So they tell you that you have a learning disability. Whether this is news to you or it’s something you’ve been dealing with for a while, there’s one main thing you should always remember: That is, know what you already believe—there is so much more to you than “they” think.
Believe me, people in my life told me that I’d end up flipping burgers at a fast-food joint. Not that there’s anything wrong with flipping burgers, but in my case they were wrong. There were plenty “normal” people whose idea of themselves depends on their being normal. How boring! They don’t take cross-country trips in school buses, or meet interesting people.
As you grow up and change, you know yourself better than anyone—better than your teachers, your doctor, your parents, and even your best friends know you. That’s a beautiful thing. You know what you like and what you don’t like and you know what feels good and what feels bad.
The first step to making your way in school and in the world is to understand it.
For the most part, schools in this country are set up to churn out uniform cut-out cookies. Just look at the standardized testing. Can anyone convey his or her dreams or feelings or original thoughts by filling a little bubble with a No. 2 pencil? Of course not! That’s not what the people who made the tests care about!
Your ability to express yourself uniquely is what makes you, well, you. And the more you are you, the better the world will start to fit around you.
But that’s not something they tell you in school. That’s because they want you to fit into the school world. The people who built the school weren’t thinking about you. They were thinking about getting young people accustomed to routine and uniformity so that they could grow up and make similar-looking cookies at the factory on the other side of town.
It has taken generations for schools nationwide to realize that exceptional students—whether labeled “gifted” or “disabled”—even existed. And getting these institutions to change takes a lot of hard work and persistence from all of us who want better educational experiences.
Nowadays, everyone going into school is different. Some kids start school before they can speak English. Some kids walk to school. Others ride a short bus, like I did. And that means that everyone is going to approach school differently, and everyone is going to have a different experience at school.
To return to cookie cutter analogy, no factory—or school—can create a batch of uniform cookies by starting off with different kinds of batter. So why should schools expect to be able to make uniform graduates out of different kinds of students?
This is where you can have a big impact on your everyday life. Remember, you know best the things you like and don’t like; you know best what you’re really good at and what’s hard for you.
So speak up! Tell your parents how you’d like to learn about the world and enrich your life. Brainstorm with them to come up with school projects you can propose to your teachers. For example, if reading’s hard and frustrating, but you love to build things, maybe you could get a book on tape from the library and create a 3-D book report.
If your teacher says no, ask some one else: the principal, a teacher’s aid or a guidance counselor. Don’t stop asking till someone says yes.
Remember, in most places you may be the first person to take control of your schoolwork. Adults may not be used to this. Don’t get discouraged. In the end, you will get what you need even if you had to knock more doors than you had imagined. This is part of being an advocate for yourself, and making decisions about your own future.
You should also ask to be included in parent-teacher conversations about your schoolwork. If someone says something that doesn’t feel right, politely tell him or her why you’re not comfortable with the idea. Suggest a better alternative. Keep asking till someone listens. At the end of the day, anyone can learn on her or his terms.
When you’ve done all that you can, and you’re still stuck with the same treacherous assignments as the rest of the class, it might help to look at school as a game.
Pretend each test is a hula-hoop on fire and you’re not just at the circus—you are in the center ring. If you freeze into a block of ice with nerves, use the flames to your advantage! Here are a few strategies that might help you (check back soon for more details):
- Note Taking
- Key Words
- Teacher's Pest to Teacher's Pet