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Elisa’s Corner

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Hi! My name is Elisa Blasi and this is my story.

I could simply write to you what my Learning Disability entails; explain that I have a Non-Verbal Learning Disability and that I have always had a hard time with numbers and letters. But anyone with a Learning Disability knows that these words don’t give justice to the struggles I have faced, the many times that I have felt like I have been banging my head against a brick wall.

I was the child in elementary school who left class after “Oh-Canada” and only saw the other students during lunch, art, gym, and recess. I was often told “Elisa you’re no different than anyone else” and it confused me because clearly I was, if I had to leave the classroom every day. It’s only now that I realize how wrong they were to tell me I was not different. I was different and that should be celebrated. However, at that time I grew more and more embarrassed of my disability. People love to give labels to things they don’t understand and I quickly became “the stupid kid”; and I believed it.

I was lucky because I had extremely supportive and encouraging parents. My parents were the type who looked at the learning skills on a report card before the grades. They would spend their summers trying new ways to break down my roadblocks and create a learning style that I could thrive in. What was most important about those summers was not only all the things we learned about myself, but also the message my parents sent me through their efforts. They showed me that I can and will learn and that they were not going to give up on me.

Making friends seemed to be very complex in my childhood. I often became the “funny friend” to draw attention away from my disability. It did not take long for me to realize that the struggles I was facing were not the same as my friends’. When most girls were reading Cosmo Girl for tips on “what to wear on a date,” I was trying to find the answers to “how to pretend that you are able to read a menu on a date”.  In essence, most of my elementary school years were spent wondering when I was going to grow out of my Learning Disability.

Once high school hit I did not want anything to do with the special education department. I made it very clear that I was not to be called down during class, and would not be using my laptop or any other tools that would enhance my learning. I did not want other students to know I was different. By the end of grade ten my grades were barely passing and I was instructed to rethink the classes I was to take the next year. They made it obvious to me that these grades would not gain me acceptance into a university. But I was not going to let that happen.

What happened next was really a build up to that moment when I realized that I was the only person who couldtake control of my disability. All the struggles I had up to that point fueled the fire that pushed me to want to do better and give everything I could offer. I no longer wanted to coast and think of my disability as something I would grow out ofI wanted to own it.

I am now currently enrolled as a third year Psychology major at York University. I got here by using a program called Kurzweil, which allowed me to have my exams read to me at my own pace, as well as edit my own work. This gave me a type of control over my difficulty of reading and gave me the independence to do my own work; like I had seen other students do my whole life. I have developed many different tools and strategies that enable me to be at par with other students. I have learned that my disability sets me apart from other people and this is something that can be celebrated and seen as an advantage. This is not to say that I no longer struggle. I will always be faced with situations where I must learn how to adapt. However, through my past efforts I no longer see a failure as the end result, but rather an opportunity to refine my style and come at it in a different way. The way you view your Learning Disability makes all the difference.

This has become such a common reaction that I hardly blink an eye when it is said. For those of you who are a little lost right now; the phrase “but you look normal” usually comes after people with a LD come out about their disability to a friend, co-worker, or family member.

For a large portion of my life I was extremely frustrated by people like this. I could not understand how they could not see what a slap in the face this phrase actually is. It was only when I started to reply with “how should I look” that I realized people are severely lacking basic information on the LD community. Yes, many people have heard about a “Learning Disability” but very few have encountered a real life example of a person with a LD.

Why is this?

If you were to take a look at the TV shows, books, and magazines we devoured as children; you may notice the lack of representation when it comes to the LD community. If on a rare occasion there was a LD student shown on any of these medias; they were often painted as the classic “stupid kid”. It is no wonder that people by the time they get to high school or university either had little or a inaccurate knowledge on the LD community.

How do we change this?

There are a lot of factors involved in making a change. Although gaining accurate representation through popular media would make a large impact; I believe the change starts from the source. Meaning that the people who have a LD are the people who need to start making changes. As students with a LD, we have the opportunity to find our voice and bring attention to our community. For example, when I tell my friend that I have a learning disability and they response with “but you look normal”; I take the time to sit down with them and explain what a LD actually means. Hopefully that person will also get the opportunity to correct another person; enacting a chain of change.

In elementary school I always wished that my friends understood what a Learning Disability truly meant. At the time I did not have the words or the confidence to explain to them the true meaning of my learning style. This is why LD Awareness Month is so important to me. This is a month to talk, to explore, to question, and to learn about the Learning Disability community.

What is important is that we do not limit this conversation just to those who have a Learning Disability; but rather reach the entire community. I believe by educating others about the LD community; we will in turn be laying the foundation to create a platform for people with different learning needs. This October let’s get educated about the LD community.

My learning disability does not define me.

Just because I have trouble reading does not mean that I cannot read.

Just because I have a hard time with the manipulation of numbers, does not mean I can not take a math class.

And finally, just because I have slower processing speeds, does not mean that I cannot take in information.

I am not going to pretend that my Learning Disability is not a large part of my life. Rather, it is something that has shaped me. It is something that has allowed me to build on characteristics that many people in a life time

would never get the opportunity to develop.

Do not define me by my Learning Disability; define me by the valuable and different perspectives I have to offer because of the way I learn.

FACT: the new school year is fast approaching.

Although many of us are dreading the thought of leaving our lazy summer days behind, there is, in fact, a hefty bright side about this upcoming September. Each school year is an opportunity for a blank slate. Meaning you will be encountering new teachers, new environments, and new courses. Now that you are a little bit older, wiser, and more in control of you learning environment than ever; you have the ability to map out how your school year should follow.

How can you set the foundation for a good school year?

Yes. Organization is always key! But that is not what I will be talking about today. I want to write to you about the importance of communication between you and your teachers. So, before going on let me just state….

FACT: teachers are not mind readers!

This reality took longer to realize than I care to admit. I would start every school year ready to be more in control than the last. However, within a few weeks I would be frustrated with my teacher’s inability to meet my individual learning needs. I expected my teachers to already know what I needed from them by simply looking at my IEP. What I learned later on was that my IEP was just a skeleton of what I needed as a student. Rather it took my own voice paired with my IEP to ignite a successful learning environment.

It can be tricky to know exactly what to say to a teacher in order to open the lines of communication. Your first step should be to get your hands on your IEP. Once you understand your IEP you will know what you legally are entitled to as a student with a learning disability. But do not stop there! On your first day of class collect as much information as you can about the corse content. Often teachers will provide students with a syllabus. Take each syllabus home and re-read them in detail. Finally grab a sticky pad and list accommodations you think you would need based on each course content. Write a new sticky for every syllabus; as each class calls for its own special accommodations. The second day is where the lines of communication should be opened. After class or at lunch seek out each of your teachers and discuss what you need in order to create a successful school year. For example, to my English teacher I would start my year by saying:

Hi, my name is Elisa and as you may know I have a learning disability. It is important that I get photocopied notes so that I can keep up with the note taking of this class. I will also be writing my exams in the core resource room. Please let me know ahead of time so that we can scan my exams and I can do them on Kurzweil. I would also appreciate not being called on in front of the class to read. If it is part of the marking system please let me know what I will be asked to read ahead of time. That way I can take the text home and practice.

This small but important step can go a long way for students who have a learning disability. I encourage you to try it out and set the foundation for your school year by opening the lines of communication with your teachers.

By: Elisa Blasi
LDAYR Ambassador

This is a great question and fortunately can be answered in many different ways. There are countless strategies that can be used when studying for an exam. However, you must first prepare by ensuring that your child’s binder is organized with a complete set of the course notes before they begin studying. Often, teachers will provide a list of what will be on the exam. It is important that you both look over this list in order to identify what notes they are missing.

Personally, I was the queen of disorganization in high school. Every year before exams my father and I would look through my binder only to find out that I was missing more than half of my notes for that semester. My father would take me to visit my teachers after school in order to the get notes I had misplaced throughout the year. Once I had my course notes organized I was able to take the next steps toward studying.

First, my father had me pull out all the tests I had worked on within that semester. He then had me look through each of my tests and write down every question I answered wrong. Finally, my father would set up meetings where I could go over these questions with my teachers. He explained that these meetings were my time to sit down with my teachers and learn what I had done wrong in my past exams to ensure that I would not make the same mistakes again. Further, he had me write down the right answers the teachers provided and ask them for similar questions on the same topic. Ultimately, I was able to go home and have a complete binder of all the information that would be on my exam.

Thus, my father helped me prepare for my exams by giving me all the tools I needed to succeed. By having all the right information I was able to play around with different study tactics, like Q-cards or mind-maps, and was able to find what learning styles worked for me. When it comes to exam time a lot of the pressure is left up to the student to organize their notes and study. However, if your child has a hard time with executive functioning skills it can be difficult for them to obtain the proper tools in order for them to succeed. This is why it is important for these students to have someone who will coach them on both effective note organization and teacher-student communication skills. I believe the reason why I am able to effectively study today is based on they way my father helped me prepare for exams in high school. He never did any of the work for me, nor did he exclude me in any meetings with my teachers; but rather he guided me in the processes of studying and communication until I was ready to practice it on my own.

I remember as a child always feeling like I had to hide my Learning Disability. I was constantly in a state of anxiety as a child, at the thought of what friends would think if they knew about my Learning Disability. In fact, no one really talked about Learning Disabilities openly. This gave me the impression that it was something to be embarrassed about. I could see that I was not normal; and like any other child in elementary school I wanted to be just like everyone else.

What often made me feel better about my self was finding out that people like Daniel Radcliffe or Cher also had LDs themselves. These people were openly talking about their LDs and yet they were very successful.

I don’t want other children to feel like their struggling alone. I want to speak out and show that an LD is not something that we have to be embarrassed about; but rather give others the empowerment to be able to talk about their learning style, and to freely be able to use their accommodations without feeling humiliated by other students.

The only way to do this is to start an open discussion with everyone about what a Learning Disability is. Thus breaking down this wall of misconceptions toward the accommodations children can receive.

I remember as a child always feeling like I had to hide my Learning Disability. I was constantly in a state of anxiety as a child, at the thought of what friends would think if they knew about my Learning Disability. In fact, no one really talked about Learning Disabilities openly. This gave me the impression that it was something to be embarrassed about. I could see that I was not normal; and like any other child in elementary

I did not take control of my LD until the end of grade 10. This was due to embarrassment and fear of what others would think of me. I couldn’t imagine starting the discussion in the classroom at a very young age about what a Learning Disability is. Why do students need these accommodations to level the playing field yet are told they are not getting an advantage with these accommodations?

People with LDs can learn, even though most of the time it will be in a different way; their own unique way. I ultimately want to dispel all the negative and incorrect views toward what a LD is. By empowering youth at a young age we are giving them the opportunity to be proud of their differences and that they are not to be looked down upon by their peers.

We are not going to pretend that students diagnosed with a Learning Disability are not different from any other children. We are going to embrace it. We are going to teach them how to own their LD. Specifically how to keep all the elements within their internal focus of control.

Hopefully with this empowerment and true understanding of one’s own Learning Disability, other students will have enough confidence within elementary school to be able to go up to a teacher and explain the nature of their learning styles at the beginning of each year.

Let’s give students the confidence to tell their friends (if they want) that they have a LD and that they do not have to feel embarrassed about it. As well, with this awareness more children who do not have LDs will begin to understand what an LD means rather than just labeling the child as “stupid.”

This is a great question and fortunately can be answered in many different ways. There are countless strategies that can be used when studying for an exam. However, you must first prepare by ensuring that your child’s binder is organized with a complete set of the course notes before they begin studying. Often, teachers will provide a list of what will be on the exam. It is important that you both look over this list in order to identify what notes they are missing.

Personally, I was the queen of disorganization in high school. Every year before exams my father and I would look through my binder only to find out that I was missing more than half of my notes for that semester. My father would take me to visit my teachers after school in order to the get notes I had misplaced throughout the year. Once I had my course notes organized I was able to take the next steps toward studying.

First, my father had me pull out all the tests I had worked on within that semester. He then had me look through each of my tests and write down every question I answered wrong. Finally, my father would set up meetings where I could go over these questions with my teachers. He explained that these meetings were my time to sit down with my teachers and learn what I had done wrong in my past exams to ensure that I would not make the same mistakes again. Further, he had me write down the right answers the teachers provided and ask them for similar questions on the same topic. Ultimately, I was able to go home and have a complete binder of all the information that would be on my exam.

Thus, my father helped me prepare for my exams by giving me all the tools I needed to succeed. By having all the right information I was able to play around with different study tactics, like Q-cards or mind-maps, and was able to find what learning styles worked for me. When it comes to exam time a lot of the pressure is left up to the student to organize their notes and study. However, if your child has a hard time with executive functioning skills it can be difficult for them to obtain the proper tools in order for them to succeed. This is why it is important for these students to have someone who will coach them on both effective note organization and teacher-student communication skills. I believe the reason why I am able to effectively study today is based on they way my father helped me prepare for exams in high school. He never did any of the work for me, nor did he exclude me in any meetings with my teachers; but rather he guided me in the processes of studying and communication until I was ready to practice it on my own.

Hello Theresa,

That’s a great question!

I don’t think there is just one right answer for how you should explain what the nature of a learning disability entails to your child. Personally, when I was in elementary school adults often said classic lines like “your special” or “you’re no different than any other child” I would actually get quite angry. I felt like most of the adults I talked to really did not understand how difficult it was to have a learning disability.

Not everything worked either with what my parents had said to me (there was a lot of eye rolling on my part as a child and a young teen).

But from my perspective what was important was at least they were trying – they were so invested in understanding my learning disability.

I think one of the most valuable pieces of advice I could give you from someone who has heard it all from adults; is to not treat her like she’s too young to understand or that you yourself understand everything she is going through. What my parents did that was important for me was that they made it like a journey that we are taking together. They would say, “Together we will understand what your learning style is, together we will talk about the difficulties you face. Make sure to always be there to cheer her on and encourage her. For the better part of my life my parents have been my backbone, my own personal cheerleading team, and people who I can talk to.

As for what age did my parents explain it to me – it was every age. With a new level of maturity came more discussions and more environments where we learned together what I would have difficulty doing. Overall this is never going to be a subject you guys will stop talking about or stop learning from. So, make sure you are having open discussions at every age.

Here’s what my dad had to say after reading your question:

My personal opinion based on parenting two children with noted learning difficulties, and years as a Special Education teacher dealing with students from all shades of the spectrum.

I’ve been reading books on Learning Disabilities since my daughter was diagnosed with a severe non-verbal learning disability, some helpful, some not. I’ve learned to move away from the larger labels and sub-headings which serve to “corral” reality into tidy groupings for whomever and whatever; but useless to me. I focused on the singular observable facts that relate directly to my case.

Example: she cannot identify analog time. Then I ask myself what is important here and how important is it. Is it the reading of an analog clock that is important or the ability to feel time as an event. Are there any other ways for her to observe or access time; perhaps digital, cell phone, etc. If learning analog is a life skill then how much time/value/effort should be allocated to the learning of it, or is it a skill that can be acquired over a longer time line….20…30 years.  This is the level of attention that is required for what educators are rallying as differentiated learning. Is this level being practiced in your child’s school; only you can discern this through direct involvement on one level or another. Do not allow the school to remove your child from the regular classroom to engage in general activities that do not directly relate to their learning; this was one of my many initial errors.

You, or you and the psychologist, need to go through the whole Psych. test results, including learning strategies that relate directly to them (not blanket generalities). If you are not satisfied with the psychologist’s explanation then take them to task…..they owe it to you as a component of the report. I’ve had numerous discussions with Psychologists with regards to their reports, some amicable and some not; ” it’s your report, you’ve been paid for it, explain it so that it serves to help program for my child “.

With regards to disclosing to your child, there is no point in hiding anything, in fact, hiding creates more problems than the disability itself.

Empower yourself and lead your child to empower themselves as life-long learners with intrinsic self-worth ready to participate as happy, successful individuals in our society.

By: Elisa Blasi (featuring Elisa’s dad)

Ask Our Ambassador a Question

Do you have a question for the LDAYR Ambassador? We would love to hear your feedback regarding Elisa’s story. Please send us an email with your questions and/or thoughts to:info@ldayr.org ATTN: Elisa’s Corner.