When I was young, I did not have a care in the world. I used to play with the other kids, and I used to run around like any other child. During this time, when I felt like everyone else, my mom started noticing things I did. I as a small child could not tell my right from my left. I would always mix up cellar and attic, and the front and back yard. When I was in 3rd grade my teacher also noticed things like that and talked to my parents about being tested. My mom, recalling what took place since I was little, thought it was a perfect idea.
Being in 3rd grade you want nothing more than to be considered “normal.” We had students who were going to the resource room and were labeled as “stupid” or “slow.” So, of course I became very frustrated when my mom brought the idea up to me. Well, I went for the testing and found that I was learning disabled. In the beginning I used to hide it and not tell anyone where I was going. I made up lies and told them I was being tested for a new kind of program. I attended the resource center from 3rd to 6th grade. The whole time, I felt “odd” or “dump.”
In 7th and 8th it was a lot easier for me to hide my disability and disregard mistakes. By high school is when I started coming clean with my disability. It happened as a couple of kids where making fun of one of my friends who was learning disabled. They were calling him names and pushing him. I of course was nervous but something in me decided to tell them that I was also, and if they had a problem they can deal with me. I spoke, scared out of my mind, that I now am letting out my secret. In doing so, I thought they would start making fun of me, but they actually were surprised. They started actually asking questions because to them, I was one of the smart kids, so I could not be “stupid.” I found out that the problem was they just did not know about learning disabilities, because they could not see the disability, so how could they understand it. That was a major change in my life.
After that moment, I went to our guidance department and asked if I could start talking to students who were just identified as learning disabled. So, a couple of times a week I would talk to students about what they were going through, and coach them through the different emotions and thoughts they had. In fact, when I was a junior and senior in high school, I did a presentation to the new incoming students and then to the whole high school. There were a number of students who came up to me after, and said they never knew what we went through, or how the disability effects people. In college I conducted similar presentations to perspective, new, and current students. Through that one experience it has helped me learn that people still need to learn about learning disabilities, and need to be aware of the needs and services they can receive.
Now, I am 25 and I work for a college and am the Coordinator of Student Development and Campus Programming. I have just started my Masters in Organizational Management and have talked to a number of people about my disabilities. I in fact help my own co-workers to understand what a learning disability is, and how to look for signs.
So, the best advice is not to be afraid, and instead of hiding it, rejoice. Because I always found when I received an A that meant more to me, then my friend who did not have a disability, because to me, that one grade showed me that I can do anything no matter what obstacles I need to overcome. The best thing that ever happened to me, was not winning in sports, not graduating from college, not even getting married, it is every time I can change the way people think about people with a Learning Disability. One person can make a difference and I am a perfect example of that.
Michael D. Duignan, Coordinator of Student Development and Campus Programming, Sage College of Albany