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

WHEN A FLOWER DOESN’T BLOOM, YOU FIX THE ENVIRONMENT, NOT THE FLOWER. Alexander Den Heijer

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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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.

When spring doesn’t seem to come

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As we approach Easter it has finally begun to feel more like spring in my area. The flowers are starting to bloom, the sun is out and the days are getting longer. Hopefully we are finally done with the snow and look to warmer days ahead. This year the winter has gone on forever, and the harsh weather went well into spring. So many of us have wondered if spring weather would ever come. Much like the never ending winter, having a Learning Disability has made me often wonder, if success would ever happen.

I can remember feeling doubtful of my abilities as a young child. Most children have confidence and think that anything is possible. I could feel the freezing cold winter that wouldn’t leave, while others where having their season of spring. I can recall always being frustrated when we had motivational speakers that said we could do whatever we could put our minds to. I would start every year thinking this would be the year that I would be able to get straight A’s and become popular. I would get disappointed when I would put in the effort and wouldn’t be successful. Having dreams and goals is important. What has changed is how I have expanded my view on success and failure.

I was well aware of things that there were certain things that were difficult for me such as math, tying my shoes, and writing my name. I thought that it would always be hard and I was doomed to fail. The winter almost froze my heart and my motivation to try. Thankfully I had a support system who didn’t give up on me. My parents told me I was smart, and that I learned differently. The school worked to provide accommodations and specialty instruction.

Slowly winter began to fade, and I saw signs of spring. My grades improved and I began to find areas that I was good at. The progress may have been slower than I wanted, but it happened. I learned to tie my shoes and write my name. Even though I can write, you may not be able to read my handwriting, and my shoes always seemed to be untied.

Despite it being a new season a slight chill may always be in the air, even if I’m the only one who feels it. Some things I simply can’t do such as math, or driving, reminds me that I have limitations. A common myth is that people with Learning Disabilities out grow them once school is over. My disability didn’t leave when I graduated high school, went to college and got my Bachelor’s Degree. It wasn’t over when I fell in love, got married and a bought a house. My disability didn’t disappear when I got a job, or had articles published.

Even with all of these challenges, I have had success in my life. Much like the weather, I can’t control or change my disability. The only thing I can change is are my actions, and how I handle the situation. I will always have one, but I can chose how I view it. It’s more empowering for me to focus on what I can do rather than what I can’t

Now when I am faced with a challenge, I try to think of a different way to solve the problem. I may have to try and fail, then try again a different way. Sometimes it seems like the winter will never end and the situation will never improve. However slowly the winter turns to spring on it’s own time. A slight touch of winter may always remain, but I know how to handle it. The harsh winter will end and spring will finally come!

The Bouquet of Neurodiversity

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Flowers have been used throughout history to commemorate an occasion. They are used to express sympathy at a funeral, love on Valentine’s Day, and celebrations at weddings or birthdays. A flower bouquet is also a beautiful example of how Neurodiversity can work. Neurodiversity is defined how people interact with each other in different ways. There is no right or wrong way to learn. Each flower in the bouquet of neurodiversity is different .

I was handed my bouquet of Neurodiversity as a young child. I didn’t receive this flower arrangement with happiness. I wanted to throw it away and have the blooms that my peers had. The flowers they had seemed to bloom faster, and had more vibrant beautiful petals. I often thought my flowers were weeds, and the flowers that bloomed were not as vibrant.

Each flower may be different but they all are flowers. Flowers all need the same things: air, water, soil, and sunlight to grow. The same concept exists for humans. People with and without disabilities have the same basic needs of food, shelter, water, and air to live. We are more alike than different.

However differences do occur in flowers and with people with disabilities. Some flowers need more sunlight, while others need more shade. Individuals who are neurodivergent need different things to learn, grow and live in school and the community. Accommodations are not an unfair advantage, it’s providing what the individual needs to thrive.

Even if a flower is the same type, it doesn’t mean that it will be the exact same. There are variations in color, shape, and sizes. The same concept applies to people with disabilities. A person who shares the same diagnosis will experience the disability differently. Many people don’t understand why I struggle with math, when most associate Learning Disabilities with Dyslexia and other reading based disabilities. I can’t drive because of my visual perception, but some people with Learning Disabilities can drive, do math, or read well. The diagnosis is the same, but everyone experiences it differently. The judgement and comparison of my disability creates shame.

Flowers also have different seasons that they bloom. The spring is filled with tulips, daffodils, and lilacs. The summer brings Peonies, Hydrangeas and Geraniums. . Fall brings colorful mums and sunflowers. In the winter holly and vivid red Poinsettias brighten the cold gray days of winter. I had to be patient in waiting to bloom. I can remember being so frustrated during the early years of learning. For most people the elementary school years are considered the easiest of academics. School got easier for me as the years progressed. The memory needed for math, and other subjects was difficult for me. When I got to the application of concepts, I did much better, unless it was math or science.

Each flower also has a different smell. Some of the scents are subtle while others have a stronger scent. Certain types of flowers may be too overwhelming for people with allergies. At times having a disability may be too overwhelming for other people too. I have had others tell me that they didn’t want to be in a relationship with me because my disability was too much for them to handle. I have also not been able to meet the expectations that other people wanted. When I don’t measure up to someone, I feel like they are trampling my flower in the dirt. I may not always be everyone’s choice of a bouquet.

Another important part of gardening is pulling the weeds. Setting boundaries and limiting my interactions with difficult people has helped me grow.

Every flower is different but not less. Together each type makes a lovely display. The same concept goes for Neurodiversity. The world needs a variety of minds. I may not be able to do math , but I can read and speak well. I may not be able to drive, but I can get where I need to go. It’s not about being the best, but about using our unique gifts to help each other.

A Lilly can’t turn into a rose. I can’t turn myself into a mathematician. Thankfully, there are a wide variety of flowers to make a beautiful bouquet of neurodiversity.