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Personal Stories

Following Bliss

By: Jamie Janover
Jamie Janover

My name is Jamie Janover. I want to tell you how my life has been affected by having learning and attention disabilities. Actually, it seems to me rather odd to call them disabilities, because for me, those disabilities have turned out to be among my greatest sources of strength and a powerful asset!

Let me explain. I think that having a LD like dyslexia means that your brain works a little bit differently than most other people's. It may seem that you are "impaired" in certain areas like language, but I know from experience that LD's can have some incredibly positive effects in other areas, even if they are not always very obvious at first.

The things that have helped me the most in my life are the result of the process of learning to overcome my disabilities. I have had to learn how to compensate for what is now labeled dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

I grew up in an environment that was somewhat demanding. My parents really wanted me to do well in school and most of my classmates seemed very smart and did well in school, but I fell back in my assignments. Everything seemed to take me longer to accomplish. I became frustrated and discouraged. Although I had a hard time with learning to read and write (when writing, almost half of my letters were backwards in 2nd grade) I had a profound reaction to both sports and more importantly, to music and art.

I was totally fascinated with music, especially. When I was really young, my parents would put on music with a strong beat and I would go crazy by dancing all around. I also would bang on pots and pans. By the time I was 14 I had saved enough money to get a drum kit. Today, I am a 32 year old professional musician and photographer, living in Boulder, Colorado.

As a kid, my brain had pockets of amazing creativity, energy, insightfulness, and determination. Once I understood what was going on in my head and realized that I was not 'stupid', I figured out all sorts of ingenious ways to cope. Looking back, I can see how my creativity has been enhanced by having to think differently when learning how to read. I would always forget things like the rules of grammar and how to spell words, so I would come up with creative word associations and tricks to make me remember things. I had trouble remembering directions and rules as well. Now I have learned ways to compensate for my difficulties.

Here are some suggestions of things to do that may help anyone with a LD to improve on dealing with their learning and attention challenges:

  • Write everything down – my most important tool!
    • Class assignments
    • Extra-curricular activities
    • Daily chores
    • Errands
    • Dates
    • Goals
    • Dreams
  • Use a pocket calendar and wall calendar for:
    • Assignments
    • Tests
    • Dates
    • Sports events
    • Parties
  • Concentrate on the things you like:
    • Figure out what you are most interested in
    • Alternate between fun and work
    • Let your inspiration for your favorite activities help motivate you in your "work" work
    • Do several things simultaneously, alternate between them, some fun, some work
  • Perfect your computer skills:
    • Proofread to catch mistakes
    • Use spell check
    • Use the computer to write everything down or use a Palm Pilot
  • Finding a good place and atmosphere to study in:
    • Play cool background music
    • Take the phone off the hook
    • Go to the library, an empty classroom, or under a tree
    • Eliminate all distractions
  • Handle large assignments:
    • Break large assignments into small chunks
    • Take frequent, timed moving-around breaks
    • If you want, work on 4 or 5 assignments at once
  • Study tips:
    • Take notes instead of just reading
    • Invent your own abbreviations (such as esp for especially; imp for important, and info for information)
    • Tape record important information
    • Listen to the recording on a morning jog
    • Organize a study group before an exam or study with a partner
    • Prioritize your time – do the assignments you like the least … first
    • Avoid all-nighters by studying or writing every day
  • If you feel confused or overwhelmed:
    • Talk to teachers, parents, or trusted friends
    • Become your own best advocate
    • Identify and verbalize your strengths and problems
    • Learn from your mistakes * Don't be afraid to ask questions
    • Never give up hope of reaching your goal.
Birds, Sky, and Sea

The list above is mostly meant to help you when you are in school. However, now that I have been out of school for several years, I realize that I still use most of these tricks today.

I usually have about 10 projects going on simultaneously. I never like to do any one project for too long so I do a little bit on one, move to another, and then on to the next. Eventually, after chipping away on each one bit by bit, each project gets completed over time. Using this technique and the others above I have managed to go from a discouraged and frustrated kid falling behind in school to a successful and happy professional musician and photographer. I taught myself how to play the drums, percussion and the percussion string instrument called the hammered dulcimer. I now play with several bands, do solo dulcimer concerts, play for yoga and dance classes and sit in with many other bands. I have performed with Phish, String Cheese Incident, Bela Fleck, Stanley Jordan, and Leftover Salmon, to name a few.

You can learn more about my music and career, as well as examples of my photography by going to my web site.

I hope this personal account is helpful to all of you. I know that it seems difficult to learn certain things at the rate of some others, but just because you have a hard time in one area doesn't mean that you can't be incredibly successful and happy in other areas. I think the bottom line is summed up well by the famous thinker, Joseph Campbell "follow your bliss!"

"If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track, which has been there all the while waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living." by Joseph Campbell

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