The Wicked World of Learning Disabilities

As if adjusting to the fact that I was adopted wasn’t enough my family, we were faced with another challenge. I attended a catholic school for first grade, and shortly after enrolling they realized I had difficulty with reading and math. My mom tells me that they had weekly tests for the first graders and they noticed I wasn’t on at the same level as the other students my age. My parents were referred to a specialist at a nearby college where they conducted intelligence tests. I scored above average but they realized I had a learning disability in math. Similar to dyslexia, which affects reading, my leaning disability is called dyscalculia,(pronounced dys-cal-ku-lah.)The common indicators of dyscalculia are poor long term memory for math functions, difficulty learning to count, losing track of mental position among the fundamental mechanics of the mathematical problems.

My parents were faced with the tough decision of whether or not to keep me in the private school where Catholicism was emphasized, or send me to a public school so I could receive assistance for my disability. I wholeheartedly believe they made the best decision for me by sending me to a public school. I was then placed in the LD short for (learning disability) room, as it was called. While my classmates worked on division and addition in the classrooms, I would leave the room and go to the LD room.

I’ll be honest and tell you I have no idea what 5+7 is, and I don’t know my multiplication tables and division still confuses me. In fact, I had to re-learn long division my sophomore year in college for an algebra class. I remember one of the hardest things for me was learning to add two- digit numbers together because I couldn’t remember how to carry the number over. Also learning the place value of numbers was hard. For example learning how to read the difference between 1,000 and 10,000 was difficult. I also have no idea what to do with fractions. The LD room taught me how to count on my fingers, how to make change and count money. Around their grade they succeed in teaching me how to read a digital clock. I still have no clue how to read an analog clock, but I don’t really care about that. Sure, I would occasionally get called a retard by my classmates and cry, but I knew I was different and there was nothing I could do to change that. I learned to play the card you were dealt at a young age.

Once middle school rolled around, my parents decided to enroll me in a public school so I could be put in the LD/ special education room. The difference between middle school and elementary school is, everyone is placed in different math classes. They would have one of the LD teachers in the classroom to help the students with LDs. We would have modified tests with fewer questions, and extended time because a common trait associated with leaning disabilities is the inability to finish tests in a timely fashion. Once again the little bastards on the playground would tease me and call me stupid. I remember bawling my eyes out because I would get so frustrated with myself. Being slapped with a disability can really fuck up a kids self-confidence and sense of self. It seemed like everyone else was normal and understood the simplest things about math like multiplication and subtraction. For me, I had to try three times as hard to just slip by and pass my math classes.

Fed up with being bullied and feeling inadequate, I took a stand. In middle school I created a group called TOLD. It stood for Teaching Others about Leaning Disabilities. Once a month during the lunch hour my fellow LD students and I would meet over pizza and discuss the hardships associated with having a LD. I applied for a $500 grant from a company to put up positive posters around school. My wish was granted (haha) and I received the $500. Before you knew it, signs were posted around school boasting positive messages. Pictures of men climbing mountains, a triumphant runner crossing the finish line, and a beautiful sunsets were proudly hung on my middle schools walls.
Another cool thing I got to do because of my grant was make a display in the cafeteria. I explained what the term learning disabilities was and went into detail about what dyscalculia, dysgraphia and dyslexia were. I even got creative (something my mind allows me to do because of my bipolar and my learning disability) and put a sentence in front of a mirror and explained that a student with dyslexia may read letters and words backwards. I wanted to force students to imagine what it is be like to have a LD.

I was invited to a fancy awards ceremony where students were awarded trophies for excelling in math, writing or whatever else. I had no idea what I was nominated for, choir perhaps? We got dressed up and my parents and I awaited my award in the packed auditorium. I won the Legnick community award for my work with TOLD. My LD teacher stood atop the stage and boasted about my work. She, as well as my parents were very proud of me. I still have the plaque on my wall and I also have my name on a plaque at a school. Although I haven’t visited the school in years, it still puts a smile on my face to imagine my poster still adorning the halls and my name hung on the plaque.

Although I had problems with math, I was in the 99th percentile for reading and comprehension skills. I scored a 28 out of 35 on my ACT’s despite the fact that I got a 14 on my math section (whoops!) Reading and writing didn’t always come easy to me, because they originally thought I had dyslexia. However, after one summer in summer school, I was magically cured! One thing to note about individuals with learning disabilities, although they may be maladroit in certain areas such as math, writing or reading, for the most part individuals have above average intelligence. Now, I’m not saying he is a genius, but allegedly Tom Cruise has such severe dyslexia, that he has to have his lines read to him.

My parents then decided to send to Catholic Memorial for high school. I was extremely nervous because, like many private schools, they do not offer special education classes. I enlisted a math tutor who happened to be a close family friend and she taught at CMH. In the summer I worked with her on a daily basis on simple algebra and she even helped me learn my multiplication tables. I could always be found getting help after class, sitting side-by-side with a teacher. As I stated earlier, I had to work a lot harder than most students to get by. However, by the grace of God, and the help of a calculator I passed every single math class! I was so proud of myself for passing algebra and geometry! For once I didn’t have to sneak out of classes or take modified tests. I was a normal student, integrated with other kids. Although I was still in the low math class, it didn’t matter because I felt apart of the class.
Math is still very confusing for me. ½ +2/3 is what? What the fuck is a numerator?! You want me to find the hypotenuse? An obtuse triangle is what, exactly? I don’t know that I will ever know the multiplication tables, I can’t count by 3’s or 4’s or 6’s and I have already forgotten how to do long division, I really don’t care. I know how to read a digital clock and I can (finally) count out 93 cents, something I didn’t know how to do until a matter of years ago.

I know that my family is simply amazing because raising me couldn’t have been easy. With my struggles of me being adopted and adjusting to life in an all-white home, dealing with my learning disability and now, having bipolar, I certainly am a handful. No matter what the struggle was, my family always welcomed with open arms and showed md unconditional love. They refused to let me call myself stupid or dumb because they knew I was smart because they understood I had trouble with math.


One thought on “The Wicked World of Learning Disabilities

  1. Wow!! I wish I could’ve had the where withall to band together with like students–instead I went with the troublemakers, an easy(I thought) way to find a “place” to be accepted, although I knew I didn’t fit there, either. You should be so proud of yourself for not only having had the idea(which I’m good at,too), but the drive and sense and consistency and commitment to follow through (that is where I always lack!) I am going to read this story to my kids, because u r a wonderful example of being pro-active at a young age

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