SchwabLearning.org Asks: What Is It Like to Have a Learning Disability?

A young man with learning difficulties shares his personal story, in hopes of helping other kids still struggling in school.

By Scott Kellerer

Q: Scott, when did you first notice you were having problems in school?

A: I think the first time I really noticed I was having problems was in 6th or 7th grade, but my parents noticed problems right away when I entered junior high school.

Q: What kinds of problems were you having?

A: My homework was taking longer for me to do, and I was having a harder time concentrating in class. My mind would start to daze into its own world.

Q: Were the problems in any particular classes, with certain types of teachers, or at any special time of day?

A: I noticed it the most after lunch and during my math class. I was easily distracted. It was impossible for me to take in everything the teacher was saying - not because I wasn't trying to pay attention but because other things were going on that took my concentration away from the teacher. I just couldn't process what she was talking about and check out what was going on in the back of the classroom at the same time.

Q: How did the other kids treat you?

A: The kids all treated me the same as everyone else. They didn't know about my learning disability. I kept it to myself; I didn't want them to know. I was scared they might label me as being "dumb" or "retarded." These are the two labels that every kid in America is scared of being called.

Q: How did the teachers act?

A: I didn't pay attention to how the teachers acted towards me until high school. I noticed that they took time to help me one-on-one or in a group after school. If they thought I was having a difficult time with a project, they would ask how I was doing and if I had any questions. I think they were really there to help me.

Q: What did your parents do?

A: My parents went out of their way to make sure the teachers were aware of my learning disability and I got the help I needed. Sometimes I felt they were "in my business", but now I think it was a good thing. It helped me try harder and do my best. I know a lot of parents who would not go through so much to get help for their kids. They would just assume the kids weren't trying hard enough. I was fortunate to have the parents I have.

Q: How did you react when you found out about your learning disability?

A: I must say when I first learned about what I had, I didn't do anything. I wanted it to be my secret that no one else knew about. As I grew older, I started to realize I wasn't going to be able to do it all on my own. There was no way; it just wasn't going to happen. When I reached high school I really noticed I needed help from the teachers and my parents, but I still had this thing about asking for help. But finally when I started asking for help - from friends, teachers, parents, or whoever was available - I noticed I understood things better.

Q: How did you feel about special education?

A: I wasn't in special education. I never really wanted to be in that class. I wanted to be in the classes my friends were in. I didn't really feel a strong need to be in there. I don't know if I would have enjoyed being there.

Q: How did you get through the tough times at school?

A: There were times I just wanted to get up and walk out of the classroom because I was having a hard time understanding what was going on in the class. I got through the tough times at school by playing basketball at lunch and letting all the aggression out so that I wouldn't have any built up inside.

Q: What were you really good at doing, and did you get a chance to show it off at school?

A: I was good at sports, especially in high school. Sports came naturally to me. I played basketball all four years. Once it was time for the game to start, my mind was focused on only one thing - to get out there and give everything I had. I left all the struggles I had in school that day and went out and played. I was known for throughout the league for my ability to play basketball. My sophomore and junior years I played on the guys' volleyball team, too. These were the times I felt the best about myself.

Q: How did you handle homework?

A: Homework was a very difficult thing for me to deal with. I often missed what the teacher gave out for homework because I was distracted by something else. Whenever I did get the homework assignment, I had a hard time wanting to do it because I knew it would take me awhile to finish. I hated spending so much time on my homework when it took the other kids half the amount of time it took me. But I figured I could do a little at a time. I did an hour of work, then took a break and watched a half hour of TV or played a half hour of video games. Then I would go back to work for another hour if I had more homework to do. I noticed that seemed to do the job.

Q: What have you learned about the way you learn?

A: I've learned I need to be interacting and doing hands-on types of things to learn.

Q: Are there strategies you use as an adult?

A: I've learned over the years that I can't position myself in a place where I'm going to be easily distracted. I have to place myself where I will be able to pay attention.

Q: Do you have some suggestions for kids still in school to make their struggles a little easier?

A: I would suggest keeping a positive outlook. I know a lot of times kids think they can't do something when they really can. Don't be hesitant to ask questions. Like they say, there is no such thing as a "stupid question." Most teachers won't ask you if you need help; you have to ask them. But teachers are there to help you.

Q: What do you wish you'd known earlier that you'd like to pass on to other kids now?

A: Something I wish I had known sooner is that teachers are truly there to help you. They aren't just there to teach a class. Not asking for help and trying to figure it out on your own will only frustrate you. I used to get so frustrated at my school work because I couldn't figure it out on my own. If there's one thing I'd tell other kids, it's to ask for help when you need it. There is nothing to be ashamed about.