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By Cutler Andrews , Jodie Dawson, Psy.D.
Q: What would have been helpful to you when you were younger?
A: If I had had other kids my age to talk to, or a mentor who had been through it, I wouldn't have felt so alone. I needed someone who wasn't a psychologist or a teacher or a parent. Because I didn't talk with anyone it wasn't until I gave a speech about my learning disability at high school graduation that everyone finally knew.
I wish I had been more active in correcting misinformation and educating others about learning disabilities. Now I think I'm a better advocate for myself, but I would like to really promote self-advocacy for all students.
Q: What have you learned about yourself and LD?
A: I never really fully understood my learning disability until college, but I still have a hard time and sometimes feel like I don't understand it at all. I have to keep going back to the evaluation report, especially when I'm feeling dumb. I'm never sure if something is hard because I lack the intelligence to do it or because of my learning disability.
When I was in high school, I was at the top of my class and my teachers didn't believe that I really had a learning disability. This became a hassle because they hadn't been exposed to students like me who, despite their learning disability, excelled in school. They would say things like, "Do you really need extra time for your test?" They just didn't believe me.
College has really made me realize the impact of my LD. Reading is much more important now. Readings aren't covered in class, and it takes me so long to read and absorb the information. I read an average of 130 words per minute whereas the average person probably reads 300. Then, on top of that, I only understand about half of what I read.
Q: What types of strategies do you find useful?
A: When I was younger, my strategies were terrible. I would lock myself in my room from 3 pm until midnight, and memorize my notes at the expense of not spending time with friends or family. I now realize I have to be inventive and creative with learning strategies. I'm actually learning now, rather than trying to get good grades. Grades are nice, but it's really the active process of learning I focus on.
I have good time management strategies. I have a Personal Digital Assistant that keeps track of everything in a given day including breaks, meals, and study time. I schedule more time for tasks than I need so I won't get behind.
I also have a system for note-taking. I use a double-column legal pad. I take notes in one column and summarize key points in the other. I pick up little tricks here and there and then constantly tweak the strategies as I learn more. It takes time and patience.
Q: What advice do you have for younger kids?
A:Talk to your parents, and let them know how you feel. This is easier said than done, but you should use your parents as resources. If you need to talk to other people, let your parents know so they can help you find others with similar difficulties. It's important to have one person you feel comfortable with who is not a parent or a psychologist. Once I stopped hiding and told one friend about it, I felt a huge sense of relief.
Q: What advice do you have for parents?
A: I'm leery about giving advice to others because all situations are different, but I'd tell parents to take an active role in their child's learning and life. Really listen to his needs and wishes, and congratulate him on what he's doing well.
Don't impose your own dreams on your child. Set expectations in line with his goals and expectations for himself. Understand his motivation and values and encourage his success, as he defines it. Parents have to look at the whole picture and find a good balance.
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