When I was first diagnosed with a Learning Disability, I viewed it as trash. I wanted to throw it away into the closest garbage can and be a neurotypical person. Little did I know that having a Learning Disability was not trash, but treasure. My Learning Disability would be a gift that would help me and others with disabilities.
My Learning Disability was shaped by my own frustration and how others viewed my disability. I was frustrated that I couldn’t learn how to do math no matter how hard I tried. I remember the torture of trying to read the face of the clock, going over math steps that I never mastered and the endless flash cards. As an adult, I still can’t read the face of a clock and use a digital watch to tell time. I can do basic math problems. I have only memorized a few math facts and if someone would randomly ask me a math fact I may not be able to tell you.
I struggled to coordinate my body in gym class and on the playground. My eyes also flinch when a ball comes into contact with my face, no matter how soft it is. People would tell me not to be afraid of the ball. I wasn’t afraid of the ball but had little control over my eyes flinching. My peers thought it was funny to wave their hands in front of my face and watch as I would flinch.
In high school, I encountered other people who viewed my disability as trash. People would hurl hurtful words at me. My peers viewed me as dumb and as an outcast. My peers and some adults thought that Learning Support classes and accommodations in regular education classes gave me an unfair advantage. I was told that we did easy work in those classes and that we were given the answers. When I made honor roll people thought it wasn’t fair because I had general classes and Learning Support.
I am not able to drive because of my visual perception. Many people don’t understand that its brain-based, not visual-based. I was told that getting glasses would help and didn’t understand when they told me that my eyes were healthy. I was told that I should be ashamed of myself for not driving. I had a guy break up with me telling me that he was tired of taking me places. He told me that I could drive if I really wanted to.
Many people thought I wasn’t college material because of my disability. I was encouraged to peruse programs at the vocational trade school. Nothing at the school interested me and I decided to do college.
I began to view my brain as a treasure when I found things that I was good at. I may not be good at math but I am better at reading and writing. I may not be good at team sports but I can do boot camp, aerobics and barre class. I can get a ride or walk to where I need to go. Focusing on what I can do is more empowering than dwelling on what I can’t do.
Most importantly, I learned that my brain works differently. I am able to learn but I need an alternative way to do things. Accommodations such as extended test time, having a note-taker, and other adaptions help me in school and in life.
Learning new ways to do things is a treasure for me and for the people with disabilities I interact with. I work as a paraeducator in a school. I work with students who view their disabilities as treasures, not trash. I remember sitting in the same place that they did so many years ago. Learning to accept my disability has been a process. Not having a disability would make life easier, but I would be sad to give up the part of me that I have learned to treasure. I don’t like everything that has happened to me but I love the person it has made me into. What I once viewed as my trash has now become my valuable treasure.
Michelle Steiner has a Learning Disability but has not let that stop her from being successful. She has had disability articles published on The Mighty, The Reluctant Spoonie, Dyscalculia Blog, The Non Verbal Learning Project and Imagine the World as One magazine. She has had photographs published in Word Gathering and Independent and Work Ready. She works as a paraeducator for students with disabilities in a school. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two cats.