wonderful talks were constant and it made things so settled for me that even on my hardest days I loved running for you.  You were an adult who always knew how to bring out the best in me.   It truly speaks volumes about how well inclusion works in sports . I am not only  eternally grateful you were my cross-country  coach but also for  your friendship today.

To those with an NVLD or a similar disability – Please  understand that the individual sports offered at schools have a more “open door” policy and because they don’t have cuts students at all levels of ability are welcome and included. These teams focus on being a great teammate and overall personal growth rather than overall record which sports like basketball and football tend to do. Therefore if you are respectful and hard working you can and will be included and become a valued member of your team.That being said I would recommend that you choose to be a three season runner at first and then after a season or two as you build up your confidence and social connections and are looking to try something new perhaps try swimming as your 3rd sport. This is because I feel the coaches in these sports seem to appreciate the hardest worker, not just the one with the most talent. Personally,  I can say my coaches were my biggest advocates and were the first to say “never count out Eileen Herzog”. Therefore I strongly believe these same things can happen for you if you take the risk and join a sports team. It will be hard work however  I believe you will love it.