How I can’t shut off my Learning Disability

Photo by Mikhail Nilov on

  Recently my husband and I went to an Asian Lantern Festival at our local zoo. We got our tickets scanned our tickets and made our way to the event. The only choices we saw for entering were an escalator or an elevator. I’m unable to use an escalator because of my visual perception issues, so I need to use the elevator. The line for the elevator was long and wasn’t moving. Someone in the front said one of the elevators wasn’t working. You would press the button; the doors would open but it wouldn’t go up. I nervously scanned the escalator praying one of them was broken, so I could walk up it. Much to my dismay it wasn’t but thankfully someone went on the escalator and pressed the up button and we were able to use the other elevator.  How I wished in that moment I could turn the off button on having a disability. One of the hardest parts of having one is that there is no on and off switch for it. It’s constantly on and can create difficulties in my life.

I wish that I could find the off switch when I need to get somewhere. I’m unable to drive due to my reaction time and visual perception. I’m lucky to have people to give me rides and live in a central location where I can walk where I need go. It takes more planning and doesn’t allow me the opportunity to take spontaneous adventures. I have also had to turn down good jobs, because I couldn’t get there or they required a drivers license.

It would also be nice to turn off my disability when it involves math. I have trouble with understanding how numbers work and calculating them. I have had to carefully research educational programs and jobs that interested me but had the least amount of math possible. I can remember struggling to get through my high school math classes. Any time I encounter numbers it’s going to be a challenge for me. Having a math disability goes beyond just being poor at math. It also effects my ability to understand directions, or read the face of a clock. How I wish I could turn it off to be able to perform those tasks.

I also wish to flip the switch of my disability when I struggle with my body awareness. When I’m in public I often bump into people and block entrances. I struggle to coordinate my body when I play completive sports. I also blink whenever a ball comes in my line of vision. When I was growing up it was more difficult for me. High school gym class was a nightmare and I was often bullied. I have found noncompetitive physical activities such as aerobics, weights, and walking that I enjoy doing. Having a curved spine and feet that turn inward when I walk also don’t help me move with grace. I wish that I could turn that switch off, because people often stare and wonder what is wrong with me.  

It would also be nice to turn off the button of having bad handwriting. I have always struggled with writing neatly. I can remember getting a ‘W’ indicating weakness of my report card in grade school. I can also remember people judging me on my handwriting. I have had people tell me that my handwriting was interesting, or tell me that I had the handwriting of a serial killer. I’ve also had people tell me that it was messy and surely my room looked that way. I also had someone tell me that if I wanted to be a writer then I would have to be neat. After learning to type, I was finally able to have people understand what I was saying.

There are many times I long to be able to turn off the button of having a disability. At times it is like a child’s loud toy you can’t turn off. I can’t change the disability, and I have to work with it despite the blaring noise. Other times it is people’s reactions and expectations of me. People have often thought if I just worked hard enough, prayed harder, or got my act together, then I would be able to overcome it. I also had people who tried to cure me with basic adult education programs and telling me to just think positively.

None of these activities helped me to switch the button off. What has helped me is accepting that I can’t shut the button off when it creates difficulty for me. I have also had to use creative problem solving to teach myself new ways to do many things. To my surprise I have found that I can find different solutions to a problem.

It may not be the way that is always easy or how I intended it to go. I may also get there slower than I wanted and that can be frustrating as well. I will also encounter people who won’t understand why I can’t turn it off. I won’t be able to meet their expectations. I simply need to block out the noise and move forward to find a way to do what I need to do. A solution is always out there, I just need to find it.

Making the broken pieces beautiful

Photo by rotekirsche 20 on Pexel

Having a disability has caused me to deal with brokenness. When I was first diagnosed with a Learning Disability I felt like I was given a box of broken glass. The glass was beautiful with a rainbow of colors. The pieces also came in a variety of shapes and sizes. I was lucky to have supportive parents and help at school. Despite the supports I received, I had to figure out how to place each broken piece together. Facing brokenness at young age wasn’t easy, often the glass would pierce my tender skin causing me to bleed. Other times the glass of my dreams was shattered into even smaller pieces. Looking at each piece of broken glass has lead to acceptance and healing.

One of the biggest pieces that I had to deal with was that my brain wasn’t wired like a neurotypical person. In order to learn, work, and complete other tasks I have to find different ways to do things. When I was a young child, I simply wanted to be like everyone else. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t learn like my peers could. I felt jealous of the ones who didn’t seem like they had broken pieces. The pieces of glass they did have seemed to be smooth and clear. Little did I know that many of them had broken areas in their lives as well. Some of them were able to disguise it easier.

Along with accepting my brain had a neurodiversity, I had to also accept there wasn’t many hard set rules on how to lay the pieces. I was given general strategies, accommodations, and a service plan to compensate for my difficulties. I wasn’t given a manual that would have all the answers to the many different challenges that I would face. I wasn’t given a set of rules or a sheet of directions. People could guide me, and I had many people give their opinions. It was up to me to set the broken pieces where I thought they should belong, and often had to teach myself how to put them into place.

Learning where to put the pieces wasn’t always easy. Sometimes I would make a plan and it wouldn’t work out how I expected. There were also times when the plan we were following was working, only to have it not work. Regression often happened more in math than any other subject. I can remember having a teacher who’s goal was to have the learning support students on grade level with the regular ed students in math. She commuted with a math teacher who said that we only did easy work, and she wanted to prove her wrong. For a time it worked and I was able to complete simple equations. I can remember the day that things began to regress. We had a student teacher, in our class and she was getting evaluated by her professor. I began to be able to work the math problem. Everyone thought I was simply nervous, and proceeded forward. I tried to explain I wasn’t nervous and knew the professor was observing her student not me. The learning support teacher never evaluated where I needed the clarification. She proudly announced that we were on the same level as the regular ed students in math. I wasn’t on grade level and was falling behind. The teacher also told us that learning support math was not offered at the next level and had me sign up for a basic math class. I had anxiety all summer on how I was going to handle a math course. I struggled in the class and the regular ed teacher didn’t know what to do with me. I found out there was learning support math. How I wished she would have told me the truth, it would have saved so much aggravation.

As I got older I had an easier time putting the pieces together. I realized that having an all or nothing approach didn’t serve me. I could make a mistake or struggle to learn something, without having to break every piece apart and begin again. I could appreciate the small imperfections that gave it character.

I also had to learn that how I designed my glass, would not always be understood or accepted by everyone. I have had people who didn’t think that accommodations or service programs for people with disabilities were fair. Many people could only see what was broke, that they missed the beauty. I’ve been told there were so many things that I couldn’t accomplish. Other people would try to cure my disability, rather than celebrate it. Once I became successful, many people couldn’t see the pieces, but the product.

To my surprise what I once thought was broken, became beautiful. I created the design I wanted. On good days I could even see prisms of color that went through the glass.

Truly it didn’t matter what other people thought of me. I had to do my best to place the broken pieces together, and learn what works best for me. I didn’t ask for the pieces I was given or to have a disability. I can only try to work with what I was given. I can create beauty from what was once broken.

Creating a space where the person with a disability can bloom and thrive.


One of my favorite passions is gardening. I love to nurture and grow flowers and plants. I had ones that have grown with ease and marveled in their beauty. I also had others that have not grown as easily and required extra tender loving care. When a flower doesn’t bloom people don’t try to fix the flower, but the reasons that it’s not thriving. People may try giving it more sun, or more shade. Other interventions could be changing the amount of watering or a different types of soil. Each of these changes the environment the flower is growing in, but not the flower itself. Having a disability, I have often failed to bloom the way most people expected. Most people try to find ways to fix me, but not the culture that I live in.

Having the diagnosis of a Learning Disability is frequently not the problem. I have gone through the process of acceppting my disability and have learned ways to live in a world not made for me. The issue often is that other people aren’t as accepting of my disabilty and thinking the answer to my difficulites is to cure it. When I tell people that I struggle with math they offer basic math education courses. What most people don’t understand is most of the information that they cover, will be of little benefit. I have tried unsuccessfully for years tried to understand math and only have a limited understanding of it. Many people also say “But it’s so easy!” or “The answer is right in front of you!” Math may be easy for a person who is good at it and many of them can see the obvious answer. For a person with a math disability, it’s simply not easy and can’t see the answer.

Most people wouldn’t tell a person in a wheelchair to walk up the steps. Few people would judge them for not being able to use the stairs or think of them as lazy. Most people would understand that they couldn’t use the stairs because of a physcial disability. They would look for ways to change the enviroment with accomoations such as an elevator, but not change the person. The Americans with Disabilites Act mandated that people with disabilies receive accommodations, and that community places needed to be handicaped accesible.

Sadly the same understanding given to a person with a physical disability, is often not given to people who have hidden ones. Just because you can’t see my disability doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist or doesn’t give me difficulties. I may not fit a mold of what a disability is, but each person with one is different.

Even when accommodations are used to help a person with one, the goal is not to cure it, but how to manage it. Strategies such as extended test time and having the test read aloud, help to process information better, but it doesn’t get rid of it. Having explicit clear instructions can help me perform well at my job, but doesn’t cure my executive functionating issues. Typing stories and reports makes other people understand my thoughts, but doesn’t make my handwriting neater. Graduating high school didn’t cure it and neither did a college degree.

When people try to cure rather than accept it quickly turns to Ableism. Ableism is discrimination of a person based on their disability and favors a person without one. Having a disability isn’t shameful or something that needs to be changed. At times having one creates challenges and would be more convenient not to have one. Most of these difficulties require creative problem solving, that change the environment not the person itself.

Whether people accept my disability or not I will find a way to bloom. My bloom of accomplishments may not look like everyone else’s and that’s okay. Other people may flourish more and be what the world considers to be brighter. Others may look at my blooms and not see a flower but weeds. I will tend to the environmental factors that I do have control over and focus on what I can do. I may not be good with numbers but I’m better with words. I may not be able to drive, but I can walk or get a ride to where I need to go. None of these solutions, will cure my disability but can help to create an environment for me to grow and thrive. One day I dream of a world that works to accept and embrace all people despite their differences. Until that day comes all I can do is focus on what works for me and help to create a world that works together to change the environment not the person.

The ever changing sky of disability

Photography by Michelle Steiner

One constant in every day life is the sky. You can be sure when you look upwards, there is a sky. It may look different depending on weather conditions, time of day, and other factors. It’s always there. Another constant in my life is having a Learning Disability. I have always had one, but similar to the sky, my view on having one has changed. What I once viewed as one way is constantly evolving.

My first view of the sky of disability was in the deep black of night. I struggled with learning and socializing with my peers. All I could see was darkness and frustration. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t succeed. Slowly the strategies the school implemented began and the hard work began to pay off. I found things that I was good at. I saw a twinkle of light from the moon and stars shining in the sky. I made many wishes on the stars. Some of them came true much later, and others weren’t granted. I was told to shoot for the moon, but felt discouraged. Despite my successes, I still lacked confidence. I also began to see fireflies dancing through the sky. I chased them during many dark nights in summer. Often times the fireflies would flutter away. I used to try to keep the ones I caught in carboard milk cartons with holes poked on top. Sadly I was unable to keep them alive much like many of my dreams. I thought the night would last forever. Just when I thought it would never end, the darkness began to dissipate and the sky began to get brighter.

The morning sky burst forward with streaks of orange. The golden sun began to slowly rise, warming me. I was put into all regular classes except for math and resource room. I was thriving and made honor roll. I still had to work hard and receive supports, but it was working! I was concerned about my life after I graduated. I was doing so good with all of the support and wondered if I could handle college. Many people wondered how far I would be able to go with my disability. With the doubts lingering in the air, the sky began to change again.

The sun settled in the sky and the light began to fade. New streaks of pink and orange filled the sky. I wanted to hold onto the beauty, before the night came. I knew that new challenges, of the real world were going to be difficult. There are fewer programs for people with disabilities after high school. So many people struggle in college, work and other areas of the community. Learning to find the right strategies can be challenging. Watching the beauty in the sky gave me hope that it would get better and would return to better days.

It between the drastic changes, the sky also went through more subtle changes. Some days brought clouds and rain. Other days brought the bright golden sun. When there was rain and sun it created a rainbow. Other days brought freezing cold snow and sleet. On certain days the sky was blue and other days it was gray. What often started out looking like one type of a day, often turned into another day quickly. Subtlety through time my attitude shifted on having a disability. I began to see more of the sun and less of the shade. I even began to see more rainbows as I saw that I could turn what I thought was the most awful thing into something beautiful. I still felt the cold whip through me and felt like I was drowning in the rain. What I learned how to do was handle each type of condition that the sky presented. If it rained I needed an umbrella and a rain coat. If it was snowing boots, and warm clothing. Warmer days meant that I could have a light jacket or none when as it got hotter.

Often times the sky presents new challenges in different situations. I have to look for alternative ways to combat these obstacles. Having one can cause me to feel discouraged and to think of what I’m missing out on. But now I know that when I look at the sky, it won’t stay that way for long. Brighter skies are ahead, and even the stormiest sky doesn’t stay dark forever. How I wish I could have seen this when I was younger. Most importantly it’s not what the sky is doing. What counts is is my response to it. I have had to learn to adapt, survive, and cope under the ever changing sky of having a disability.

What is executive functioning?


What is Executive Functioning?

One of the most frustrating and most misunderstood part of having a Learning Disability is executive functioning. Executive functioning is the management department of the brain. The tasks involved with this helps us to set goals, plan and complete duties. People who have neurodiverse brains that are wired differently often struggle with executive functioning . When someone struggles with this it can affect them at work, home or at school. The three main areas of executive functioning are working memory, cognitive flexibility, and Inhibitory control .

My difficulties with working memory make it hard for me to learn new information and to complete tasks. Most people who know me are shocked when I tell them that I have difficulty with working memory. I can recall funny stories that happened in the past with great detail. Many people don’t understand why I can recall memories, but struggle to remember dates or math facts. In order for me to remember something, I need to have a strong emotional connection to it. It’s hard for me to have an emotional connection to math, unless you count sadness, or anger at not being able to get the answer.

Working memory is more complex, technical, and can be tedious. Somewhere my brain loses the steps to learn new pieces of information. When I struggle to process new information people assume that I wasn’t paying attention. I remember attending a CPR class for a training at a previous job. I paid attention to the instructions, but forget the steps when I had to perform it on a mannequin. The instructor asked me coldly “What’s the matter? didn’t you pay attention?”

Another component of working memory is paying attention. I don’t have ADD/Or ADHD, but it can be tough for me to to concentrate or work in a noisy or cluttered environment. I was often told that I would have to learn to work with distractions. It is true that I have had to function with distractions, however I generally don’t do my best work with this method. I may forget an important step or miss critical information, I’m distracted. Taking tests and completing assignments in a quiet area helped me to have better scores. I can recall at one work place where I had to wear ear plugs.

Cognitive flexibility can also be difficult for an individual with executive function issues. A change in schedule or routine can cause anxiety or anger. It can be difficult for me to process changes to a schedule or routine. My brain has trouble processing a change. People who are Neurotypical can generally process changes in plans with more ease. When something changes suddenly, my mind struggles to comprehend the changes.

Cognitive flexibility also effects problem solving. Some people may freeze and not take action in a changing situation. Others may keep using an ineffective method to try to handle the situation. What helps me to process a changing situation is planning alterative plans, if things don’t go as planned. For example If I’m going to an outdoor event, I may see what indoor events are nearby in case of rain. Another helpful strategy is talking aloud the changes that are happening. I have had people assume when I speak the change aloud that I’m complaining. I may feel disappointed if it was something that I wanted to do, but I’m also processing the information that has been given to me. Hearing it aloud helps me to be able to understand new information.

Inhibitory control is another part of executive functioning. It’s how you control your impulses. People who struggle with this may blurt out inappropriate things or act impulsively. People who have limited self control are often excluded. Many times they don’t understand that they may have said something to offend the person or the message that their signals are sending out.

I have issues with inhibitory when I’m in difficult situations and someone is trying to upset me on purpose. It’s hard for me not to show it on my face or not to say something back. I had to learn how to have a calm response, and walk away when needed. It also helps to role play situations and to journal them to gain understanding. Maturity is also an important factor in Inhibitory control  When I was younger it was difficult to control emotions, but when I grew it got easier to manage them.

Executive functioning presents challenges for a person who is neurodiverse. People with differently wired brains often struggle with working memory, cognitive flexibility, and inhibitory control . Many times these behaviors are thought to be a bad or difficult person. The person who has difficulty is not trying to be difficult, but is having difficulty with the situation. Executive functioning issues are not a free pass, for someone to be rude, or abusive. Behaviors do have consequences and it’s important that they are dealt with appropriately. It’s important for a person with difficulty with this to find ways to learn, work, and live with a neurodiversity. The world is truly not designed for a wide variety of minds, rather it is designed for people who neurotypical. Until society becomes more understanding, people with executive functioning difficulties need to find ways to do things

The types of flowers my disability has been throughout my life.

Picture by Michelle Steiner

Flowers have always been a major part of my life. I can remember loving the smell and the beauty of them, from the time I was a child. I remember being young and picking flowers that my family grew. Another significant part of my life has been having a disability. I was diagnosed with a Learning Disability as a young child starting out school. Much like the flowers that changed with seasons, so did my view on my disability. All the flowers didn’t grow at once, but each at it’s appointed time. Each flower symbolized how I thought of my disability.

Photo by Gyubin Hong on

When I was first diagnosed I was like a tiny violet. People remarked on how shy I was. In fifth grade I won an award for the shyest girl in my class. I had a hard time fitting in with my peers. Part of the reason was that I was an only child for many years and that I had more adult interactions. When I went to school I found it difficult to relate to the other students. The other reason that I was bashful was the rejection that I received. The small Western PA school that I went to made it impossible to hide or blend in. My peers knew that I went to a Learning Support. I was not viewed as smart and had many unkind remarks told to me. I wanted to fit in, and to speak up. I felt when I did I was ridiculed and laughed at. Struggling in school also made feel stupid as well. I doubted myself academically and socially. Keeping quiet was my protection. I bloomed but no one seemed to notice.

Pink lilies by Michelle Steiner

When I was a teenager my disability was like a lily. I was beginning to become more vibrant shades of pink, yellow and orange. I took pride and felt bold in things that I was good at such as reading and writing. I made friends in a neighboring school and with others from the community. Despite the increased brightness, I was delicate. I feared surviving the conditions outside of the public school. The strategies of extended test time, having the test read aloud to me and teachers giving me extra help, were working. Would my lily petals survive the harsh winter winds, of the real world? The school staff gave stern lectures about working hard or they wouldn’t graduate. I also had a teacher who didn’t think I could handle college, because of my math difficulties. As an adult I can see that this was meant to motivate students to do their best and work hard. I couldn’t see that having to repeat a grade and having to put in extra effort was building resilience. Thankfully I had a student teacher and case workers from Vocational Rehabilitation that saw my potential as well. Despite my fears I graduated and went forward.

Photo by Lum3n on

I felt like a Holly Berry during the first part of my post secondary years. I found a program at a community college, that I was interested in and had disability accommodations. I didn’t use these services at first because of the stigma that surrounded them. Many people thought that they gave students an unfair advantage. I had an advisor who wouldn’t go to a meeting with the office for students with disabilities to clarify a few issues. I also had professionals who told me that my education and job choices would be limited because of my disability. Despite the cold conditions, tiny red berries began to burst forward. Vibrant curved leaves formed on the branches. I graduated and worked in childcare settings. I was able to move out on my own. I always wanted more though. Due to financial reasons and my job downsizing I had to move back in with my parents. During that time I decided that it I wanted to to try to go back to school.

Photo by Katarzyna Modrzejewska on

When I went to university I felt like a sunflower. I wasn’t working and school became my job. I used the accommodations of a note taker, extended test time, and tutoring. I found a program that interested me and had the least amount of math possible. I was also more comfortable talking to my professors about my disability, and the accommodations I needed. Most of my instructors were helpful and knew I was trying my best. I had a few who didn’t understand, but I was better able to handle the situation. Using accommodations and advocating for myself helped me to do well at school. I basked in the sunlight of the accomplishment of getting my Bachelors degree. I also began to face the bright rays of light of what I could do and not focus on the gloom of the shadows of what I couldn’t accomplish. A sunflower can’t grow in the shade and neither could I.

Photo by Michelle Steiner

Red Rose by Michelle Steiner
Red tulip By Michelle Steiner

I have also had other flowers that have grown along side the featured ones. Lavender and lilacs have always been a favorite of mine. The sweet aroma of fresh lilacs is intoxicating. My grandfather grew a giant lilac plant in his yard and have fond memories of sitting underneath it. Every time I see lilacs I remember that there were happy moments in the past. The lavender also has calmed through frustrations when I tried hard but failed.

The vibrant energy of a red rose helped to give me the energy to move forward and try again. It helped to create a passion to want to help others on their journeys with having a disability as well.

The red, yellow, and orange tulips that bloomed every spring gave me hope. Every spring they are one of the first flowers to bloom. After a long winter and season of set backs, seeing the tulips helped to revive me. I began to have hope in myself.

Each flower that has represented my disability has made a beautiful bouquet. The variety of flowers, shows how my view of it has evolved. The flowers may be different but not less. Each has served a purpose in my life. Some of the blooms were more noticed and others grew in the shadows. Others may not see beauty in my blooms and accomplishments. Many people will say that I should be more accomplished. Other people will see only the beauty, but not the difficulties that often surround it. I have learned to tend to my own garden and ignore others who don’t understand. I now can see and appreciate the value and beauty each flower that my disability represents.

Symbols of Disability Pride

Photo by Polina Kovaleva on

July is Disability Pride Month. During this month people with disabilities accept and honor our uniqueness. Having a disability isn’t strange or awkward. Instead it a natural occurrence that happens and creates a gorgeous part of human differences. July is when we get to celebrate and not be ashamed of having one. During this month we see many different types of symbols that represent disability pride.

The Disability Pride Flag was created by Anne Magill. The black background symbolizes the mourning for those who suffered or died from Ableist violence . The black also represents rebellion. The zig zags show how people with disabilities must move around barriers and the creativity needed to do so. The five colors of the flag represent the diversity in disabilities, and the different needs and experiences of each individual. The colors also stand for different types of disabilities. Blue symbolizes the mental illness. Yellow is a symbol for cognitive and intellectual disabilities. Green represents sensory and perception disabilities. Red is for physical disabilities.

The infinity rainbow symbol represents Neurodiversity. Neurodiversity is minds that are wired differently and experience the world in unique ways. Having a Learning Disability makes my brain neurodiverse. It makes me struggle with how numbers work, and understanding information. The colors encompass all Neurodiverse minds Different types of this include Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia, Tourette’s Syndrome and Dyspraxia It also includes Autism, and Attention Deficit Disorder as a whole, however these types of neurodivergence, each have their own symbols, that represent them.

The Gold Infinity symbol represents Autism. In chemistry the symbol for gold is listed as AU on the periodic table. This symbol are also the first two letters of the word Autism. Gold is considered to be of high value and offers something that people strive for. Gold replaces the puzzle piece symbol, that once represented Autism. Many people with this don’t feel that they are a puzzle to be solved or cured. Gold shows an acceptance, and celebration, rather than correction.

The Neurodiversity butterfly represents ADHD exclusively. The colors are the same as in the rainbow infinity, indicating neurodiversity. The butterfly symbol provides a better representation, on how their minds fly from one thing to the next.

The different symbols are one way to promote disability pride. Other ways can include going to disability pride events, reading authors with disabilities and simply listening to other people with disabilities.

I’m excited to celebrate disability pride this month! But it’s important to note that disability pride isn’t just a course of a month. For individuals with disabilities having one is an everyday experience. Learning how to use strategies to adapt in a world not suited for differences, is essential to survival. For so many years I lived in the shadow of shame of having one. Now I embrace pride in having one and the person it has shaped me to be. If you have any ways that you are celebrating Disability pride month, share them in the comments below.

How Opposites work in nature and in life with a disability.

Photo of Cigar tree by Michelle Steiner

Shortly after we moved into our house we found a a cigar tree growing in our back yard. This type of tree produces beautiful white delicate blooms in the late spring or early summer. In the Autumn, the flowers are gone and stringy brown branches that look like cigars fall from the trees. One of the neighbors told my dad that I will probably want to cut down the tree, because of the brown that falls. My personal preference is the flowers, compared to the the dark branches that tumble down. However I can’t have the flowers, without the branches that come with it. I would certainly miss the flowers if I cut the tree down. Having a disability has been much like having a cigar tree. For so long all I could see were the long dark branches that fell to the ground. I wanted to cut the tree down and thought how much better my life would be without it.

No matter how hard I tried though I couldn’t get rid of my Learning Disability. I thought the start of every beginning of every school year or semester would be the year that I would master math, perform well in in gym class, and become popular. I was always disappointed when none of these things happened. I became even more frustrated when I graduated and felt that my disability was holding me back from the job I wanted, or finding a relationship. I wanted to cut the tree down! I was determined that I would find a way to not have one. No matter how hard I tried though, I couldn’t do it. The roots ran too deep and it was forever planted.

It wasn’t until I laid the axe down, that things began to work in my favor. Instead of wasting my energy on trying to get rid of it, I began to learn to live with my disability. I had to learn to find ways that worked for me, through much trial and error. Most importantly I began to advocate for myself.

Advocacy looks different in the various parts of my life. When I was in school I needed to have extended test time, tutoring, and a note taker to be successful. When I moved out on my own I knew that I needed to live in a central location, to be able to take myself places when I couldn’t get a ride. At my job I may need to have clear instructions, extra time to learn new information, and an understanding of my disability. Nobody can know what my needs are unless I tell them.

Once I began to accept it and find ways to work with it I also began to see the benefits of having one. It may have created difficulty but it also produced resilience, strength ,and creative ways to solve a problem. I also found others who had a disability as well.

In the natural world opposites are more common. The cigar tree can’t exist without the flowers and the brown stringy branches. The two opposite forces work together and each has their season to bloom. I’m glad that I didn’t take my neighbors advice and remove the tree. I’m also happy that my disability didn’t go away either. Having a disability is having two opposite sides. One part represents the difficulty and challenges, living with one creates. The other part represents the positives and the richer experiences that made me into the person I am today. If I focus on what I perceive to be ugly, then I miss out on the beauty that is right in front of me.

How I can’t take a vacation from my disability

Photo by Leah Kelley on

During the summer months people look forward to going on vacations. People look forward getting away from work or school. I am looking forward to summer break and going to trips with my husband. As much as I love traveling, having a Learning Disability is one thing I don’t get a break from. Many people think that people with them or other neurodivergent disabilities such as Autism outgrow them, or overcome them if they have success. Having a brain based disability effects many areas of my life that I don’t get a break from.

Executive functioning and processing difficulties are issues that I can’t escape from. Problems in these areas, effects how I think, learn and process information. I have trouble understanding and processing what people tell me. Many times people give me directions and I think I understand what they are asking and I may complete the task wrong. People think that when I get something wrong that I’m not paying attention. I am focusing, but listening and understanding are two different things. I often have to teach myself how to learn a new skill, with much practice.

Not being able to drive is another area that I can’t escape from. My difficulties with visual perception prevent me from driving. I’m not able to get in the car and drive myself where I need to go. I need to get a ride from someone who can drive. If I can’t get a ride, I need to walk or take the bus to get where I need to go. Public transportation and places I wish to visit on the bus line are limited. Walking is my preferred mode of transportation, when I can’t get a ride. Living in a central location is essential to my independence.

My difficulties with math is another part of life I can’t take retreat from. I struggle to total items in the store. It’s always a surprise when the cashier totals my items. I truly don’t know how much I am spending. It can also be difficult to create a budget, and to pay bills. I also struggle to figure out a tip when I go out to eat. My struggle with math goes beyond totaling numbers. Having Dyscalculia creates difficulty with telling my left from my right. I am also not able to read the face of an analog clock.

Despite not being able to take a break from my disability, I have found ways to live with it. I have discovered new ways to adapt. Technology has also been particularly helpful. A digital clock or my Fit Bit help me to know what time it is. I am able to type emails and stories on the computer, to be able to share my thoughts with others. Apps on my phone help me to total a tip, at restaurant. I’m also blessed with a wonderful support system who gives me rides and patiently explains how to do the task again.

I can’t transport to a world that is 100% disability friendly. Our society wants to classify people with disabilities or cure them. At times I feel like I am living in a world not meant for me. Having a disability is a journey not a destination. Thankfully there are ways that I can adapt and cope. I have to learn to manage it and make it part of my life.

When you can’t move the mountain

Photo by Simon Berger on

When I was young, I remember a large rock in my front yard. My cousin and I used to climb it and pretend we were She-RA. I also loved to climb up the large driveway that lead to our house on the hill, and imagine that it was a mountain. Another significant part of my life was having a Learning Disability. Learning to live with it was much bigger than the rock in the yard. At times I felt like I was climbing a mountain.

I began the journey on this mountain as a young child. I didn’t come into this adventure with enthusiasm. I approached this kicking and screaming. The mountain seemed so big and steep. Nevertheless it was my mountain to climb. I was amazed that despite the height, my peers were scaling it with such ease. The route that we were on previously worked for other students, but not me. I needed a different approach. The school staff knew that the journey will be difficult and some things wouldn’t be possible.

I was given extra tools that I was going to need to assist me. I needed to have specaility instruction in reading, and math. I began to receive speech therapy, because my ears frequently clogged and I had trouble hearing how words sounded. I also began to receive accomodations such as extended test time, preferintal seating in the front of the room, and having the test read aloud to me.

Many of peers were jealous of me receiving them. I remember them saying that it wasn’t fair that I got easy work or got the answers. What my peers didn’t realize is the work that they thought was easy, was difficult for me and took me longer to accomplish for what came so much easier for them. I also didn’t receive answers but extra support. At times the strategies weren’t always effective in helping me. Using a calculator does little to help with my Dyscalculia. Having one is great for recalling basic math facts, that despite flash cards and drills I still don’t know all of them from memory. I can put the numbers in the calculator, but my brain gets lost in the steps.

I also had peers who wanted to have a disability to receive services. Ironically I wanted to not have a disability and not to be different.

The terrain was rough and rocky. I often stumbled and fell on the hard ground. It was frustrating to put in effort only to struggle again. It felt like I would get back up and then get knocked the ground again. I wanted to give up and not get back up. Thankfully I had a wonderful support system that encouraged me to get back up and try again.

There were also happy moments on the journey. Sometimes taking the slower route gave me the chance to see the beautiful flowers. I also had the chance to meet amazing people who I wouldn’t have had the chance to meet unless I took this route. I also found that everyone faces a mountain at some point in their lives.

Just when I thought I would never reach the mountain top I did! The joy of finally learning, getting good grades, and achieving other accomplishments. The feeling of victory on the mountain was short lived. It wasn’t long before I had another mountain to climb and faced different struggles.

The rock that I used to play on is still in my parents yard. The mountain of my Learning Disability still remains as well. I can’t move the mountain or that rock from my life. I have learned different strategies to climb. The difficulties in my life haven’t weakened me, but rather strengthened me and have given me the encouragement to keep on going.