learning disabilities

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Dyslexia 101.

Published May 12, 2014 by Soprano, Megan

I am different. Very funny. I know what you’re all thinking. I’m not different as in “strange” (although some would dispute that!), but I am different than most and always have been. I was the kid who listened to classical music as a child and bought shoes for their comfort, not looks. I’m also a firm believer in “it’s meant to be”. Our lives are already mapped out by God and He has a plan for our lives right down to the smallest detail.

During your last two years of secondary education everyone goes through “what to I want to be when I grow up?” phases. For me the answer was clear: get a nursing degree and then try to get into Med school. CLEARLY I have taken a completely different path! However, it was not because I wanted to (at first)…

I don’t share the fact that I have a learning disability to everyone – or at first I didn’t. I’ve since learned that it’s who I am and I need to embrace that I’m “different”. It hasn’t been an easy road, though. A Dyslexic’s (shortened LD – Learning Disabled) life is complicated for a long time, but then you learn new ways to “learn”. My dyslexia manifests itself in mainly word-blindness, memory and reading comprehension. Oddly, I am an excellent speller and can memorize opera pieces fairly easily. A reader for written tests, a note-taker, and extra time were common accommodations provided to me throughout university.

A little background on my beginning at College/University. I tried two times to get in to Nursing School and was unsuccessful at both. I completed a semester of the Programmer Analyst Diploma program at CNA, but then switched to CUTY (College-University Transfer Year). When I didn’t get in to Nursing after that first year I left to go to MUN to do some general courses in Chemistry and Biology. While there, I also joined the MUN Festival Choir and had some lessons with a MUN Voice Faculty member.

Let’s backtrack a little bit to January 2002. This was my first hint that I had a “problem”. I had been working at Dominion for only three months at that point. I had checked through a cheque from a lady and mixed up the numbers resulting in giving her too much money. Luckily she came back with the money (only in NL!), but I had a nervous pit in my stomach that something was terribly wrong. I mentioned the word Dyslexia to my workmates and my Mother who all just told me to be more careful…

Now, let’s forward to October 2002. I was now a student at MUN and having trouble with ALL of my courses: Biology, Chemistry, History, and Anthropology. All I did was study. Honestly. I lived at the library, I went to extra help sessions for Chem and Bio, but I bombed all tests and exams. You get to a point where you feel embarrassed and feel like the stupidest person alive. There were very low points for me.

Dr. John FitzGerald. This is who I credit with “saving my (academic) life”. He was my fabulous History professor at MUN and HE noticed something was wrong and got the ball rolling with the whole LD situation. I went to visit a psychologist at MUN and then on to testing at an outside private practice. A week and 19-page report later I received my Dyslexia diagnosis.

December 2002. The day I received the diagnosis I initially thought: “Ok. Well then. That’s that. At least I know.” and that was it. I didn’t take time to actually process what it meant and how it was going to change my life until years later. Looking back I think it was just a lot of information to take in and I honestly had no clue what it all meant.

During the testing of a LD, you are put through aptitude tests, personality tests, memory tests and other psychological tests. The report they give you helps you learn A LOT about yourself. For instance, I have superior creative writing skills and poor short-term memory skills. And surprising to a lot of people, most dyslexics are above average intelligence (don’t know if that applies to me. haha).

Post-Diagnosis. The hardest part to get over was the stigma I felt went with being LD. I was ashamed to tell anyone for fear they may treat me differently or think I was “stupid”. I have quickly learned that in most cases people are very understanding and you are not treated differently. Of course, there are exceptions to that.

After I was diagnosed I felt I need to move back home and truly figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I was strongly advised by the psychologists who did my testing to pursue a career in the arts. My dream of being a nurse was now over and I mourned that for a little, but soon began to realize I was being called to music.

I received a lot of great support from my post-secondary schools since this diagnosis. However, I have to credit Acadia University as being the most effective for me. There was always someone to talk to and always accommodations available to me. My GPA jumped from a 1.75 at CNA/MUN to a 3.3 in my first year at Acadia. All of my profs were supportive and helped in any way they could. This allowed me to take on a full course load (though it was previously recommended I take a lighter one) and graduate on time.

I credit a childhood friend with the career path I chose today. In the back of my mind I knew I wanted to go and study music, but I kept telling myself it was a silly and unrealistic dream. It wasn’t until he said “Megan, you will never be happy unless you study music” that I believed my NEW dream could become a reality. And it did.

My advice. Never judge a book by its cover. Dyslexics are smart people. We really are. We just learn differently and some times take a little bit longer to grasp a concept. But when we do, look out!

I now make it a point to tell my students and fellow teachers I am LD. Not to make excuses, but rather to show them that it doesn’t matter what problems you have, you can get through them with hard work. Most are amazed and once a student said “But Miss, how can you be a teacher and you have a learning disability?”, to which I replied “You can be anything if you work hard enough”.

I don’t look at my disability as a hindrance anymore but rather part of my character. For years leading up to my diagnosis I had all but given up on reading for pleasure, but now I am a bookworm once again thanks to re-learning my approach to reading. Does dyslexia still cause me a headache or two? YES. Everyday. You just learn to cope with it and learn a different approach and you try until you get it.

I wouldn’t change a thing about the path life has taken me on. There is never a time that I wish I had gone to nursing school. I am proud of my musical abilities and achievements thus far and believe this was the path that had been laid out for me before I was born.

I took the road less travelled, the hard way, the uphill climb…but after all, that’s me in a nutshell, right?