When I graduated high school, I was terrified. I should have felt happy and proud of my Regents diploma. It was a huge accomplishment, especially for someone who went from failing to honors. My family was proud, but all I could feel was anxiety. I knew I was broken somehow but didn’t feel like I could talk about it. I had no idea how to advocate for myself.
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate everything my parents have done for me. There were always extra stresses, and they didn’t have nearly as many resources as there are today. They did a fantastic job with what they had. I will always be proud to be their daughter, but I now have the luxury of time to see some of what I needed.
I’ve found most information about learning disabilities for parents circulated through social media only addresses current struggles. While I understand the need to get through the moment, kids need to learn early on how to effectively speak up for themselves.
This can take shape in many ways. Here are a couple ideas:
For older kids, fully involve them with post-high school plans. Do they want to go to college? Research with them. Is college not for them? Point them at resources about work programs or internships. Then look at disability accommodations together.
Listen if they’re having trouble at school with teachers or bullying. Discuss possible courses of action with them (taking into account, of course, age and development), then carry through as partners.
Understood.org and other similar websites have excellent resources that could help with this issue.
I’m not speaking as a parent, but as a child with disabilities who has grown up. Learning self-advocacy early on will make adult years easier and may prevent some heartache.
I’ll admit it. I have a hard time with motivation sometimes. It’s just a part of being human, and it’s often compounded by that nasty little critical voice living in our heads. One of the big issues with my voice is the way my neurodivergence has reinforced what it says.
Part of that has to do with anxiety, which I’ve lived with for as long as I can remember. I had written an article about my coping mechanisms here, but as I was stumbling through last week, I got to thinking about invisible strength.
Invisible strength is the overlooked power to get through those mental blocks. Getting up and going can take huge effort, but it’s not obvious by looking at us. My lens is through that of invisible disability. People don’t see the years of mental training needed to get to my current functional level. They don’t see the ongoing fight to maintain health and an environment I can efficiently work in.
It’s hard, but that’s life.
You don’t have to fit into any specific demographic to struggle. We all have our own fights, regardless of how good our lives may look. That’s something we need to learn how to honor. At the same time, we also need to at least notice the struggles of other and remain compassionate about whatever they’re going through. Your difficulty is never an excuse to abuse others.
We’re all strong in our own ways. Our brains may be hardwired to notice the negatives, but that’s all the more reason to make the effort to see the positive and to build upon that. That starts with seeing our invisible strengths. It continues with building upon them.
I attended CONvergence, my favorite yearly sci-fi/fantasy convention, last weekend. Actually, it’s usually my only yearly sci-fi/fantasy convention. It’s also the largest volunteer-run convention in the United States midwest.
This year was a little different because my regular group couldn’t attend, but a buddy from Washington state did with her little boy. As a result, most activities revolved around keeping him entertained. That was ok, he’s a sweetheart and quite the character.
We spent a lot of time in the craft area and the new Minecraft blocks someone had set up. The person had found boxes of the same size and shape, painted them like the blocks from the game and set them out for the kids to play with. I don’t remember liking being built into structures and having them cave in on me, but apparently, kids enjoy that sort of thing these days.
Yeah, I don’t get it either.
I was also on a couple of panels this year. One was Spoonie Support, a panel about disability support. Ironically, I was late due partially to my dyslexia.
The convention had moved to downtown Minneapolis this year, and the day of that first panel, we got going a little later than I had expected. Admittedly, my grasp on time isn’t the best, either. Minneapolis is known for its skyways, and since there were no stoplights in them, I thought taking them there would be faster.
I was wrong. So very wrong.
My poor friend was stuck pulling her little boy and the bags in the wagon I had picked up for con while I lead the way with my phone in hand. One of the problems with the system is the online maps don’t match up with the overall shape or signs in the skyway. Getting lost here and there was only partially my fault!
Did I mention we were all wearing our Star Trek outfits?
My friend was in her science blue uniform, her little boy in command gold, and I, of course, was the sole expendable red shirt. (There’s a long-standing joke that in the original series unnamed officers in red shirts were fated to die in their away missions.)
So, they were being led by an ill-fated red-shirt. Whoops. Naturally, we got a few stares and a couple chuckles. In years past, I’ve gotten a few comments asking how my last mission was going and apologies for what was about to happen to me. Sadly, that didn’t happen this year.
Dyslexia didn’t help, either, as maps have never translated well into real life for me.
She got quite the workout, especially since the skyways by the hotel weren’t air-conditioned. Minnesota may be known for its winters, but its summers can be sweltering.
This is the state of extremes. Minnesnowta in the winter, Minnesquito in the summer.
I was about 20 minutes late to the hour-long panel. It wasn’t quite as well attended as other disability panels I’ve been on, and quite frankly, I didn’t enjoy it as much. It was far soberer than I prefer, and I’m not entirely sure how much value many folks got from it. It was great seeing a couple of friends there, though.
The next day, we checked into our AirBNB. This was a first for me, so I was a bit nervous. There were codes.
NUMBER CODES. MY NEMESIS.
Fortunately, cell phones are amazing devices. I had taken a screenshot of the e-mail from the host and just referred to the codes there whenever we had to leave or return.
Of course, my dyslexia still had to flare up while we stayed there. One of the times we returned, we took the bus. Our house number was 2106. What did my brain fixate on? 2601. We got off the bus five blocks out of the way.
Fortunately, my friend noticed we were going in the wrong direction because right and left are the same in my head, but so are increasing and decreasing house numbers. She certainly got her exercise in that week.
On the bright side, she discovered she lost 5 pounds when she got home. There’s the new fitness fad – Dyslexic Boot Camp.
“And MARCH! THIS WAY!”
“Wait, isn’t this the wrong-?”
“NO THIS IS CORRECT!”
“But the numbers are going in the wrong direction.”
“NO IT’S-wait. Oh. You’re right. ABOUT FACE!”
Wash, rinse, repeat.
Usually, con adventures happen at con. I guess this time, they happened before and after our convention visits.
I suppose this goes to show that even if I can read and write fluently, my dyslexia is still very much there, and it’s a great weight-loss aid.
When I was younger, I struggled hard with the concept of
labeling. I was labeled as dyslexic in kindergarten at a time when most
dyslexic kids went undiagnosed for at least three to four more years. It gave
me a leg up on learning my letters, though my numbers were another story. I floundered
in math, but I flourished in English comprehension. Even in my dyslexia, I have
always been backwards.
For a long time, I hated the label of “disabled” or “special
education” because it opened both my brother and I up to cruelty. We were set
aside and mistreated by our peers and sometimes our teachers. For me, it became
something to hide. Something to be ashamed of.
Now I know “disability” isn’t a dirty word. The way the
American culture is structured does disable people who don’t fit in the spectrum
of “normal”. Life thrives on diversity and that is what disability is. We who experience
the world differently think differently. We come up with solutions and art
unique to what the temporarily abled can.
When I first learned about my ADHD, I got curious about why I
function the way I do. Sure, there are brain-based theories and biochemical
theories, but I was interested in evolution.Why would rapid changes in
attention and high distractibility exist if it didn’t somehow benefit the
After poking around a bit, I found articles like this one on the Healthline website. ADHD helped our ancestors better gather food and protect their families. The constant switching between stimuli helped them find more types of food than those without ADHD. On top of that, they could pick up threat presence more easily, which offered a better chance of survival.
However, those talents don’t fit in very well with modern
classrooms or jobsites. That’s probably why I gravitated towards writing rather
than something with a strict structure. As a writer, I have the freedom to follow
diverging lines of research. My tendency to hop between threads creates unique
My first drafts are never great, but there are always pearls
worth keeping. Editing is where that structure comes in. It’s also where I can
pick out the pearls that don’t fit and save them for later.
As a tutor, I’ve found both my dyslexia and ADHD have given me advantages. Often, I’m the only tutor on duty, and when I have multiple students simultaneously, I must switch between them. Our particular lab works on a walk-in basis, so there are no appointments.
For instance, I have helped one student with anatomy homework, another with a paper about diabetes, and a third with a paper about racial issues at the same time. I did that by giving them each turns, evaluating what they needed, offering them advice or giving them tasks, and then moving to the next once I was sure they understood what was needed. I do prefer doing that sort of work one-on-one, but multitasking is sometimes necessary.
Dyslexia has helped because I have worked with other
dyslexics and those with other disabilities. It helps when the people helping
you have a personal understanding of your challenges. Interestingly enough, the
fact I had to incorporate a unique understanding of English has helped me work
with adult English learners.
Many ESL (English as a Secondary Language) courses rely on memorization. That may be great for some people, but it’s not for many people. Part of how I used my dyslexia to understand writing is by learning about why words behave the way they do and why the spelling is often so wonky. That acknowledgement helps students who struggle with self-esteem, while sharing tips gives them hope while providing tools to better language skills.
Obviously, I have close personal relationships with dyslexia
and ADHD. They’re part of who I am. I don’t see them as separate entities, but
I understand why some people do. I’ve put a lot of thought into how they complement
who I am as a person, but it also makes me think about different forms of
neurodivergence and disability.
While no disability experience is universal, many are
similar. We who live differently must develop different modes of thought. Who’s
to say we can’t create amazing things within the world we live?