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Personal Stories

Turning Frustration into Triumph

By: Michelle Lintner

For my entire life, as early as I can remember, I have had a learning disability. It has been described as a language disability, speech disability, learning disability, reading disability and finally dyslexia. The truth is the disability I have is specific to language and reading. It has also affected my speech development, and I attended speech class until I was in the ninth grade. I have never been able to read phonetically. Phonics might as well have been a foreign language. So, it only goes to reason that if I never learned to read phonetically than I certainly could not spell phonetically. Decoding new words for me is almost an impossible feat. My spelling abilities are limited to those words I have memorized or the words the people around me can spell. In describing my learning disability, I guess it would be easy to imagine that the learning disability would be my biggest frustration. However, in my life it has been my greatest triumph.

I suppose in a way, my greatest frustrations are also my greatest triumphs. I have learned how to self-advocate, giving me a great deal of confidence for my college career. I constantly work at developing close relationships with teachers and faculty at my school because I need to discuss my educational plan and advocate for my needs. In turn, they have inspired me to share my experience with other students, mentoring and tutoring whenever possible. Because of this, I discovered that I love to mentor children, and I am currently the FIRST Lego League Club Advisor. I am actually getting paid to do what I love. Additionally, I regularly tutor fellow students in all subjects especially those students with learning disabilities because I know how frustrating learning can be. I continue to strive to be the best role model I can possibly be for all students.

My disability has also allowed some of my greatest talents to shine through. I am an excellent mathematician and engineer. I am a FIRST robotics team member. Our activities include designing, building and programming robots throughout the year. Additionally, our team has a great outreach program and we give presentations and demonstrations to high school and Jr. High students around our community honing our public speaking skills! I always relate a story about being able to achieve goals referring back to my own learning disabilities as an example of what anyone can do when they are motivated. Finally, I have developed tons of confidence. Understanding that I can rise to the challenge and work hard to achieve my goals will forever motivate me to continue to strive for excellence in all aspects of my life! I work hard to pass this on to all of those around me.

The biggest goal I have undertaken in my life is earning my degree in engineering. This is a lofty goal for anyone but especially for someone whose instructional reading is at the sixth grade level! I will accomplish my goal but not in spite of my disability but because of my disability! I understand how hard it will be. I understand that at times it will feel like an impossible goal, but I will look back over my life's experience and I will know that I have overcome bigger obstacles in the past. I know that I can surely find a way over or around or even under the obstacle if I have to! The personal satisfaction I will gain accomplishing a major life goal will be worth the struggle.

Over the years, I have learned to adapt to different learning situations in order to reach my goal. The adaptations have ranged from classroom accommodations, assistive technology and learning strategies created by teachers, friends and family members who have supported me and occasionally pushed me to achieve my goals! These learning adaptations have served me well and were possible because we insisted upon them in my IEP. In the classroom, I was given access to a computer so I could type all of my written work using a word processor that helped minimize spelling errors. I had tests and text read to me. I had extended time for tests and assignments. I asked my teachers to adapt my tests to multiple choice or allow me to answer the questions verbally. When this was not possible, I used a scribe. This allowed me to answer the question rather than stress out over writing them. I also utilized a word journal, which consisted of vocabulary words that I used often.

These accommodations served me well. In High School I had the highest GPA in my class. I scored 650 on my SAT math scores the first time I tested (I scored 490 on both the reading and verbal section.) I have finished 15 college credits in Trigonometry, Writing 101, Calculus 1 and Calculus 2 without any special accommodations! In April 2006, I was awarded the Anne Ford Scholarship for outstanding students with a Learning Disability. This is a remarkable scholarship awarded by the Ann Ford Foundation through LD.org for exceptional high school students with a learning disability planning on attending college. I serve as their spokesperson and a mentor for the learning disabled. In May 2006, I became a Raytheon Scholar, which included a 4-year full-ride scholarship and an Internship at Raytheon Missile Systems. I was accepted to three of the top universities for engineering in the US

I now use a word processor that reads what I am writing so I can correct as I write. I use (human) readers or books on tape when I have reading assignments. I have access to DragonSpeak, voice recognition software that allows me to dictate my writing assignments. I have completed my education assessment required by my college to receive special accommodations in class and I arm myself with a copy of the Americans with a Disabilities Act. Finally, the most important learning strategy I posses is I have learned to self-advocate.

All of this was possible because the important people in my life including my parents, friends and teachers urged me to achieve. They never let my learning disability lower their expectations! This was by far the most important gift they gave. Now I would like the opportunity to pass that message on to all learning disabled students and their parents. We are capable to accomplish everything we aspire to!

About the Author

Michelle Lintner is an 18 year old college freshman majoring in mechanical engineering. She works at Raytheon Missile Systems where she reviews databases, schematics, flow charts and employee manuals. She enjoys mentoring school aged students in the First Robotics program and Lego League. She won an Ann Ford Scholarship from the National Center on Learning Disabilities.