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"You shouldn't be in college if you can't spell or write with correct grammar. How did you ever get accepted?" This is how one of my professors responded when I tried to explain why I had an official accommodation to use a computer to take an essay exam.
Today, most students are allowed to use computers during exams. But when I began college more than a decade ago, I had to explain how my learning disabilities affected my capacity to spell and use correct grammar. A computer helped me get my ideas on paper, organize them, and write a grammatically correct sentence. It still does!
Children who are diagnosed with learning disabilities and ADHD need positive, not negative messages from their families, teachers, and all adults who support their development. Like other students with similar diagnoses, I would face a long journey -- full of self-doubt, discrimination, and people who told me why I could not succeed.
Luckily, there are also people who help kids conquer self-doubt, rise above prejudice, and encourage them to reach their dreams. These adults support children with positive messages. I was lucky enough to grow up around adults who gave more positive than negative messages about my abilities. Yet I am well aware that many children do not have this kind of support. Today, I try to instill what I learned about growing up with learning disabilities to the students I tutor and coach - and to the parents and teachers who work with them.
As I look back on my journey as a student with learning disabilities, it is the positive messages I received from adults to which I attribute my success. Through reassurance and constructive guidance, the following steps were critical in my journey. I encourage students to understand and embrace each one.
Every student has strengths and weaknesses. But kids with diagnosed disabilities need to understand their academic and emotional assets and liabilities really well. By middle school, educational testing can help students look inside themselves and understand how their disabilities impact their studies and social lives. Knowing what they need from teachers, tutors, counselors, peers, and parents is a foundation for future growth.
It's okay to be different; embrace it. I can't emphasize this enough. I have friends who were told to hide their disabilities from teachers. As a result, they felt unhappy and defeated. It wasn't until they got tested, shared their disabilities, and requested accommodations that they were able to finally get into a college and get the degree they wanted. The earlier students learn to work with their disability and understand it as part of their identities the better. Embracing our disabilities give us the confidence to talk with teachers, administrators, and trusted friends about what we like, what we are good at, and what we need help with. We often can't, and don't have to do it alone.
It can be easy to say to a teacher, "I need an extension on this paper because I am slow at writing." While this may be okay early on in school, it doesn't work in college or the real world. So why get used to it? Rather than using a disability as an excuse, students must find ways to compensate. Figure out how to work efficiently and effectively, rather than longer and harder. Most kids with learning disabilities need help developing efficient work habits. Ask for help!
Working longer hours is necessary at times. But it can also lead to burnout. There are lots of compensatory strategies for learning, and many books on the topic. You've likely heard of many, including, making lists, getting organized, using memory tricks, etc. The key is finding the strategies that work and altering others to make them your own.
For example, I'm a very slow reader and got frustrated when I couldn't finish reading assignments. But I'm a good listener and I understand high-level concepts. My strategy was to listen in class, research the topic, and then boil down the minimum reading necessary. Finding strategies that worked for me helped me set limits on my school work, gave me time to socialize, and helped me have time for myself.
Taking time away from stressful school work is essential for students with learning disabilities and contributes to better mental health. It also allows students to focus on bigger dreams, careers that might take 4-8 years of secondary education!
Setting goals is important for all of us. And most importantly, we have to develop the determination to achieve them! I encourage students with LD/ADHD to find adults who give them positive messages of encouragement, who listen to them when they express self-doubt. With the right support and strategies, we can do anything we set our minds to!
Having learning disabilities and/or ADHD is not easy. And it doesn't end when we finish school. With every change, come new challenges and strategy adjustments. I always remember what the famous educator, Booker T. Washington said more than 100 years ago, "I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles overcome while trying to succeed." Challenges are what make life exciting - they are what define who we are and who we become. Embrace the challenges!
Posted on March 27, 2012 by Sarah Price-Mitchell, J.D.
Sarah is a licensed attorney, coach, mentor, and tutor. After graduating from the University of Richmond School of Law, she worked in criminal prosecution for a year. Then she decided to follow a different path - working as a coach and tutor to students with unique learning styles in the Greater Seattle Area. You can contact Sarah via her website, Twitter, or Facebook.
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Tags: *Parent Engagement at Home , *School-Family Partnership, Communicating, Gifted , Learning environment, Parents as teachers, Special Needs/LD
Posted March 29, 2012 by Sarah Price-Mitchell
That is a difficult point to pin down. For me, I think it was more of a transition. High School is a hard place to accept having ADHD with the social pressures. While I had certain complications that forced me to accept my differences at an earlier age, I don't think it was until collge that I really accepted them as part of who I am. I wouldn't worry -- College is an easier environment for accepting differences than High School. I would say focus on building self-advocacy skills with teachers and using accommodations to set him up for collge and hopefully the rest will follow. Thanks for your question and good luck!
-- Nita, thank you! I am honored to be compared to my mom; she did teach me almost everything I know when it comes to writing!
Posted March 29, 2012 by Carla
at what age were you willing to accept you had these difficulties? My son, who is 18, and has ADHD has overcome a lot but the biggest issue is that he often refuses to think he has challenges. I'm hoping it is maturity and he'll get there soon because he goes to college next year.
Posted March 28, 2012 by rick ackerly
Nicely said, Sarah. Thank you. It is so much more valuable to hear how it is from one who is living it, than from experts, especially since each brain has its own unique challenges and compensatory opportunities.
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