Whoah, that felt strange to (finally) be able to put on paper. I guess when you’ve been concealing, avoiding, and denying one aspect of who you truly are for so long, it can feel quite odd to be suddenly more open about it. Leave that as it may, despite sometimes being doubtful about this process, I still feel after running away from my L.D.’s affect on me for what feels like forever, I no longer wish to keep on running away, I choose to face it head on.
When I look back to my early Elementary schooling years I’d say for the most part I was pretty well adjusted and average. However, from practically the first day of school, sometimes in the class I would feel it was as if there was an alternative classroom in another dimension. And that this alternative classroom was exclusively for my peers, because they seemed to have comprehended a much higher capacity for understanding the classroom material in comparison with me. This ‘other classroom’ ideology was more predominant in some courses than with others. For example, Mathematics was my most formidable subject. Whereas with English & Reading, the ‘other classroom’ was virtually nonexistent, as I felt with average comprehension, in fact even more. On a more moderate level, I even thought there was an ‘other classroom’ for non-forms of academia, like sports in the school gymnasium, or artwork activities. And yet, being very young and realizing this feeling only manifested occasionally, not much was thought of it.
As I kept getting older and the grades obviously kept advancing their course material for each subject year after year, I noticed my anxiety stemmed from my limited capacity to understand (especially in comparison with other kids in the class) was ensuing more often, even several times a day. I had by then become worried it was even noticeable not just introspectively, but to others as well. I was never tardy, nor handed in late or incomplete assignments. However, if asked to manage my desk somewhat clearly, or to study over 25 minutes, it became nearly impossible. Class-wise I also couldn’t ‘react’ as fast as other students. You know when teachers randomly question a student, often due to suspecting that he/she isn’t focusing on the course material? I always got those questions wrong, or answered much later than others… even when I was FULLY CONCENTRATING. I couldn’t explain why it was happening, and thus felt embarrassed. When asked by friends I’d cope with the issue by using humor, or excuses like feeling fatigued. In hindsight, maybe I too was looking for my own credible explanation as to why I was so different.
That all changed when suddenly at the start of seventh grade I couldn’t think little of it because I had an answer. After years of feeling immoderate, at 13 years old I became fully acknowledged vis’ a vis’ doctor’s diagnosis about my Non-Verbal/A.D.D. Learning Disorder.
What people need to start realizing concerning Learning Disabilities is despite akin symptoms intermittently even mutual, each person’s LD carries aspects of differentiation. Therefore, official documentation was insinuated by the school board for this very purpose of showcasing the importance of acknowledging these different needs and strengths from students. It’s known as The Individual Education Plan, or by acronym as I.E.P. Even when presently reviewing my own I.E.P., many common notions that the general population suspects about LD’s seem to appear contradictory. For example, one common belief people have is each LD kid finds everything in school strenuous. Although sometimes this does happen, and yes my LD affects me in school, that’s because my LD affects my life in general, thus including school. Although a Learning Disability does affect school in general, it doesn’t necessarily mean I struggle in each subject. I scored a level two times more than average considering linguistics. This made sense because in Literature courses I often felt bored. However, this is because my advanced level made me feel unchallenged by the coursework. In math however, I scored three levels below average, making math a HUGE struggle. That correction brings me to my second point. The other big misconception is outside school, LD’s are practically non-entities. In fact, some people even believe upon graduation a student with an LD will simply ‘grow out’ of it. In actuality and in my case, my own LD affects me more on the outside. My ‘fine motor skills’ (like hand-eye co-ordination) are hindered. My disorganization goes through a cycle of greatly cleaned, then ‘suddenly’ unbearable. My last specific difference is I was told my ADD without Hyperactivity is very, <u>very</u> rare in males. I found this to be true when searching online and seeing many websites believing only females could have my type of ADD. Taking all these different factors into account, basically after one session and an afternoon immediately following of online searches, I went to bed that night feeling confused all over.
My diagnosis news hit me like a ton of bricks. I can instantly relive the feelings I felt if I wanted to, they are instilled that well in my memory. However I don’t necessarily want to, considering they weren’t good emotions being felt. Although (especially right upon hearing the diagnosis) I ceased to admit it, I did relate to everything described, and felt somewhat relieved because I finally had an answer after feeling so different for so long. Sadly that feeling didn’t last, and the temporary relief immediately started digressing into anger. Most people when diagnosed with something for some reason go through a very similar psychological cycle known as D.A.A. It refers to stages of dealing with the diagnosis, fully known as: Denial, Anger, & Acceptance. I wish I could say shortly after the second stage I went into the third stage, but acceptance of my ADD wouldn’t come for a long, long time. While that happened, the anger kept manifesting, and into new directions too. My head would spin with confusion when I was told the phrase ‘you are no different from everybody else,’ yet I was being told I needed to write all of my tests, assignments, and majority of my classes in the Resource Room. They told me I’ll get far if I keep up my hardworking attitude, yet I’d see kids work half as hard with better marks. Finally, they told me I needed ‘assistance’ just to be equal. The confusion I felt was almost like a slap in the face, and an underestimation of my intelligence.
In a few short months my anger manifested. I was mad at the mental health professionals who diagnosed me, wishing for them to call my parents and declare I was misdiagnosed and have nothing. I was angry at my teachers who constantly told me to go the Resource Room, where I believed the work was being ‘dumbed down’ and I thought I was actually being allowed to cheat with the memory aids and extra time. Since, after all, we were ‘the special kids.’ What I hated the most was being moved around. I was moved around due to being un-hyperactive. Since the stereotype of hyperactivity being a necessity for kids with attention disorders, sometimes even educational professionals such as teachers believe in it. I’m sure teachers would look at my IEP and assume me to be ‘that boy.’ The bouncy, ‘off the walls’ disruptive kid that needs to be separated to where he can be himself. Then (probably to their delight) they’d see me peacefully at my desk, working away. I used the sympathy they may have felt to my advantage, constantly being polite and hiding my true feelings, in hopes of being approved of moving out the Resource Room for Mathematics. Momentarily it would be a success, however shortly after leaving my Grade marks would descend. As such, I’d be sent back to the Resource Room. I’d re-attempt to leave, gain an exit, and fail Grade wise once again. That endless cycle repeated constantly in elementary school. It gave me the impression the more I’m out of the room, the better; and that my LD is something to be considered shameful. It also gave me the impression that since I can’t stay in one type of classroom, that I maybe might not have a Learning Disability. Therefore, I only struggle because I’m just a ‘stupid kid.’
If there’s one piece of advice I could give out to any faculty members of any school concerning students with Learning Disabilities, it is please don’t naively neglect their concern of stigmatization due to their young age. Believing they are too young to understand who they are is part of the problem. You could put up all the ‘you’re unique’ posters across the Resource Room you’d like, however not talking about their issues openly distances them from the other kids. The proof of this is the most common response heard when students with LDs disclose to their friends is: ‘but you look normal.’
Strangely enough, despite the constant switching I was never chastised from peers. Then graduation suddenly occurred, and high school started. I was told teachers would no longer be responsible for my learning concerning alternative accommodations. That it was up to me to become my own self-advocate. By the time I was notified of this I was so fearful of people finding out. So naturally, I looked at this news as a saving grace. I was sick of not only feeling intellectually inferior to my peers in general, but also less of a boy because my ADD was a male rarity. Believing I won’t use any resources in high school and could therefore go back to being a normal student, I established some strategies and mechanisms to my best efforts in order to mask my LD from others. I twisted what the teachers advised my about high school, believing that by ignoring their help I’m actually becoming a better self-advocate who could work hard. (ignorance knows no bounds). Most LD kids when in my situation take this news by ‘acting out’ to mask their struggle with an LD in high school. However, I believed if I was to stay off the radar, politeness was the essential key. I would always follow suit by being kind in the Resource Room, however nobody noticed how little I was actually in there. In classrooms I’d keep up the same charade and it worked for majority of the teachers. When the occasional teacher did pressure me into using resources, I’d play dumb and forgetful, anything to further stall and make them forget about asking. If that was unsuccessful, I’d confront them (nicely) in private; believing “I was ready to advance ‘now’ without my resources,” implicating I’d had prior usage before, when no such thing had ever occurred.
This masking gave me a false sense of intellectual ability, probably in retrospect to compensate for my huge insecurity of fear of being discovered. As the years progressed, so did this artificial feeling of being smarter than the faculty members and Resource Room workers. I graduated high school without majority of my teachers, peers, and even closest friends having any idea at all about my disorder. I denied the recommended laptop assistance three times, had exams one year only in the Resource Room, and did all assignments anywhere but. As horrible as it sounds because I know how wrong I was, my insecurity manifested so badly I even used to look down on students who went regularly and openly for help. Thinking I was somewhat a stronger person, when in actuality it was the other way around.
Despite how well (at least I thought) I had everyone fooled, there were of course two people who saw fully past my big act; my mom and dad. They are the ones whom I feel most guilty about the way I acted in all this. My parents were complimented by my many testing experts about how well open minded they were at the possibility I might have needs different from other kids my age. That’s really saying something, considering in their time LD awareness was virtually non-existent within the confines of the school board. They knew how much I hated my ADD, but kept persuading me to think otherwise. Unfortunately, I didn’t see it as persevering, but rather pestering.
I’d hear stories about how much more successful school wise they were when they were my age and kept thinking they must secretly be disappointment in me as a son. These feelings were often too hard to really bare, and as such I’d redirect it at them as anger. It would come out when they’d discuss the possibilities of getting help, or call my bluff when they knew I was trying to stall enough so they’d forget. Sometimes I think they didn’t know what to do and chose to believe me. Other times they stayed, and when they did I’d get angrier, ruder, and louder.
The breaking point came the day after my high school graduation ceremony. My parents appraised how close some of my peers were with their parents. especially how knowledgeable some parents were about their child’s school work. As a result, seeing their closeness along with the student’s successes made my parents in comparison feel my stubborn attitude was not an excuse for constant struggling. So therefore, if it’s not mine, it must be their fault. When they decided to confide in me with these feelings, I realized how much they loved me. And how much I had hurt them! Like any graduate I celebrated at a cottage with friends post-ceremony. However, despite the fun atmosphere the guilt I felt was inescapable. It was my hindmost thought before bed, preventing sleep. When I’d wake up, I’d usually pick off where I left before, thinking about it… I tried to forget, but it was to no avail. I became obsessed, and constantly felt culpable for my actions.
I decided the only way to stop these feelings was to take action and make it at least partially up to them. I finally agreed to schedule an appointment with a career counselling specialist that my mom had been recommending for a year. I was considering going beforehand, that is until my mother mentioned they specialize in Learning Disabilities. I then suddenly wanted no part of it. However, given the circumstances my anger for the first time subsided and I decided to go. Initially believing it would be another sappy counselling ‘you’re unique’ session I was used to reliving so many times prior howbeit to my surprise upon going I felt something new there; enjoyment & interest.
In case you haven’t figured it out by now, that association was LDAYR, and I’ve never felt a group of people have a more sincere approach to helping me. Thanks to them I finally came to terms with who I am as a person, and I owe that to them. I decided I wanted to help kids not just with LD’s, but ones who think like I previously did. I want to take that weight off their shoulders just like mine has been. Despite immense improvement, unfortunately, out of my control there are days where the old feelings emerge. That I think I’m weak for finally caving in, and won’t be successful in life. I can’t change myself for feeling that way; however what I could change is by how I react to it. I no longer wish to run away from it, but rather transfer and channel it into something else that utilizes my strength. My prime example is doing this very article. I love to write. Therefore, I figured rather than telling my friends about my LD with talking, I’d rather adapt to this much more comfortable idea. I may not be able to verbally discuss it, but can compromise by having each one read this and provide feedback afterward. That’s what having a Learning Disability is all about. Not being limited, but finding ways to plan and do things differently for your betterment. Aside from friends, I also left this open for people who thought as I did previously; to show you guys there’s hope. Hence why it’s up to you to become your own (constant) self-advocate. This has been one of the scariest, challenging, fun, fulfilling writing projects I’ve ever completed. To keep the feeling continuously empowered I wish to write more articles. I can’t go back and change the past, but I can change the future. If I put as much effort into being open about my LD than I did hiding it, who knows how much people I could help. I don’t mean that as a form of bragging, but rather an open goal for the future I still don’t know what I want to be, but now since I realize I’m just as smart as everybody else I feel like I could be anything I want. It’s a wonderful feeling. Initially I personally wanted to leave my name undisclosed, but this somewhat implied that LD’s are shameful and that is not the case.
Therefore, even after writing all this I still think the most justifiable way to conclude is ending off the same way I started, my name is Anthony Savonarota… and I am no longer ashamed about having a Learning Disorder.