How my learning disability impacts me as an adult

Header image for Interrobang article CREDIT: ANGELA MCINNES
Opinion: I'm thankful that I can use computers to accommodate my learning disability (LD), but that doesn't erase the impact my LD has on my life.

Some of my childhood memories include my kindergarten classmates gasping over my scribbling, leaving class to meet an occupational therapist, and never truly learning how to ride a bike — all because of my learning disability (LD).

The Learning Disabilities Association – London Region defines LDs as a lifelong condition affecting a person’s way of learning, remembering, understanding, and expressing information. It can affect skills tied to reading, speaking, mathematics, and written language. People who have LDs have either average or above-average intelligence, but the effects vary on the person and the demands of their environment, and can even change over time.

My LD affects my fine motor skills and visual perception. My handwriting is usually messy and hard-to-read. I can write neatly if I take my time, but I can only process information so fast before the subject changes and I lose my train of thought. Any handwritten class notes were jotted quickly without thinking about the legibility.

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Along with my handwriting, my LD hindered my performance in some subjects in elementary school, especially in grades 7 and 8. Even if I understood how to neatly label a Canadian map or create a graph by hand, it rarely turned out neat, if ever. I grew up clumsy and backed out from ski trips with the teacher’s permission after being told it would be more challenging than fun for me.

While feeling frustrated and insecure, I did what I needed to do to just get through the school year in one piece and to advance to the next grade level. I was also bullied a ton, so I stayed quiet about my LD and my grades because I felt like telling my classmates about either would just give them yet another reason to pick on me.

In Grade 9, I was introduced to text-tospeech word processors and other adaptive technology that I could use for academic accommodations, which also included writing my tests on a computer. I was also allotted some extra time to write my tests because sometimes, it would take me a while to mentally process my answers to put on the test.

Getting accommodated and using a computer for my assignments and tests made a huge difference in my confidence and my grades. Eventually, I was able to earn both my university degree and college diploma and work in a career I love.

I thought my LD would barely impact me after I graduated high school and began my life as an adult, but that’s not what happened. My LD still affects me in both my personal and professional lives.

I have my G2 driver’s license, but before I even got my G1 my parents wondered if I’d be able to drive at all because of my visual perception. Following my dad’s footsteps in a dentistry career was out of the question. I’ve backed away from several skilled trades jobs, even though I’m aware they’re in-demand and rewarding careers, because I’m unsure if I can safely handle certain tools and machinery.

I’m thankful to hit undo to correct mistakes when audio editing — an impossible action during a time when broadcast journalists made their edits with a blade slicing through analog tape.

My skin crawls when I hear stereotypes about people with LDs, remarks of jealousy towards those requiring academic accommodations, dismissals over how much digital technology helps people like me, and scoffs over my handwriting’s readability. There were times I felt like my clumsiness was always a laughing matter, regardless if it actually was, so now I only tell a few people in my personal life when I’ve injured myself from falling, tripping and the like.

I’m still unlearning overexerting myself, which I felt obligated to do because of my LD and because I wanted to ‘prove’ to my former bullies, who I lost touch with immediately after Grade 8, that my life got better. Sometimes, asking for help is embarrassing because I feel like a burden.

Before a close friend’s encouragement to return to drawing, one of my favourite pastimes, I lost interest in the hobby because I told myself in high school that I’ll never be able to draw like a professional artist. I’m thankful I fell in love with drawing again, but I still need to rest my sore hands after drawing and colouring for long periods of time.

Dealing with my LD can be frustrating, but it came with some positive outcomes and life lessons.

Grades don’t fully reflect your overall skill set nor your identity. Just because you struggle in one subject, it doesn’t mean you’re struggling in all of them and will continue to struggle throughout life.

Along with drawing, some of my favourite activities like playing video games and baking requires and strengthens my fine motor skills.

If someone discloses their personal matters to me, I listen and try to understand the impact of their own experiences. I know all too well that being vulnerable is intimidating when you were previously rejected for getting real.

Opening up about my LD raises awareness. Before explaining to classmates that I wrote exams in separate rooms with word processors and extra time when necessary, they were concerned that I skipped the tests. If I’m called out for illegible handwriting, it’s a chance for me to explain why some people just can’t help it.

Dealing with a LD also inspired me to become a writer. I certainly wasn’t the only kid in my elementary school requiring some form of academic accommodation, but feeling alone on the tough days made me want to connect with folks like me through my writing and let them know they’re not alone.

Visit the Counselling and Accessibility Services office in room F2010 to explore your options for academic accommodations for any reason and other support services if you’re a student with a LD.

Editorial opinions or comments expressed in this online edition of Interrobang newspaper reflect the views of the writer and are not those of the Interrobang or the Fanshawe Student Union. The Interrobang is published weekly by the Fanshawe Student Union at 1001 Fanshawe College Blvd., P.O. Box 7005, London, Ontario, N5Y 5R6 and distributed through the Fanshawe College community. Letters to the editor are welcome. All letters are subject to editing and should be emailed. All letters must be accompanied by contact information. Letters can also be submitted online by clicking here.