Episode 1: Disclosing your Learning Disability
[Introduction] Welcome to LD State of Mind, a podcast about learning together and making a difference for college Students! Join us as we discuss tips and useful information with our peers and experts in the area of learner variability.
[Patrick] Welcome to the LD State of Mind. My name is Patrick Young and thank you for joining us for the first episode. Today we will be talking about learning disabilities and more specifically disclosing your learning disability.
[Patrick] Everybody has a story. Everybody has some way they’ve used disclosing a learning disability to do better in school, or just may be more comfortable with friends. So Emily, can you please give us a quick story about how you disclosed your learning disability when you were in school, and how you thought it helped you.
[Emily] So for me, I was diagnosed with dyslexia in the second grade. I have dyslexia and a learning disability in reading, writing, and math. And so being diagnosed really young, in my household like being dyslexic and everything was nothing to be ashamed of. It was something we talked about all the time and so, that was really great to have it be such a comfortable topic of conversation at home. Because then when I went into school, it was something I was really comfortable talking about. I told kids in my elementary school class I had dyslexia. I got plenty of funny looks, and what the heck is that, but that was okay. I was happy to tell them what it was and I did get picked on a little bit for it, but it definitely was something that I was like hey, it’s okay, it’s whatever. So that led me through elementary and middle school to then get to high school and really being able to advocate for myself and telling teachers, “hey by the way I’m in your class, I have dyslexia here’s my IEP, here’s all my documentation, this is what I need okay great let’s go.” You know, and so for me, because it was so comfortable talking about it at home, it made it really comfortable to talk about it at school. It did mean that people picked on me a couple of times, but in the long run, it was really beneficial that I advocated for myself so I could get all the help that I needed.
[Patrick] Thank you Emily. Now Joy, I heard you were homeschooled for a large portion of your schooling. Can you please tell us about your experience?
[Joy] Hey Patrick, thank you. So, I started off learning that I had a disability when I was in fifth grade. Growing up homeschooled, I really didn’t know that anything was different. I started comparing myself to my siblings and figured out that I had a harder time with reading and writing, when I saw that my younger siblings were catching up to me. It wasn’t until it was time for me to be enrolled in our local public school that my mom decided that I would get tested for dyslexia. Following that, I found out that I had dyslexia dysgraphia and ADHD. Going through the public school system, and making the transition to five different, sorry eight different schools, in five different years, was very challenging. But I was able to figure it out and become more confident with my learning disability over time.
[Patrick] Sweet! That’s great you went to a lot of different schools, public, private, and homeschool. What do you think it was like starting at a homeschool? Being compared to siblings more? And not having people you didn’t know, know that fact that you had a learning disability?
[Joy] I would say that when I was homeschooled, I was definitely most comfortable with my learning disability. Entering public school and not being very confident, not knowing socially where I stood within my peers; I really tried to hide and cover up the fact that I had a difference than everyone else. When I would seek accommodations, or need to go out of the room, or go take my ADHD medicine, I would always lie to my peers, or try to get around the topic so that people wouldn’t find out that I was different than everyone else.
[Patrick] Awesome. Thank you very much. Jonathan, I think it’s your turn.
[Jonathan] Hey everybody. For me, I started off in a private school. I didn’t start reading until the fourth grade. But before that I remember my third grade teacher called me stupid, she said that I couldn’t read, she threw books at me. It was just like one of those. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I was finally diagnosed, and I had dyslexia. I remember going to private school, which is where everything changed. They had all these modifications, they had an IEP for me. And basically they really helped me learn what my disability was. I’m actually very fortunate, all throughout the rest of elementary school, middle school, and high school, I had very strong teachers that knew how to work with me. And they didn’t nag; you know, they didn’t call me stupid. They didn’t throw books at me; they really worked with me. So academically I was very strong because of the teachers I had and socially I had my parents that were very supportive. They went above and beyond to help me. But that’s just a brief little synopsis about me.
[Patrick] I guess I’ll give a little story about myself since everybody else has. I was diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD when I was young, in second grade and continued throughout school. I really never was given an IEP, except for one for two years when I was in a private school. Later in my life, later in middle school and high school, I went to Virginia Friends School which was a Quaker school, and that’s where I found the best match for me. I’ve always been very open about my learning disability. I’ve been very confident with it and I think that it led me to be more confident in my schoolwork and getting the attention that I needed to be more successful in my schoolwork. So that’s a little bit of background on me.
[Patrick] Everybody here has a different background with their learning disability. Joy, you were homeschooled, Emily, you were in public school, and Johnathan, you were in private. What do you think is the difference between those aspects of being smaller class sizes Johnathan, and maybe being able to have a closer friend connection with your classmates, or Joy, just living with your family, and Emily having large class sizes? How do you think that’s different? How do you think that made it more important for you to be outgoing with a learning disability or not?
[Joy] I’ll take this one, because funny thing is I actually attended, throughout five years, eight different schools. I was homeschooled twice, two different public schools, and two different private schools as well. I experienced the best learning help for my disabilities at a private school. Just because I found that the classes were smaller, and teachers were able to help me one on one and pull me aside in order to teach me differently and help me along with my disability. I found that when I was at a public school and wasn’t able to self-advocate for my needs, I became really drowned out in the classroom. When you have thirty kids all learning one thing, it’s quite hard to get one on one attention that you may need. And then I would say that with homeschooling you have the teacher right there, so you’re able to fully be taught in the direct way that you need help.
[Emily] Yea, I know for me going through public school, it definitely was different than I think Joy’s situation. I feel that with public school, having the larger classroom and kind of having just, being kind of another cattle in the herd. It was just really important to be outgoing about your learning disability. It also can be something where none of my classmates never really knew what was going on. I remember a time in high school, I was taking a French test and we had homeroom right afterwards and you just stayed in your classroom. And so I was taking the French test and the bell rang for homeroom and I was like, “oh okay,” and just kept working on the test I wasn’t finished yet. So I started my extended time in my homeroom class. And so I continued working and the teacher from her desk at the front of the room spoke to me at my desk at the back of the room and she said, “Emily the class is done, like it’s time for you to turn in your test.” And I was like, “yea, but I get to keep working on it.” Like trying to hint to her about my learning disability….to hint to her about my accommodation of extended time. She was like, “no you have to turn it in right now like what are you doing?” And I was like, “yes, but…” and I started like getting up and like moving to her desk. And she was like, “I will count it as a zero if you keep working on it.” I like had to say across the room, “ I get extended time.” And she was like, “Oh that’s right, yes you can keep working on it.” And all of my friends were like, “wait why do you get to keep working on it?” And it added a lot of confusion to things and so that is one thing about public school that my experience is that you can kind of just be another cattle in a herd and just kind of get lost a little bit. So you do really need to step up and advocate for yourself, which can be good and bad. It’s good because it can get you an accommodation. But it’s bad in the sense that you kind of get embarrassed in front of your friends and things like that. So I think that was my experience in public school.
[Jonathan] I’ll go ahead and say, just like any schools, they all differ. My private school, um as far as learning disabilities go, they didn’t know what they were doing. It was one of those, “oh we expect you to be like any other student.” And I will say, when I finally went to the public school, I noticed a big difference. It was as if they were big on intervention. They were big on, “hey lets go ahead and address this”, as opposed to my private school that was just not there. They just didn’t wanna, “oh everybody’s the same. There’s no such thing as a learning disability.” And that really did affect me and impact me until I finally was able to go to a public school, where they actually knew what they were doing to a certain degree.
[Emily] Yea, and I think I can add on to that, in that with public school, you also have the security of having an IEP and a 504. Some private schools don’t require that, while all public schools do. So that is something with public schools with having kind of for lack of a better word, the government’s involvement.
[Jonathan] Right the law behind you.
[Emily] That law and that is something really important in public schools, all the laws that you have behind you as a student with a learning disability.
[Patrick] Did you guys ever feel embarrassed by it? Did you feel, like when you said the teacher made a big scene in class, did you ever feel embarrassed by that? Did you just wish all your friends knew about it? If they were on the same side? Did your friends know?
[Emily] Oh yea, definitely, I remember so well. I was in fifth grade and like everybody was reading the Harry Potter books and I was all about the Harry Potter books. And um, but for me to read such a big book, I needed to listen to it on an audiotape and #90’skids when you had to have a huge Walkman and then the whole box of cassettes. Cause you know you’re gonna run through the first cassette tapes, so then you’re gonna need another one. So you just brought a whole box to school. And then, man those Harry Potter books are ginormous, so then carrying that around too. And then you don’t have ear buds, you gotta have like Mickey Mouse headphones. So carrying all that stuff, and I accidentally left my Walkman at home and I was like hey can I just use the boom box in the front of the room and I can just plug my headphones in? And my teacher’s like, “yea absolutely.” And I was just like enjoying Harry Potter so much and then my teacher was like, “ok it’s lunch time like let’s go.” And I was like, “ok.” And I went and I was in line with this kid in my class and he was like the smartest kid in the class. Like he was that kid, you know what I mean? And he came up to me after reading time and was like, “Hey Emily what were you listening to?” And I was like, “well I, have dyslexia so it is really good for me to listen to books as the same time as I read them and it is really great and yea.” I saw it as like an opportunity to share with somebody, “hey this is my learning disability, it’s really cool”. And he just looked at me and was like, “Aw are we not smart enough to read the book so we need the kiddie sing along version?” And I was like “uh…” and it was just a tough moment. Moments like that, yea I was embarrassed about having my learning disability and talking to people about it. But then I had friends like my freshman roommate in college. I’d be reading a psychology book and she was like, “hey do you need me to read that to you?” And I was like, “yes, actually I would love that.” So she would like read the book to me and stuff. So sometimes sharing it with people that are your friends is really beneficial, but then sometimes sharing it with people that you’re not so close with, don’t really take it the right way. And that’s a bummer.
[Joy] I would say for me ah learning to be comfortable with my learning disabilities was one of the hardest challenges that I had to overcome. Ah constantly, I would be completely embarrassed by it. Whether it was a teacher taking me out of a class, or whether I didn’t have the neatest handwriting as everyone else, or I couldn’t spell, or couldn’t read. It was constantly something that I always wanted to cover up and hide from any student. I was most comfortable sharing it with my teachers or with my friends, but that slowly improved over time. I found that some teachers really understand and that some of my teachers actually some of my teachers had dyslexia similar to me. While others didn’t really get it and I had to constantly ah show them how it was and what my disability was like. But it was definitely one of the hardest challenges I had to face. And it really wasn’t until junior year when I became confident with it and was able to disclose it to everyone who had asked me about it.
[Jonathan] Um I’ll also add in, even to this day I remember studying with some kids in my class and uh one of the kids was like, “Oh you have dyslexia.” And he’s like, “how are you in college?” And he had this like, I was like, “what do you mean how am I in college?” And he’s like, “well that makes you like not as smart.” And he started just going off on this tangent and I was like, “it doesn’t mean that at all actually.” You know, and I had to explain to him how that doesn’t make me mentally challenged. You know I had to explain to him how it was just a learning disability, and it’s just that I have to learn different ways of how to study. It blew his mind that he thought kids with you know, dyslexia specifically couldn’t make it to college.
[Jonathan] That was just one thing I wanted to bring up just because ya’ll were talking about and it just, people don’t have that knowledge of what exactly a learning difference is.
[Patrick] Well that actually can be a pretty common thing. When I was in middle school and high school, I was told by several teachers like, “you’re not college material. You should look into maybe a craft or trade. Learn how to weld do something where you are gonna be just doing things, not where you have to learn.” And well I told them that not what I wanted to do. So, I found myself here in college, I work really hard and I get good grades. And I’d like to say, yea, if you have a learning disability and wanna do it, you can do it, it’s just a little more difficult. And I was agreeing a lot on, with my private school, I went to a Quaker school again. I had a really small class, and I wasn’t able to get an IEP or have the government behind me for a lot of what I did. But, because I was really open with my learning disability, because I was actually almost to the point of annoying about it, I’d tell everybody about it. My teachers had to give me extra time because if not, they just had to hear me complain for an extra three weeks of why I needed a little extra time for this test and they knew that I knew because I was so open. I went to them and I always talked to them like, “hey, I can tell you this information but if you want me to do it in the test form that you want it to be done in, I need a little more time. I need accommodations that you might not want to give,” so yea.
[Jonathan]But yea I just want people to like know and keep in mind that, you’re always gonna have people that are gonna be almost negative. They’re just not gonna have that knowledge and you know, just keep in mind that, you know people are just gonna be that way. They just weren’t raised, they just don’t have the education. That just because we have a learning disability, doesn’t mean that you’re mentally handicapped, you know?
[Emily] Yea and I think like the thought of it kinda changes as you get older. In between, when you’re in elementary school, people are like, “oh are you stupid or something?” And then you get to high school, and you’re like, “yea I get extened time on like the ACT and SAT.” And people are like, “wait I want that.” And then all of a sudden it’s like yea you do! It’s just this thing, and then you get to college and everything and it’s just like people, then people just don’t really know in college unless you bring it up, because we have disability support services. Unlike, having, in school having your curriculum assistance class or your special-ed class where you get separated into. When you have disability services, you’re not pulled out of class for a test. You just don’t go to class instead and you just show up straight to disability support services. And it’s like, I know I have friends in that class that are always like, “whoa you always skip class on the test day, that’s so weird.” And I’m like, “I know right.” So it’s interesting.
[Patrick] With your friends, compared to high school, do you get teased at all? With the ones when you’ve told them about your LD? Or do they just not care in college? Because I know in high school, I was teased a little bit about my LD, but in college it just seems like hmm, it’s in the wind. No one really cares, I’m gonna do my own thing.
[Jonathan] I think it goes back to that it just depends on the people you surround yourself with. And uh I remember once I was turning something, oh a cable cord on my tv. And I was turning it right instead of left you know to tighten it and they were like, “what are you dyslexic?” And I was like, “yes, yes I am.” And it was like, “Oh I’m so sorry,” and well that was an accident but I think it goes back to, I think it just depends in who you are around. Because some people as they get older they realize oh you know it’s ok to have a learning disability and some people as they get older don’t- they stay back like they are still in elementary school. “Oh you’re stupid.”
[Emily] Yea but I think then you have those people that you can have good jokes with. Like I have a friend with auditory processing and we’ll be studying together and because I’m dyslexic, I need to read the problem out loud to myself. And he’s like, “could you shut up?” And I’m like, “yo dyslexic probs,” and he’s like, “yo auditory processing probs.” And we’ll all just laugh about it. So it’s like sometimes you have those jokes and that’s like really funny that only you guys can understand. But then you have people that are like, “well you’re just an idiot.” And I’m like, “that’s not nice.”
[Joy] I would definitely say in college, the short time I’ve been able to experience it, being a freshman. That I have found myself being very comfortable with it and very comfortable with sharing it with people. And as I’ve made it known throughout my hall mates and throughout my friend groups, I’ve definitely seen that people really have come to accept it much more than I could have possibly imagined.
[Patrick] So, that’s embarrassment with your LD. Do you guys feel that at all when you go and talk to your teachers about it? When you go and ask for the accommodations that are due to your learning disability, do you like it? Do you not like it?
[Emily] Telling our teachers?
[Patrick] Yea telling your teachers.
[Patrick] Like for myself, I go up and beginning I talk to them like, “hey I’m gonna need this, this, and this for test time and I’m gonna have a computer for every lecture, I’m gonna record every lecture. I hope you’re okay with that cause it’s gonna happen. Because It’s gonna be what I need to succeed when I’m studying or taking notes.”
[Emily] Yea I think in college, more than high school I preferred it. Because in high school I’d feel like I’d go to teachers and like we’d have IEP meeting. And it always felt like putting my teachers out, they were like, “I don’t wanna do this for you. I have two hundred others students that I need to take care of. I don’t have time to read your test to you because while you guys are taking your test, I’m reading emails.” So I always felt like in high school that I was putting teachers out, but I never felt that way in college. My first class as a freshman my disabilities support services letter basically saying like all of my accommodations and everything like that, I had that letter and I was ready for them to come back at me. I was ready for them to be like, “No.” Because that’s what I had experienced my whole life and so I went up to my teacher and I was like, “Hi, my name is Emily, I sit in the front row, I’m dyslexic, it’s awesome and here’s this letter and I need these accommodations.” And I was like all ready for it and ready for the, “No!” and everything. And my professor just looked at me, he put the letter down on the podium and just said, “what can I do to help you?” And I just was shocked because nobody had ever asked me that before, like nobody had asked me what I needed help on and how they could help me succeed in school. And I was like, “um well I’m really not quite sure yet but this is a good start.” He was like, “great, if you need anything just let us know we are more than willing to work with you and help you.” And so, it was much easier in college because professors were much more understanding. And I don’t know if that was because of all the support from the disabilities support services office, that teachers have a feel put out, I’m not sure. But it just felt a lot better in college, than it did in public grade school.
[Jonathan] Yea I agree with Emily, I will also kinda just add on um I haven’t had a single problem with a single college professor that I’ve had yet. I always give them that letter and they always either say, “Oh wonderful!” or, “I’ll take care of that for you” or they’re like, “what else can I do? What more can I do for you specifically?” And I’ve had teachers go you know above and beyond, “here are my office hours. I’ll add extra hours for you so you don’t have to worry about not being able to see me or anything like that.” But it feels like they just go the extraordinary for us.
[Patrick] I’ve only had one time where a teacher said I couldn’t have one. And it was for recording her lectures and she said that her content, her teaching was too important, too well done and she was worried that I was gonna sell her lectures. That was probably the worst class I’ve ever taken. But, regardless that’s my story.
[Joy] I’ve only been in college for a semester, but I’ve definitely found that like both of you guys have said, the professors have been very understanding. And I’ve found that going to office hours, they’re wiling to work with me and even go out of their way to work, especially with me and giving me that attention I need so. They’re very enthusiastic about helping which was definitely a surprise.
[Jonathan] And I think that it also adds that we just put ourselves out there. They see that we want to try. They see that we’ve made it to college and we’re gonna try that much harder and continue pushing on too.
[Emily] And I think that it’s something when students with disabilities, that they really, because we have had to try harder in school, and we have had to find different ways to do things and that we really have had to go the extra mile. That when we come to college and we’re like, “I’m taking my education really seriously. Because I know what I need to do.” And by going that extra mile, I feel any person with a learning disability is gonna be a much more determined person in life, in general. And just be a really hardworking person and I think that is an advantage to having a learning disability.
[Jonathan] And I felt a lot more prepared thinking about. Some of my friends that don’t have learning disabilities, they came to college and they never did anything in high school. I already had study techniques, so I had already been making all these you know… And when they came to college, they were like, “Oh I actually have to study now.” And I’m like, “I’ve been doing that already, I’m kind of ahead of the game.” So, that also helped a lot.
[Patrick] Definitely. Also, just being able to get up and ask for help, when you need it, going to the teachers’ office hours, or emailing them like, “I need help on this study packet.” If you ask, if you go out there and you look for it, usually they are ready to help you.
[Emily] Yea I wouldn’t really be embarrassed like, asking for help because I’m like, “Well I’ve already embarrassed myself enough this semester by like reading things wrong and like saying silly goofy things. So like what’s it gonna hurt if I go get some help? Like I’m gonna benefit, even if it embarrasses me.” So it’s like if there’s a benefit, the heck yea I’ll do it. You know, and all my friends will be like, “what did the teacher say? I wanna know too.” And I’m like, “I’ll help you out it’s fine, it’s cool.”
[Patrick] Well I think that’s all the time we have for today. So thank you again Joy, Emily, and Jonathan for coming in and talking to me. You’ve been such a help with giving your story and spending your time and hopefully helping people understand that disclosing your LD is a great thing that will really help you be successful. I’d also like to thank Dr. Williams, Chris, and Tanner for helping this get off the ground and all of the technology that I really don’t know how to work. So without them, this would not be a thing. Uh please check us out next time where we’ll be talking about assistive technology here on LD State Of Mind. Thank you again. My name is Patrick Young, see you next time.
[Closing] LD State of Mind is a part of the College STAR initiative, a multi-campus project helping college campuses become welcoming places for students with different learning profiles. Check out our College STAR student blog and the larger College STAR project at collegestar.org. Funding for College STAR comes from the Oak Foundation and the NC GlaxoSmithKline Foundation. Our executive producer is Dr. Sarah Williams, field producer is Chris Pelletier, and our sound engineer is Tanner Jones. LD State of Mind is taped in the STEPP Cove at East Carolina University.