I didn’t realize I was intelligent until college; even then, however, I still had my doubts.
In third grade I was diagnosed with a learning disability. According to LD Online, “Fifteen percent of the U.S. population, or one in seven Americans, has some type of learning disability.” It was absolutely horrifying to my third-grade-curly-haired-self. From the way it was presented to me, I knew it was something negative; something no one wanted. Some of you may not know what exactly a learning disability is.
Here’s a definition:
A learning disability is a neurological disorder. In simple terms, a learning disability results from a difference in the way a person’s brain is “wired.” Children with learning disabilities are as smart or smarter than their peers, but they may have difficulty reading, writing, spelling, reasoning, recalling and/or organizing information (LD Online).
I was diagnosed as having two types of learning disabilities, both of which are mild for the most part. One, which is quite common, is called Dyscalculia. This is a “mathematical disability in which a person has a difficult time solving arithmetic problems and grasping math concepts.” The second one I have is called Language Processing, which basically means I have trouble recalling information or retrieving words to express something. I fought with these disabilities long and hard when I was younger.
Immediately after this diagnosis, I was enrolled in special ed class. It was horrible. Us “special” kids would have to leave in the middle of regular class to go to “special” class and it was always so embarrassing. All of the students knew where we were going–they knew we were “dumb.” All through elementary school, I felt different and extremely stupid. In fact, I had many teachers who actually told me things like, “You’re not going to be able to do things like other kids”, or “We don’t expect you to do this that well, because you’re not as smart as the others.” Literally. Or, teachers would say, “Oh, that’s just a crutch.” No, it’s not a crutch–though, if I want to use it as a crutch, that’s my damn right.
When an authoritative figure tells a young girl that she is nothing, those words really stick to her (This is why I’ve never understood the whole, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” saying). Because of the many terrible teachers I’ve encountered, I’ve never been that fond of teachers in general, unless they teach at the university level—these ones seem to have their shit together and appear more educated on the subject of learning disabilities. I still deal with those negative comments in my head to this day. I learned early not to ask teachers questions if I didn’t understand something. When I did ask, they acted like I wasn’t listening. I was always listening.
It’s really difficult to be a girl child in general, but to be labeled “disabled,” and be a girl in this society is a lot to handle. I knew other girls like me in school, but I felt myself not wanting to associate with them. I wanted so badly to fit in and to be considered “normal.” This seems to be the constant struggle for young women. Even though my disability can’t be seen, I used to always feel like I wore it on my sleeve. I always felt others could see my secret shame. I hate that word…”disabled.” It makes me feel like I can’t breathe–like I’m “slow” and “different,” and it’s always used in a negative way. Perhaps this is why I still have trouble telling people, even my closest friends, that I have a learning disability. I worry they will look at me differently. I worry they will pity me.
Today, I know that I’m intelligent. I mean, I’m in a Master’s program, I must be somewhat smart. Though, every now and again I get called back to that 3rd grade place of shame. I used to despise my “disability.” I used to be violent towards it. I hated myself. Then, luckily, once I got accepted into college and received a Fine Arts Scholarship and others, as well as having great supporters, I realized that maybe I was smart. Maybe it wasn’t terrible to be “different.” I can honestly say that I am thankful for my learning disability. I like that I don’t think like everyone else. My 3rd grade self would never, in a million years, think I would say this. But I am saying it–loud and proud.
My hope is that young women with learning disabilities will strive and feel good about themselves and their abilities. A learning disability is not so much a “dis”-ability, but an outright “ability” that makes one’s mind unique and beautiful. It’s no fun to think the same as everyone. Remember that.