Be inspired by these individuals who have learned to use their strengths to overcome some of the challenges associated with their learning disabilities.
What was it like when Abigail was first diagnosed with a learning disability?
ABIGAIL: I discovered I was dyslexic at the end of the third grade. In the first and second grade I felt different than everyone else in my class. I didn’t understand why. Once I was told I was dyslexic and given an explanation of what it is, I was happy because now I could be helped!
MOTHER: It was a very moving experience. My husband is Anglophone, so he didn’t clearly understand what her reading difficulties were [Abby attends a French school]. When we were doing her homework in grade one and two, it was very frustrating because it would take her an eternity to read. We would practice reading a lot, but it was laborious. In the beginning, we wanted to believe that nothing was wrong. With time, we realized that she needed help and we couldn’t help her without knowing what the “problem” was. We felt incredibly powerless. We had her eyes examined 3 times, we registered her in a reading summer camp before she began the third grade, we paid a babysitter to watch the 3 youngest kids so I could bring Abby to the library to read, and with all this, we didn’t see any progress. Finally, with the assistance of her third grade teacher, we paid for her to have an assessment. This is how we found out she was dyslexic. The diagnostic was key as it helped adults put strategies in place that would be helpful to Abby. We spent a lot of money, but it was money well spent because we were able to help our daughter. She loves school and that is what’s important!
TEACHER: When I met Abby, 2 years ago, she was a sad child who never smiled. I often explained to students that some of us are often strong in one subject and sometimes not so much in another; that we all learn differently and that this is what makes us unique children. We all have strengths and weaknesses to overcome. Abby felt immediately comfortable. She came to see me and explained a few of her challenges. Together, with the school team and her parents, we created an intervention plan to help Abby in her journey as a learner. The strategies helped her improve academically. Between the resource centre, the classroom and home, Abby now has the strategies, resources and support to help her succeed. Abby shines with self-confidence that is both rewarding and inspiring!
What are Abigail’s strengths?
ABIGAIL: I like to work with my hands, play with Lego blocks and K’NEX games because I can build buildings and landscapes. I like to plant seeds and watch them grow. I like cooking a lot and animals. I like to be a lunch helper at school because I take good care of the younger kids. I like my swimming lessons, and my dancing and gymnastic classes. I like to go to the cottage, catch frogs, fish, kayak, pedal-boat, go tubing and pick blueberries. My favorite subjects at school are math and science.
MOTHER: Abby is very creative. She takes good care of her little brother and her 2 little sisters. She’s very hands-on. Whenever I’m having troubles assembling something that we’ve bought that comes in many pieces, Abigail comes to my rescue! She loves to plant plants and take care of animals. She’s a very intelligent girl who understands concepts that are quite advanced for her age. This is what upset me the most when she was in the second grade. She had all of the required knowledge but had no way to show her teacher! She loves going to the cottage and spending time with her family. She is always ready to help others.
TEACHER: Abby is a happy student who is very happy in her own skin. She’s always in a good mood, very helpful and always ready and willing to be an active participant in her own learning. Abby understands everything she is told, and she overcomes her challenges in reading and spelling with strategies and assistive technologies that are available to her. She is very persistent.
What are Abigail’s needs?
ABIGAIL: I have a lot of difficulty reading and writing in French and English. The part of my brain that is supposed to remember how to spell words is broken. I have a lot of knowledge that I can say but can’t write. I have a computer with Word Q that helps me and I’m allowed a scribe during tests so I can prove I really know the answers. I am also working on a multisensory program in the resource centre.
TEACHER: Abby knows what she needs to succeed. The accommodations we provide give her a chance to demonstrate her strengths and knowledge. These tools are essential for her to succeed. These tools include Kurzweil, Word Q, Inspiration, additional time to complete tasks and a calm environment where she can complete her work.
What strategies have you learned that help you succeed at school? How did educators at your school help you learn these strategies?
ABIGAIL: My computer is very important because I can type my answers. I know how to start my computer, open Word Q/Kurzweil, and then Word. I know how to type my answers and save my work on a USB key. I know how to find my saved work on my key. I know how to go on the internet and I like Google because when I write the beginning of a word, the rest of the word appears and I can click on it.
I learned many reading strategies such as predicting, note-taking, recognizing words I already know, etc. I’m an auditory learner, so I can remember key words that help me answer questions correctly really easily.
I also like my multisensory program that I do at the resource centre because it helps me better understand words and why they are spelled a certain way.
What is the impact of having a family member with a learning disability?
MOTHER: Parents always want to believe that their child is in the “norm”. Being part of the “norm” ensures that your child will succeed just like everyone else: easily. It’s difficult to admit that your child has a learning disability because it’s invisible! I would say that the earlier a diagnosis is made, the better it is for the child. It’s easy to hate school when you have a learning disability! If we can help students throughout their academic journey, they’re more likely to pursue post-secondary education. These kids have strong and resilient personalities because, every day at school, they face many emotions, including fear, uncertainty, anxiety, sadness, doubt and their self-esteem is constantly in a fragile state. Loving and accepting them for who they are while helping them develop their strengths is the answer to “how can I help?”.
Can you provide an example of successes or obstacles that have been overcome?
ABIGAIL: During the first and second grade, I did my homework with my mom and it was really frustrating because she did not understand why it was taking me so long to read. She was always telling me to try harder and one time I missed my swimming lessons because she wanted me to keep practicing reading. This upset me because I really like my swimming lessons. Since my diagnosis, my parents understand that I always give 100%! My mother bought me a special necklace that I hold in my hand whenever I feel anxious at school. Reading and writing can make me feel as though my throat is closing up. When this happens, I hold my necklace, I catch my breath, I use the strategies I’ve learned, and I continue to give 100%.
This is a poem Abigail wrote for her teacher.
Click here to read a transcript of Abigail’s note.
When Alexis was first diagnosed with learning disabilities in grade two, she struggled to understand what a learning disability was and why she learned differently from other students:
“I remember that I didn’t learn like other students did – I felt dumber. Once it started that I went to the other classroom, it became normal.”
Today, Alexis is a student in grade 11 and she has become more comfortable with her learning disabilities; she is familiar with her learning needs and knows how to advocate for herself. Alexis and her resource room teacher, Jenessa Dworet, have volunteered to share information about Alexis’ journey as she struggled with learning disabilities and how she was able to become the bright and capable student that she is today.
Alexis’s Strengths and Needs:
When asked about her areas of needs, Alexis was quick to comment about her struggles with math:
“I have never been good at math. Memorizing math is the hardest part. I’m good at practicing it and doing it. I try hard to work it out but it’s always been a challenge. I think I’ve gotten some anxiety around it too. I put negativity around it, so that’s what it just brings. I say I’m bad at it now, and so I don’t do well.”
Jenessa, Alexis’s resource teacher, has also noticed her struggles with math as well as with writing:
“Writing can sometimes be an issue for her. She really needs to talk through her ideas before committing them to paper. She is starting to recognize how capable she is with her writing. She still sometimes asks for unnecessary support to get started. However, her significant struggles are around math problem solving and understanding math concepts. It was hard to watch such a confident young woman lose faith in her abilities when it came to math. She got through it though, got the necessary requirements, and now is pretty proud that math is behind her – forever.”
To accommodate for her struggles in math and writing, Alexis has learned to implement a number of strategies that help her complete the task at hand:
“I use extra time and come to the resource room to get extra help. I break down the steps so that the work is easier. I have a quiet place where I study. I have gotten better at asking for help. I know what to ask for and I ask earlier. I ask before it’s due rather than wait until it’s an emergency.”
Although Alexis struggles with math and writing, executive functioning skills are an area of strength, as Jenessa remarks:
“Alexis has a lot of enthusiasm for life and a strong sense of self-worth. She has excellent executive functioning skills – she is able to manage her time wisely and keep her belongings and ideas organized.”
Becoming Her Own Self-Advocate
Throughout her years in school, Alexis learned to become a self-advocate; she feels comfortable to ask for help early on when needed and communicate to her teachers what she needs in order to be successful in the classroom. However, being able to self-advocate isn’t always easy, as Jenessa points out:
“Asking for support is complicated – the student first needs to know what the issues are and how to articulate them. Then, the student needs to find a way to keep asking the teacher until the explanation makes sense. That’s really hard! On top of that, students face some teachers who are not receptive to supporting students.”
Although Jenessa has only known and worked with Alexis for one year, she has watched her develop strong self-advocacy skills:
“Alexis found her voice and faced even the most ‘fearsome’ teachers, only to find out that they were in fact eager and able to help her.
Alexis is going to be an inspiration to other students who struggle with school. She already is, but I know that her passion and skills will pull her towards helping others see their abilities. She can be fierce and I know that fire will take her anywhere she wants to go.”
The Elephant in the Room
by Elisa Blasi, Learning Disabilities Association of York Region Ambassador
Have you ever heard the term “the elephant in the room”? It is often used when there is an obvious issue or problem that everyone can see, yet, in order to avoid an uncomfortable situation, is sidestepped.
For most of my life I have felt like the elephant in the classroom. I was that kid in school who left class after our national anthem and only saw other students during lunch, art, gym, and recess. The reasons for why I would go to a “special room” were rarely discussed in my mainstream classrooms. Essentially, there was a gap between the implementation of my individual education plan and an explanation as to why I was doing things differently from the average student. This gap left space for me to create my own view as to why I was frequently taken out of the classroom. Looking back at that time, now as an adult, it is alarming to think that as a child I actually believed I was not as smart as my friends. Further, when my peers were left with this lack of information, it gave them the opportunity to create their own reasons as to why I was taken out of the classroom. As you can imagine, I quickly became the “stupid kid”. Yet, most adults in my life kept using the same go-to phrase whenever they saw I was frustrated with my school environment:
“You Are No Different Than Anyone Else”
There I was, sitting in a classroom, trying my hardest to believe I was no different than any other student, doing everything I could to blend in, and yet, extremely frustrated that I was not reading and writing the same way as my peers. My learning disability became the elephant in the room. It was obvious to other students that I had a difficult time with reading, writing, and math. Nevertheless, the actual learning disability was not talked about, but rather, covered up with an explanation that I was no different from my peers. At the very least, this period in my life was confusing. My learning disability was something many people noticed, but very few knew how to approach. Hesitant and passive explanations left me wondering, should I be embarrassed that I could not learn like my peers? By the time I was in grade nine, I had made two conclusions regarding my difficulties in school:
- My learning disability is something I should be embarrassed about.
- My learning disability is something that I should hide.
Before going on, let me introduce myself. My name is Elisa Blasi and I am currently attending York University as a Psychology major. My journey in understanding my learning disability has truly been a rollercoaster. What I once saw as a roadblock and as an excuse has slowly turned into something that has shaped me into the person I am today. My learning disability is what pushes me to relentlessly work at something, even in the face of failure. In fact, my learning disability has taught me to look at failure from a completely different viewpoint. It has given me an opportunity to develop a unique perspective on how I view challenges in my life. Meaning, I strive to approach a challenge as a learning experience, rather than an opportunity to play the victim. In turn, I have learned that I can be proud of myself; something I would never have believed possible when I was in grade nine. Currently, I work as an ambassador for the Learning Disability Association of York Region. Our goal is to empower students and eliminate stigmas attached to the diagnosis. As someone who has personally dealt with the weight a school environment can place on a student with a learning disability, it is important that I share my experiences in order to build an environment that will help support the needs of students to come.
I believe the source of our problem is rooted in the phrase “you are no different than anyone else”. When directed to a person who has a learning disability, this phrase can deeply damage their self-concept in both a school and a social setting. What you are saying is that their overall learning style and pace are the same as an average student. When hearing this from an adult, many students, including myself, will initially believe that statement. However, even at a young age, it does not take long for a student with a learning disability to see that they have different learning needs from their peers. This push and pull between being told you are the same as your peers, and yet seeing that you are not, is what causes “the elephant in the room”. Ultimately, this situation informs the student that homogeny in learning styles should be both desired and strived for. Yet, when students who have a learning disability attempt to learn the same way as their peers, they often experience failure. This type of failure confirms to students that our education system was not designed for a different type of learner.
I believe this cycle will stop the day we start openly talking about learning disabilities within mainstream classrooms. Every student, learning disability (LD) or not, should understand that an LD does not mean a student is unable to learn, but rather, that they learn in a different way. In other words, the classroom environment should be designed to not only celebrate different types of learners, but also complement each student’s learning style. In order to create a classroom setting like this, changes must be made:
- The special education classroom should no longer be seen as a mystical room where some students disappear to. Rather, teachers should explain what the special education room is and why it is important to students who have different learning needs.
- Each student, learning disability or not, should have a clear understanding of what an LD means.
- Students who have a learning disability should be made aware of their diagnosis and take part in their IEP process or any other parent/board personnel meetings. Further, students with a learning disability and their prospective teachers should be actively reviewing and exploring successful ways of accessing and processing the curriculum.
- The mainstream classroom should be set up in a way that allows students to have access to their accommodations seamlessly in the same manner other students have access to a pen and paper, thus, creating a welcoming school environment for the needs of a different type of learner.
This type of classroom setting rejects any misconceptions about learning disabilities to mainstream students, students who have a learning disability, and teachers who do not fully understand the meaning of an LD. By setting up your classroom in these aforementioned ways, you are saying to students that it is acceptable to learn in a different way. This type of atmosphere will allow each student to mature in his or her understanding of their own learning disability. Thus, when that student is faced with a situation that does not welcome their learning style, they will have the confidence to advocate for themselves because of the nurturing school environment they grew up in.
If you are an elementary-school teacher and reading this, I encourage you to start openly talking about learning disabilities in your classroom. These “talks” should be both informative and allow students to ask questions in order to debunk any stereotypes. I do not believe that there is an age when a student is too young to understand, rather, it is dependent on the teacher to create a lesson on learning disabilities that is appropriate for that age group.
If you are a high school teacher and reading this, then you have your work cut out for you. The problem is that by the time students get to you, they have been the elephant in the room for far too long. Many will be resistant and most will not even understand what a learning disability is. I suggest that high school teachers work together with their students with an LD to create a plan toward self-advocacy and understanding of their learning disability. Some will take longer to come around to the idea, but what is important is that you make yourself available for when they do.
Empowering students who have a learning disability today will have a considerable effect in the years to come. In fact, informing all students about learning disabilities will eventually cause a ripple effect in our society. What we have to remember is that the students in our classrooms today will one day be active participants in society and possibly parents themselves. If we start opening our children’s minds to the concept that there are different types of learners and thinkers in this world and also empower students of all learning backgrounds, then the future for people who are different will be brighter.
My name is Elisa Blasi and I have a learning disability. I am the type of student who is aware of my difficulties and thus I strive to ensure that I am always in control of my learning environment. With this in mind, I am currently enrolled as a third year Psychology major at York University. Facing the demanding curriculum of my program and the ever-changing world around me, I continue to adapt to situations that are challenging. My goal, in working with the Learning Disabilities Association of York Region and the Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario, is to empower students who have a learning disability by removing stigmas and promoting self-advocacy.
A Message from Matt:
I’d like to share that living with a learning disability is very hard at times, but you can’t just give up on life, you need to live up to your full potential. You need to want to help yourself before others can help you. The key to success is to want the help and then to go get the help. The people you have supporting you are going to be the difference in your life; if you have really good family and friends and teachers supporting you, then your success can be endless. If you really put your mind to it, try your best, and you get the support and your needs are met, then you can deal with your learning disability. You should never let a learning disability hold you back; you’re just as good as any other person out there or even better. If you have a dream or you want to go do something, let nothing hold you back or stand in your way; go do what you want to and be yourself. The only way to be successful is to learn from your weaknesses and work hard to improve them. You can think of your learning disability as a curse or as a blessing; it’s yours to choose what you want to do with it. God put us all on earth for a reason, he gave us everything we have and he gives the strongest of people the most challenging situations because he knows that they can make it through them and become better because of the challenges.
What was it like when Matt was first diagnosed with a learning disability?
MATT: I was diagnosed in grade 3 with a learning disability. I have a stutter and my feelings during this whole process were very up and down; sometimes it was good and sometimes it was bad. There were times where it was really difficult dealing with my learning disability. Sometimes you feel really down and like you just don’t want to do anything but you know you have to keep moving forward.
MOTHER: Matt began speech therapy at 18 months of age when I noticed that he was not reaching developmental milestones compared to children of similar age. During speech therapy, it was also determined that Matt’s fine motor skills were weak so he began therapy in a team approach with both occupational and speech therapy. Matt was first seen for psychological testing at the age of 5 and at this time, it was determined that Matt was behind by one to two years and he was placed in a small class for Senior Kindergarten to focus on language skills. My initial thought at this point was that finally someone else has confirmed what I had observed since he was 18 months old. And then it hit me, the realization that Matt would have many struggles that most don’t, that we would continue to face things differently. I felt everything from shock, guilt, anger, confusion and a sense of grief. But I was also relieved that the school would try to assist with accommodating Matt’s learning needs. This has been two-fold, where the earlier years have been more kind to Matt…the latter years more difficult. We have had a variety of experiences with various professionals that we have worked with, both positive and negative, since Matt’s diagnosis.
What is the Impact of Having a Family Member with a Learning Disability?
MOTHER: It has impacted our family’s life tremendously. Both my son, Matt, and daughter, Jessica, have a learning disability. Sometimes even the simplest of things will take three to four times as long to complete. Family discussions are also difficult with the train of thoughts from both children going in different directions. With Matt’s stutter, it has been an emotional roller coaster. These experiences have taught me to have greater patience.
Having a family member with an LD has made our family grow and have optimism and let go of out-dated stories or limiting beliefs of what is and is not possible. You come to a place where your child’s disability is accepted and his differences celebrated with the understanding that his (and your) journey are not straight lines, and that he can and will be successful in so many ways. You let go of comparing him to other kids and take a good, hard look at all the wonderful things he has to offer and his accomplishments that make him the special person that he is. You know that you are his best advocate and have the clearest insight into his abilities.
What are Matt’s strengths?
MOTHER: Matt’s greatest strengths are that he is a kind and friendly child; he has great social skills, and is very polite. He also has strong computer skills and works hard on organizing himself when prompted. Matt has good verbal comprehension and fluid reasoning. I also believe he is establishing a personal voice in his writing and is more focused on using concrete words and images to convey his attitude or feelings towards a topic.
MATT: I believe my greatest strength is my writing ability; I really like to write things and sometimes I cannot get my words out talking. While I’m writing, the words just flow out of my mind. Talking sometimes is not very successful for me. In school, I feel like I really succeed in classes that are hands-on or have a lot of writing. In my construction and auto class I am very successful with working with my hands. In English class, I succeed very well too because I like writing and I am very good at it, as proven in my marks.
TEACHER: When Matt did participate in class his ideas were thought provoking and mature. Matt had the incredible ability to dissect a book and to make inferences as well as to connect to the ideas and emotions on a level that I never thought possible. Matt was working at grade level in both math and language and was able to advocate for himself with what he needed, allowing him to experience great success. From when I first began teaching Matt, all of his needs have either become strengths or he has worked so hard that they no longer hold him back.
What are Matt’s needs?
MATT: I need to have a lot of independent work and I need to be away from distractions. On tests and worksheets I sometimes need some extra time. I need explanations from teachers. There are quite a few difficulties I am faced with at school and of those difficulties, my stutter makes it very hard to do anything oral in school, such as speaking out answers, reading from the textbook or reading aloud. Another difficulty I have is distractions in class; I need sometimes to be put by myself to do independent work. I need teachers to understand and adapt to my needs and they need to work with me and go over things thoroughly.
MOTHER: I believe Matt needs assistance with organizing his work; his executive functioning skills are weak. He has trouble with open-ended questions and has a hard time coping with distractions. I also believe he needs additional help with abstraction and sequencing. Matt’s biggest challenge is his stutter and fluency of speech. When he doesn’t understand a lesson in school, he needs teachers to review information several times, because he won’t or can’t always ask for help or clarification of the lesson. At this time it would be better for him not to have to give an oral presentation or be called upon in class.
TEACHER: When I first met Matt, I saw a boy who was quite unsure of himself; he had a very pronounced stutter that contributed to his lack of confidence in his abilities socially and academically. One of Matt’s greatest needs was, and still is, his anxiety around presenting in front of a group. Matt’s stutter would become more pronounced and he struggled to display his knowledge of his topic because his focus was to just get through the presentation. Matt worked very hard at this with the help of his teachers and we took steps towards presenting in front of larger audiences. Matt would present one-on-one with teachers, then in small groups of people with whom he felt safe, then a larger group until he was able to present in front of his homeroom class.
How has Matt experienced success at school?
MATT: One strategy I have learned to help me succeed in school is to do a lot of independent work. I need to ask questions and talk with the teachers to tell them about my difficulties. I’ve learned some ways and triggers to my stutter but not many. I’ve had to do as little talking in school as possible to help me. It helps me a lot more to write out all of my work and answers rather than answer stuff orally. My teachers have helped me by allowing me to be put in less stressful situations for speaking orally: my teachers don’t make me talk aloud in front of the class and it helps me a lot. Some of my teachers really show that they care about me and want me to be successful and live up to my full potential. The support I have really makes a difference and they are always giving me new ways to help me succeed and deal with my learning disability to let me be successful in school.
TEACHER: When given new concepts in math, it was important to break it down and allow Matt the opportunity to practice the new skill. Once Matt had the confidence, he was then able to take this new skill and apply it when working on word problems. Matt is an incredible human being. I have watched this shy, unsure boy try to navigate through life, and then, when given the confidence and a safe place where he could be free to take risks, transform into the leader that we all knew was in there. Matt advocated for others who were being bullied, taking a stand because no one did that for him. At the Together We are Better bullying conference, I watched Matt face his biggest fear and share his experiences with being bullied because of his stutter. He was selected as one of five students in all of York Region to sit on the panel and share his story. The pride that I felt that day will never be forgotten. Matt has recognized that being a student with a learning disability is not his ticket to an easy life. He understands and accepts that he has to work even harder to make sure he succeeds and is given all of the opportunities that he wants in life. I have watched a student who hated all aspects of writing become an eloquent writer who now loves written expression. This is something Matt relies on when his stutter becomes challenging and he now sees it as one of his greatest strengths. Right before my eyes, I have watched a boy become a man and the fact that I continue to have a role in Matt’s journey two years later fills me with deep satisfaction. I tell him often how proud I am of him and how he will be great, whatever he may choose to do in life. I look forward to watching Matt find success and happiness in life, he certainly deserves it!
Click here to view the transcript of Matthew’s introductory video.
What was it like when Matthew was First Diagnosed with a Learning Disability?
MOTHER: The process of diagnosing Matthew began while he was in Grade 4; he was so bright but he had such a hard time learning to spell and read. He demonstrated an ability to comprehend but his weak reading and spelling skills meant that, despite his hard work, he never received an A. In grade 5, Matthew received his psycho-educational assessment. During the process, I was anxious and nervous about what they would discover. Once Matthew received his diagnosis, it meant that school would always be a tough place for him; no matter how hard he tried, he would be viewed as the kid who struggled. The psychologist who diagnosed Matthew with a learning disability took time to privately speak with Matthew about his findings. I believe the time taken to talk with Matthew has had a very positive effect on him.
MATTHEW: When I was first diagnosed, it made me feel odd, but at the time, I did not know what was going to change. I thought that I was maybe less smart then some of my classmates. I also realized that it was going to be harder for me to prove myself to my teachers, myself, and others that I had equal ability as others.
What is the Impact of Having a Family Member with a Learning Disability?
MOTHER: Matthew gets anxious and needs to talk, so he talks a lot! We have to remind ourselves that this is how he processes information and emotions. Sometimes it is hard to give him the time he needs and I know that this has been difficult for him. We have had to learn to recognize his efforts and remind him every day of what he brings to the world because the world of academia can be frustrating. It has meant being in close contact with the school to ensure that Matthew is receiving the accommodations he is entitled to, to level the playing field. It has meant coaching him on advocacy skills to that he could advocate for himself. It has meant learning all about assistive technology so that we could help him embrace the use of technology as a tool to support his learning. It has meant finding things outside of academics that Matthew could connect with, that would ensure he remained positive and continued to develop strong self-esteem.
Most of all, Matthew keeps our family grounded. He reminds us that intelligence must be measured by more than reading ability. He brings joy when he sees the world just a little differently.
What are Matthew’s Strengths?
MATTHEW: Some of my greatest strengths are in the areas of verbal memory and expression. I am able to express my knowledge much greater if I am able to speak to you or record it. In school, I succeed in class discussions or presentations, as I am able to express myself better. My strengths also allow me to use my vocabulary and other tools I have to the best of my abilities and not be limited by other factors.
MOTHER: Matthew is a wonderfully spirited adolescent. He is dramatic and confident in his abilities. Matthew has had many opportunities to speak to large audiences about his learning disability. He has learned to persevere and knows who he is and what he is capable of. Matthew utilizes his technology to its full capabilities. Matthew has grit and compassion for others. He has experienced marginalization in the classroom and because of this, he tried hard not to marginalize others.
TEACHER: Matthew is a bright, keen and dedicated learner who benefits from oral instructions and visual aids to reinforce expectations. He is an auditory learner who has incredible expressive language abilities. Given clear expectations and time to process information, Matthew demonstrates limitless potential!
What are Matthew’s Needs?
MATTHEW: In school I find it most difficult to write or spell words. I also find it difficult to manage my time and large workloads. I also find it difficult to stay focused while I am reading; to help with this, I use programs like Kurzweil to read my textbooks to me, allowing me to stay focused and utilize my auditory skills.
MOTHER: Matthew requires reading and writing support. He is now in Grade 12 and is able to advocate for himself. Matthew needs support managing his assignments. When he receives a project, we work together to break it down into manageable chunks so that he is able to meet his deadlines. He gets anxious when he thinks he will not be able to manage his workload. Matthew has difficulty with spelling and in his writing; he has a hard time with clarity. Matthew is forgetful and often appears disorganized; however, I have come to appreciate that he organizes the world for himself.
TEACHER: Matthew struggles with spelling, conventions and organization of ideas but has been incredibly successful in school through the use of assistive software to express his ideas and his ability to advocate for himself and others.
What are Some Strategies that Matthew uses to Help Him Succeed?
MATTHEW: The tools that I use to help me succeed are creating checklists with deadlines to keep me organized and to manage my time more appropriately, so that I don’t feel stressed when I have a large assignment. I also use Kurzweil as it allows me take notes more effectively and allows me to study more easily. Additionally, I find that making mind maps helps me collect my thoughts and make connections, allowing me to understand all the knowledge I have and how it fits into both the bigger and smaller picture.
MOTHER: Matthew is an auditory learner so he benefits from having his textbooks on his computer, so that he can use Kurzweil to read the textbook or novel to him.
TEACHER: When I first met Matthew, he was in grade 8 and I could tell that he was a strong advocate for himself. He was able to articulate clearly what type of learner he was and what he needed in order to be successful. Over the past 5 years, I have had the pleasure of watching Matthew mature, become more confident in his abilities, and foster confidence in others. While Matthew was a strong student when I first met him, he has blossomed into an even more dedicated learner – he sets goals for himself, is proud of his accomplishments and shares his story with others. Matthew has the ability to empower those around him with his wit, sincerity and story; he makes me proud every day.
Click here to view thee transcript of Matthew’s concluding video.
A couple of weeks ago one of the Care Gift Elves, the charity and blog my friends and I run together, inspired me to come out and talk about my ADHD and Learning Disability (LD). In school everyone wants to fit in. People think people should be a certain way but it is not always that way. There are kids and teachers that judge too quickly. Some kids even bully and that is why I kept my struggles with my LD to myself, until now.
Before I knew about my LD, I used to be afraid of going to school because I didn’t want to get embarrassed when reading out loud or solving math problems at the board. I always thought that no matter how hard I tried, I wouldn’t be as good as the other kids in my class. Math was a struggle and so was writing and reading. I tried to hide it as much as I could. Funny enough my grades were never that bad so my parents and teachers didn’t really notice at the beginning.
I would get homework that was supposed to take me only 20 minutes but for me it took over 2 hours, especially math. I would just sit there not understanding anything. It was like I was stuck underneath a pile of rocks and couldn’t get out. Sometimes in class, I would just look at the window and go into La La land; I’d zone out and lose focus. Some of my friends used to say that they could read a book in one day or a week. It took me many weeks or even months. That really frustrated me, especially because I LOVE books. I really love stories and telling stories.
I felt discouraged, embarrassed, different and left out because I always had to work harder than all of my friends. It didn’t matter how hard I worked it wasn’t enough. At home, my parents were also starting to lose their patience and sometimes didn’t believe me when I told them that I did study or read my homework. I would think to myself, “Why can’t I read a book that fast or do my homework that quickly? Why is it so hard for me to understand or remember things?” I was sad and I started to show it through not being able to sleep at night, getting anxious and having lots of attitude.
One day, one of my teachers talked to my parents about how I was struggling in writing and how she had noticed my grades dropped and certain patterns in my behaviour. Especially when it came to reading aloud or copying from the board. See, for you it is probably the easiest thing to just copy something, but for me it isn’t. It is hard for me to focus on lines when I am reading and often I skip letters, words or even sentences. I need to concentrate really hard and it is better now but about two years ago it was soooooooooo hard. My LD is not only a challenge in school. It also takes me longer to memorize dance choreographies during ballet class or read my music sheet during piano lessons. My short-term memory is a bit of a problem, so I forget.
My teacher told my parents that I should take an assessment. My parents listened to her and I took the test at York University. It was actually a lot of fun and the people there were very nice. When I got the results, I was diagnosed with a Learning Disability and ADHD. When I found out I was so relieved because for all of those years, I really thought that there was something wrong with me and that I wasn’t smart. I literally felt like a bunch of rocks were taken off my back. The doctors explained to me that I had actually done really well on the tests and that I was really smart and that my brain was just wired differently. They said that I would just have to find different ways to learn and that with time I would know exactly how. My parents and I were happy because at least now I knew that if I kept on trying and studying in a new way, everything would get better.
I still have to work hard to get good grades and when I write these stories for my blog I have 3-4 drafts, but it’s worth the trouble. I LOVE writing. I guess the way I see it now is that I have a little friend living in my brain and its name is LD. Just like with my real friends there are good and bad days. Having a LD has taught me many good things, like not to give up and to work hard. It has made me more empathetic and stronger.
Anyhow, the reason why I wrote about my LD is because I wanted to let everyone know that having a disability isn’t a bad thing. It’s something you have, but it doesn’t define you. Don’t be afraid to be yourself. Whether it is a LD, a mental or physical disability, everyone should accept themselves the way they are. Be kind to yourself especially when you are having a rough time. Always believe in yourself! I know it can be hard sometimes, but never give up! And for the kids out there that judge too fast or make fun of kids like me, think before you open your mouth and say something hurtful. We all have strengths and needs.
Click here to access Angelina’s blog.
Angelina is a ten year old girl in grade 5. She runs her own charity/youth group with six of her friends out of her home. Their main motto is to spread kindness. They get together at least once a month and try to make a positive impact in their community. Since three of them like to write they just started their own blog where they not only write about their charity initiatives and projects, but also about every day pre-teen issues like bullying, kindness, school pressure, learning difficulties, gender issues, growing up, etc…
Angelina has learned a lot about herself while leading this group and has been greatly inspired and encouraged by her peers. Although school is not always easy, Angelina feels comfortable now to talk about her learning disability and to advocate for herself. She wants to spread awareness about LDs and help remove the stigma or negative perception that it still has in many classrooms, especially among kids but also adults.
Reprinted with permission from Care Gift Elves.