A rainbow occurs when the sun and the rain occur together. Two opposite forces occurring at once creates a beautiful flash of color in the sky. My Learning Disability functions like a rainbow. The rain is my difficulty with math, hand-eye coordination and hand dexterity. The sun is things I am good at such as reading, writing, and helping others. The colors appear in the sky when I achieve a goal or I help another person with a disability to thrive. Rainbows are not one color but have the colors of red, orange, yellow, green, indigo and violet. Though there were many storms, a rainbow occurred at the end of each of them.
One of the most frustrating parts of having a Learning Disability is that it has not always made sense. I would be good at one part of a subject and then struggle in another part of the same subject. I was good at reading fluency and reading with expression but struggled with comprehension and grammar. I would study for tests and do poorly. I would follow the recommended interventions, but felt that some of them were not helpful. I felt like I didn’t fit into one neat category and just one plan was not going to help me learn. It wasn’t until I realized that my disability could not be defined as black and white but as a colorful rainbow.
One of the biggest storms that occurred was test taking. I am grateful that I was diagnosed in Kindergarten and began to receive services early. The tests always seemed to show what I didn’t know and often did not highlight what I was good at. I can remember feeling bad when I got results back from standardized tests. I can remember seeing a little line in the bar graph for math and a bigger line for English and reading. When I was in school the majority of the teachers and staff saw beyond what the test was showing. They encouraged my love for reading and writing. My teachers also saw that I was good at public speaking and encouraged me to present reports to the class.
As I progressed through school, the importance of standardized tests and performance grew. I can remember taking a test in my junior year on machine reasoning. We were gathered in the cafeteria and the person administrating the test gave a warning saying, “This test will determine your future. I have jobs calling for the results of this test.” He went on to say if we did poorly on it we would be living in a local undesirable neighborhood. To my knowledge, not a single employer has called asking how I performed on that test. Mechanical reasoning is not my strong suit and you can imagine I did not do well. I also did not end in the neighborhood as predicted.
Post-secondary goals were also heavily influenced on what I couldn’t do rather than what I could do. I had a teacher who recommended technical school because of math difficulties, even though nothing interested me there. Thankfully I had a student teacher working with me that year that told me I could do college, because I was a good student. I decided not to take SATS and opted to do community college under the advisement of an Office of Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor. I knew that my score would not reflect my academic abilities accurately.
I did need to be evaluated for a Learning Disability to receive disability accommodations and assistance from Vocational Rehabilitation. I can remember when the results came back I did so poorly that the physiatrist wrote that I would not be able to go beyond a community college.
I struggled in college mainly because I did not use the disability accommodations offered. I didn’t want to have the stigma of a college student with a Learning Disability. I also had professors tell me that my job choices would be limited to my disability. Thankfully I had a professor outside of my department who saw my struggle and recommended that I begin to receive extended test time. I also had people who thought that I may have also been in the wrong major and that I could get better grades. Despite my difficulties I was able to graduate with my Associates Degree in Early Childhood Education. I worked in child care centers and moved out of my parents' house but I always wanted more.
Due to financial reasons, I moved back in with my parents and went back to school. I fully embraced that I had a Learning Disability. I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to handle the math and other classes. I utilized disability accommodations such as a note-taker and extended test time. I also advocated for myself by talking to professors. I would explain to new instructors that I had a Learning Disability and I was going to need extra time on tests and services from the office of students with disabilities. I only had one class that I didn’t self-disclose. The course was Fundamentals of Acting and I wouldn’t need extended test time or a note-taker. I ended up getting an A in the class. Most of my professors were understanding and were happy to help. They could see that I was trying even if I was struggling with the class. I did much better academically than at community college. Part of the reason was maturity and not being employed at the time. The biggest part of the success was utilizing disability accommodations and advocating for myself. I made the Deans List for the semester and I was able to get my Bachelor’s Degree in Community Programming for Americans with Disabilities.
I have also run into difficulty when looking for jobs outside of college. I was enrolled with an agency that helped people with disabilities find jobs. Most of the people that the agency helped had intellectual disabilities and had more skilled labor jobs. Many of the other clients had difficulty finding jobs and maintaining employment. I remember having to schedule appointments on the days when I wasn’t working as a substitute teaching assistant for three different schools. I would meet with the job coach and would do activities such as circling jobs that interested me in the newspaper. I remember thinking I could do this from home.
I also wanted to have a more permanent job and went for interviews. I remember telling my job coach about an interview and she asked if I wanted her to go with me for support. I always declined on the offer. I feared future employers would not view me as a capable employee if I had to have someone with me. I found most of the services offered were not personalized to meet my needs. Services tapered off when I found steady employment and were discontinued completely once I went back to school.
I also have other people in the community try to fit my disability into a category. When I tell people that I have a Learning Disability many people assume that I can’t learn. I have met people who think because I have a Bachelor’s Degree, work in a job and have been published that I am too smart to have a Learning Disability. I also have met people that have told me that I don’t look disabled. Many people have an image of a disabled person as someone with a physical disability. You may not be able to see my Learning Disability but it is still there.
Everyone sees a rainbow differently because of the angle it is measured on. When people find out about my Learning Disability it often doesn’t make sense to others and often times to myself. People will tell me, "You're too smart to have a Learning Disability" or wonder how I accomplished so much. I also get dismissive comments that there is nothing wrong with me because, unlike a rainbow, you can’t see my Learning Disability.
Rainbows have no end and no pot of gold at the end except in fairy tales. My Learning Disability will never disappear and I have not always found a prize at the end of a difficult situation. I have had disappointments and have had limitations because of my disability. The rainbow promises that something even better is coming.
Throughout the years, my attitude towards my disability has changed. I no longer try to think of it in terms of black and white but many colors. What I once thought was hopeless has now led me to help others. I will always have my Learning Disability and will have to find different ways to do things. I no longer have a black cloud that follows me, but a rainbow of colors.
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.