Finding Support for Learning Disabilities

It’s easy to feel alone — like you have to figure out your life, the universe, and everything else all on your own. It’s even harder when you have a learning disability such as dyslexia, attention deficit disorder (ADD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Not every learning environment is the same, and some kids who have difficulty learning end up slipping through society’s educational cracks.

I spoke with Jane, a mother from Oklahoma whose son, Jack, has ASD, and Ana, a science teacher from Massachusetts with ADD and dyslexia, to learn more about how they found support for the learning disabilities that affect their lives.

“I always had difficulty in school,” Ana told me. “When I was growing up, no one knew what a learning disability was.” After she received a D on an exam while the friend she studied with got an A, she spoke with one of her professors, who suggested she get tested. “I was placed on Ritalin for a short period of time and ‘learned’ to read. I learned how to focus. I had no idea of this world of reading and understanding. It was such a miracle to me! I will always be grateful to my professor.”

When I spoke with Jane, she explained that Jack was diagnosed with autism at age two. “He is high-functioning, with communication and socialization being the major concerns. One of the biggest challenges Jack faces is that he is viewed as challenged instead of special. Jack is highly intelligent, but once he was labeled autistic, people stopped treating him like a normal child.”

She went on to describe her difficulty in finding resources and support, between state budget cuts and fighting with her health insurance company. Fortunately, she was able to obtain the help of a speech therapist.

“Her passion for special-needs children truly changed everything,” she said. “We were lost on how to proceed, because there are very few resources available. She gave me a list of programs and has answered any question I have.” Without her aid, “Jack may not have received the help he so desperately needed. Educators and speech pathologists are miracle-workers.”

Jane continued, “There was no issue diagnosing my son, but once that label was given, help seemed to dry up. He is more than his diagnosis. My advice for other parents: Contact your school, your local therapists, and your community. As a parent, you have to be their voice, especially when they don’t have one of their own, like my sweet child.”

After becoming a teacher herself, Ana was able to look back on her experience with newfound appreciation. “My journey has helped me to understand and help my students. I always say, ‘I don’t like to think of myself as having a learning disability; I like to think of it as learning differently.’ Not everyone learns the same way, so why do we teach everyone and test everyone the same way?”

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