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Anne Ford & Allegra Ford Scholars

Our Anne Ford and Allegra Ford Scholar winners and finalists—all high school students with learning disabilities (LD)—share their stories of struggle and success with us every year. If you or your child is facing obstacles because of LD, these personal accounts will no doubt give you hope. Read the 2012 winning essays from Silvia Ortiz-Rosales and Joshua Piscitello, and learn how you can apply.

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Anne Ford & Allegra Ford Scholars



Fulfilling a Vow to Myself: How I Overcame My Learning Disability

special-needs-stories-girl-in-lab“Retard girl, retard girl!”

The chant shot across the playground as a mass of children swarmed around the Special Ed classroom, striking the small girl with the unruly afro she had inherited from her mother. As the mocking voices grew louder, the hateful chant crashed over the little girl’s resilient stance.

I was that little girl. I had just been diagnosed with a severe form of dyslexia, rendering it nearly impossible to read or write. Listening to the bully’s attacks, I promised myself in that moment that no matter what hardships I might face in my life, I would overcome them; nothing was going to stop me from working towards my goals.

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A Hunger for Reading

special-needs-stories-boy-with-nose-in-bookI’ve been called many things throughout my life. …Lazy, stupid, doesn’t even try

My third grade math teacher doesn’t believe me when I tell her I can’t read the directions she has written on the board. Again and again I ask her to read them to me. She refuses.

So I sit in my third grade math class and draw (the one thing I can do). The teacher catches me and throws me out of class, saying I’m lazy, not even trying to do my work.

I cry because I want to do well, to understand…to read. But I just can’t, and I don’t know why.

The boy who everyone says is the stupidest in the fourth grade calls me stupid, so he can feel superior to at least one person, because at least he can read.

I cry because I feel that, in part, he’s right. I’m not stupid, I tell myself over and over again. It’s hard to believe when not being able to read is equated with being “slow.”

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The Gift of Learning Differently

Special needs stories-Special education stories
Mackenzie Meyer
2010 Anne Ford and
Allegra Ford Scholar

President Obama has a nation of educators looking for “it.” Steven Jobs of Apple computers wants to unleash “it.” Superpower countries like US, China and India are in the race of their lives for “it.”

As for me…well, I already have “it.” Actually, I was born with “it.” I was born with the gift to create, to invent new ways of doing and being. I am a person who learns differently and therefore, by default, sees differently and will help this planet in ways it has yet to see.

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Challenging My "Computer" Brain

special-needs-stories-child-at-computerI view my brain as a computer, simple on the outside, but on the inside, there’s a complex machine. Only my machine has a broken circuit. Some may say that fact makes my computer obsolete or not worth anything, but I view it differently, I see it as a gift. I see it as a gift because my computer does everything that normal computers do even with a broken circuit, and it allows me to see the world in a different light than most people do.

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Unlocking My Full Potential

special-needs-stories-group-of-students-standing-in-hallwaySome people fear heights, other people fear snakes, but what I fear is writing essays. I find nothing more daunting than a blank sheet of paper waiting for me to divulge my thoughts and feelings that do not want to come. My head is streaming with thoughts, but my hand fights the transfer of my own ideas to the blank sheet of paper. I look at my hand and ask, “Why, why does writing have to be such an arduous ordeal? Why do you prohibit my thoughts from gushing out of my head and onto a simple sheet of paper? Why am I destined to agonize over a task that others find so effortless?” “I do not know why,” I tell myself, “but I am who I am, and I accept that.”

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Helping Others with LD to Overcome Their Fears

special-needs-stories-helping-handMy name is Jared Schmidt. I am eighteen years old and I live in the state of Maine. I have a language processing disorder called dyslexia. I found out that I had dyslexia and dysgraphia when I was in the fifth grade. I always wondered when I would be able to read and write like the other kids. I kept thinking if I worked harder or kept trying that one day it would “just click.” That is what I had heard happened to most kids. The problem was that I was getting older, and the work was getting harder, but I was not getting better at reading or writing.

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LD: An Obstacle, Not a Limitation

Special needs stories-Special education stories

2012 Anne Ford Scholar Silvia Ortiz-Rosales describes herself as having a "thirst for knowledge and success." Once her dyslexia was identified in fourth grade, Silvia promised herself that she would not let LD hold her back from academic and personal success.

Silvia received her scholarship award at NCLD's 2012 Benefit. View video and photos from the event.


My teacher walked to the board and began to write down our assignment. Tonight it was simple: log into an account and register our names. When I got home, I hoped to make a good impression and register my name early. To my surprise red words came to the screen claiming the password I entered was incorrect. I tried several times and came to the conclusion that the teacher must have given the class the incorrect password.

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Turning My Invisible Disability into Visible Advocacy

Special needs stories-Special education stories
Hillary Page Ive
2010 Anne Ford and
Allegra Ford Scholar

“A wheelchair-bound person can’t play soccer,” a man translates from Arabic to English. Without pause he is asked to translate, “Before Braille was invented, could blind people read?” Everybody in the room hesitates, stuck between two correct answers: yes, because blind people had the capability, but no, because they could not demonstrate it. Suddenly, everybody realizes that a disability does not hinder capability, something that I had learned years before. I take a hiatus from recording the meeting and reflect on how I was invited to visit the Kingdom of Bahrain in 2009 to serve as a disability consultant for the U.S. Department of State.

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Winning the Battles with Dyslexia

special-needs-stories-spell-out-dyslexiaI was adopted at the age of three weeks old. When my adoptive parents brought me home they probably thought that this was going to be the perfect baby girl who would complete their family. However, from the earliest time that I can remember I always felt like something was not exactly right. I was a very talkative child, and I think society sometimes bestows a more positive connotation on outgoing children, in contrast to shy children. So I started life out on a high note.

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My Eternal Struggle With Numbers

Special needs stories-Special education storiesI stare down blankly at the black printed numbers placed dully upon my test paper. I read the problem slowly in my mind. Gradually the all too familiar feeling creeps in like a dark, looming menace waiting to strike. As I try to formulate an answer, I feel the clouds of mental blockage rolling in and taking with them all of the steps and processes that I had relentlessly studied the night before. The more I try to focus, the more information slips from my grasp. It was hopeless. My unknown learning disability had taken its course once again.

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Learning and Living With a Cognitive Learning Disability

special-needs-stories-student-taking-testMy name is Troy Sponaugle, and I have had a learning disability since as long as I can remember. When I was very young, I was tested and soon found that my trouble in school was a result of a birth defect. The doctors called it “cognitive learning disability with visual and motor integration difficulty.” What they referred to as visual integration difficulty was what was holding me back in reading. When the other children were reading chapter books, I was trying to sound out words and make meaning out of simple sentences. The second disability the doctors mentioned was called motor integration. It held me back even further in my studies because I could not write like the other students in my class. Throughout all of this, my parents were very supportive and helped me learn what I needed in order to succeed. The first step that we took was getting an Individualized Education Program (IEP). This helped to identify my problem and set me on a path to learn in my own way. Next, I was transferred to a self-contained classroom where there were other children like me. We were given special attention and all made great strides in the right direction. It was there, too, that I rose to the top of my class and discovered my above-average ability in mathematics. Most importantly, I learned that my challenges could not keep me from succeeding. From that point on, I refused to use my learning disability as an excuse for not achieving.

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Obtaining Goals Through Self-Advocacy

special-needs-stories-girl-with-notebook-portraitEyes rolling. Voices sighing. My math teacher stared at me with hesitant eyes and raised eyebrows as I explained my confusion with the problem on the board. Every so often he would try to clarify the problem, glancing between me and the board, and pointing with his marker. Students began side-conversations in low tones, accentuated by uncontrollable laughs. Finally I told him, "I understand," when he turned to quiet the growing voices of the class, even though I felt it was no clearer than when we started. I was often behind, lost and confused.

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Breaking the Stereotype of Special Education

special-needs-stories-backpack-and-notebookThe odds were that I'd be an academic burnout statistic. Less than one percent of dyslexics have it as severe I do. Yet in just over two years, I went from being a middle school student who could not read and could barely sign his name to a young man entering a top-rated high school with all honors courses. Through targeted intervention during middle school, the love and support of my family, and my continued determination and mental energy, I started my senior year at Farmington High School as an honors student with an overall B average in my classes.

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Education With Dyslexia

special-needs-stories-handsome-boy-looking-at-cameraAs a child, I grew up in a household of very intelligent parents and siblings. I found that I kept up with my siblings in every respect except in spelling, reading, and writing. In my early years of education, many of my teachers said I was a "late bloomer." My mother felt that this was not enough explanation as to why I was excelling in everything except reading and spelling. So, after exploring every option that the school had to offer special needs students, my mother took me to be privately tested. I was found to have "classic" dyslexia.

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Living in Two Different Worlds

special-needs-stories-two-girls-sitting-and-chattingWhen I am older and think back on my high school career, my mind will immediately fix on the mental image of a sea of navy blue- and maroon-colored polo shirts. After all, my uniform shirts have been a familiar image for the past six years of my life. Although my shirts have faded, formed hidden holes, and shrunken in size; they still signify how I am one of the lucky few students that attends The Preuss School. A school in direct connection with the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), The Preuss School is acknowledged throughout San Diego County and nationally for providing a high level of education for low-income, minority students. The Preuss School UCSD sets high standards for its students. A student there since the sixth grade, I can attest to the challenge of longer school days and years. I have endured my share of Advanced Placement (AP) classes and grueling nights of studying. The only difference between me and my peers is that I struggle with a learning disability.

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A Dyslexic Wonder

special-needs-stories-girl-wonderingWhen I was younger my family moved seven times in one year. One house we lived in had a twelve-foot circumference tree fall on it, destroying it and making it unlivable. We ended up moving into the basement of my grandparents’ home, and we lived there for a year while the house we live in now was being built. As we were moving, dealing with trees, schools, new friends, and trying to keep our sanity, I was dealing with dyslexia.

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Achieving With Dyslexia

special-needs-stories-two-puzzle-piecesOne in every ten people has some form of dyslexia; and I am one of those people. When my peers, teachers, and people in general look at me they probably see an intelligent, outgoing young lady. I bet not one of them would suspect me of having dyslexia. I was diagnosed when I was in third grade. However, I really did not know what dyslexia truly was until I was in middle school, and even then I did not know how to "get around it" and accomplish my goals, academically or socially. Then, I entered Norfolk County Agricultural High School, where I was, for the first time, provided with new, creative teaching styles and challenged by a teaching staff that did not see me as problematic. For many years, I have been battling my dyslexia which I will continue to do for the rest of my life. The only difference is that I am now ready to fight back.

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Thinking "Outside the Box" with a Learning Disability

Special Needs Stories - Special Education StoriesWhile many define life as black or white, it is the multiple shades of grey that are found between those two extremes that truly define me. Throughout my life I have faced and conquered many obstacles which include a severe auditory processing disorder, a speech impediment and Bell’s Palsy. The road was never easy but my determination never once failed. My goals for myself academically, socially, physically, and athletically have always been set way above the bar others set for me. I am proud to say that I have surpassed all their expectations.

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I’ll Get It Done

Special Needs Stories - Special Education StoriesI remember that the hallway was empty. I was grateful; an empty hallway meant nobody I knew would see me through the three panes of glass artfully spaced on the door clearly marked "Special Education/Learning Disabilities." Flanked by my parents, I sat across from people related in varying degrees to the pending subject, namely my yearly IEP evaluation. I was running my hands along the ridge of the used-gum side of the table. Ms. Boeck my case manager said, "Sasha, you are a real success story." She was referring to my grades as well as appreciating my input at the meeting. Telling the adults at the table what I felt I needed as support and what I didn't think was effective or helpful was a big step forward for me. Nevertheless, hearing her words, I remember glancing up at my mom, tears sliding down her cheeks and collecting in the corners of her beaming smile, and I felt a sense of real accomplishment.

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A Matter of the Mind

special-needs-stories-brain-mazeThe importance of diversity, especially in the student body, is crucial to the development of an individual. Diversity offers a type of education that one may not receive from a textbook. The misconception of diversity is that it solely deals with race. Though this connection is true, there are seven other types of diversity that are often overlooked, but remain just as important: ability, age, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic class. My ability to learn differs from the "normal," so I am labeled as dyslexic. Some may consider dyslexia a disability, but I consider it one of my strengths.

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Turning Frustration Into Triumph

special-needs-stories-girl-outside-portraitFor my entire life, as early as I can remember, I have had a learning disability. It has been described as a language disability, speech disability, learning disability, reading disability, and finally dyslexia. The truth is, the disability I have is specific to language and reading. It has also affected my speech development, and I attended speech class until I was in the ninth grade. I have never been able to read phonetically. Phonics may as well have been a foreign language. So, it only goes to reason that if I never learned to read phonetically then I certainly could not spell phonetically. Decoding new words for me is almost an impossible feat. My spelling abilities are limited to those words I have memorized or the words that people around me can spell. In describing my learning disability, I guess it would be easy to imagine that it would be my biggest frustration. However, in my life it has been my greatest triumph.

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Growing up Fast with a Learning Disability

Special Needs Stories - Special Education StoriesChanges and experience represent a major part of my high school years. In my mom's words, "Ali, you grew up too fast." In my freshman year, my mother started working third shift at Hallmark factory out in Lawrence. This is also known as the "graveyard shift" as she works midnight to eight in the morning. I started taking care of myself. My dad no longer lived with us, and I only saw him on the weekends. I made myself dinner and breakfast, worked fifteen to twenty hours a week, and was a full time student in school at the age of fifteen with a learning disability. My challenges in school were quite difficult. I knew I could succeed.

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Trials and Tribulations: The Highs and Lows of Dealing with LD

special-needs-stories-spell-stressGrowing up in Southwest Florida was perhaps no different than growing up anywhere else. I was a "project kid" but I didn't feel I was any different than anyone else. Growing up in the projects is not so bad if have the love of your family. I had a mother, a father, two sisters, and a whole array of aunts, uncles, and cousins. I vaguely remember going fishing with my father. I remember my older sister pulling me around in a red wagon. I guess I just remember being a little kid. I want to have memories of my mother. However, my real memories start when I was just five, when my life completely changed. It changed to the degree that I had to pick myself up at a young age and, with God's help, make it in life without a mother or a father. For you see, when I was five years old, I witnessed my father stab my mother to death in our living room while my older sister, our four-month-old sister in her arms, and I watched in terror.

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A View on Dyslexia

special-needs-stories-book-on-keyboardFrom about the 4th grade through the end of 9th grade, I struggled with most of my classes. Concepts and comprehension of coursework that seemed easy enough while sitting in class turned into an unending maze of questions once I sat down to do homework or had to sit for a test. My parents drilled the coursework at home and I paid attention in class. But still, I couldn’t understand why my classmates seemed to have no problem grasping what seemed to be out of my reach – no matter how hard I tried. I became extremely discouraged. Finally, at the end of the 9th grade, test results diagnosed me with dyslexia. That was the beginning of a whole new way of learning for me. Now that my problem had a name, I along with my parents and teachers were able to exchange frustrating non-productive learning tools for tools that actually worked for me.

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Beating the Odds Again

Speical Needs StoriesI resist the urge to slink farther down into my seat, as perspiration begins to gather on my face and hands. I hastily wipe my shaking hands on my jeans in order to grasp the whiteboard marker. As I approach the board, analyzing the equation and steps involved to reach the solution, a thousand thoughts cascade around in my head, a jumbled and illogical mess. Then, I “blank out” while staring at the problem, attempting to tune out varied snickers and whispers of answers from students who think this problem is just “so easy,” or who are being entertained witnessing a classmate’s humiliation. Dyscalculia compromises my ability to learn math in a traditional manner. Even review problems frequently seem brand new. This is not for lack of focus, effort, or due to laziness; it is simply a learning disability I struggle daily to overcome. I am the face of dyscalculia. My learning disability only affects mathematical concepts. In other areas of academia, I excel — I am an honor student.

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Accepting and Achieving with LD

Special Needs Stories - Special Education StoriesI felt a tap on my shoulder and someone whispered, “Leah it’s time to go.” Alice, the special education counselor, has come to take me away from my friends. I turned bright red from embarrassment and followed her from the room, head bowed in shame and hands clenched in anger. “I hate her. She thinks I am stupid. They all think that I am stupid,” I would later sob to my mother.

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Rachel Origer - 2008 Anne Ford Scholarship Runner-Up

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2008 Anne Ford Scholarship Runner-Up

Rachel Origer has struggled with learning since the first grade when her reading disabilities were first identified. As she reflects upon years of frustration, feelings of self-doubt and incredibly hard work, Rachel recalls never allowing herself to "give up" and with support from her family and school personnel, being "determined to find a way" to work around her learning disability. While in school, she has been able to hold a steady job, is president of the Family, Career, Community Leaders of America Organization, and is an active member of several clubs, including the National Honor Society, Environmental Club, and a mentoring program called Peer Assisted Leadership. She dreams of entering the field of special education, so that she can "make a difference in every student's life, and give them the confidence that they can achieve their goals." 

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"Hey, Helen Keller!": Living With Dyslexia and ADHD

Special needs stories-Special education stories
Holly Schallert
2013 Anne Ford Scholar

Ironically, Mrs. Abernathy’s fourth period freshman English class was reading The Miracle Worker, a drama about Helen Keller, when I, a meek Enrichment Center girl, transferred into her class. I looked like any other blue-eyed, pale-skinned and frizzy-haired girl; I could hear fine and had perfect vision. However, when I read, my words sounded as though I were blind. No matter the part I was assigned I stumbled, stammered, and tripped over the simplest of words. The classroom filled with every sort of noise; the loudest of which was the laughter. Every mistake I made seemed to erupt with a new wave of laughs from my peers. Soon it became not just harmless laughter, but jeers and jabs. I could hear them whisper to me, “Hey, you reading today, Helen Keller?”

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My Frustrations and Triumphs with Learning Disabilities

Special Needs Stories - Special Education StoriesIt has been my dream to become a designer within the toy or gaming industries after graduating college. I always tell everyone: I think outside the circle, I am very creative and imaginative. I work better if my hands are busy; I can visualize the end project. When asked to solve complex problems in Robotics class, I would just dive right in and sometimes grab Legos or do a few brief sketches to help solve the problem. When I thought I had the solution, I would start building the robot, and I would continue to do it over and over again, if not in class then at home until it worked properly. I realize I will have to work exceptionally hard to achieve my dream, since I have a language-based auditory processing learning disability. My disability significantly impacts my ability to hear and sound out words, comprehend the subject while reading or listening, and spell words correctly.

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A Chance to Follow My Dreams

Monica-dyslexia-storyAs I sat with Mrs. Domin at the round table, I stared longingly out the window at the other children playing during recess. This was the first time I was held in during recess because I had not completed my class assignment. I stared blankly at the page, desperately trying to figure out the written instructions. All the other students had already finished their assignments, while I had yet to begin mine. Mrs. Domin leaned over me in an attempt to explain the instructions, but the words on the page still seemed infinite. It was not until she finally read the directions aloud to me that I understood what I was supposed to do.

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Keeping Strong and Carrying On with Dyslexia

 

 

Special needs stories-Special education stories
Ross Chapman
2013 Anne Ford Scholar

It is very hard to say when I first noticed my dyslexia. I learned the alphabet, but could not understand how my peers could read sentences on a page with dancing letters. It was like a daytime nightmare to hear my teacher’s voice asking me to do pop-corn reading. Teachers noticed how I struggled. I was tested in school and by a psychologist and both diagnosed me as dyslexic. Dyslexia? What is that? Is there something wrong with me? These were questions went through my head and it scared me. My mother explained that my brain is wired differently than most. Throughout my grade school years, nothing seemed to help me be successful in my studies. My math and reading skills were well below grade level. I wanted to read, but there was little progress.

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Like a Good Harvest: My Life with Learning Disabilities

what-is-dysgraphia-hand-drawingLife has its ups and downs, but I have learned it is a lot like farming, and weather is a lot like learning disabilities (LD). Just as no one can change the weather, I can’t change my LD. But I have learned how to compensate.

Ever since I can remember, school has been so difficult. I enjoyed school, but didn’t understand why I would study so hard and do so poorly on my schoolwork. I can remember my third grade teacher, Mrs. P, wanting so much to help me. She felt so bad for me, and shared with my parents that it was going to be a challenge to pass the state reading test. I could only read at a beginning second grade level, and my grammar skills were even worse. Mrs. P was so dedicated. We worked together before and after school for months, just as a farmer does during the planting season. It was hard, but like a good harvest, I passed that state test.

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My Journey to Self-Advocacy

Special Needs Stories - Special Education StoriesObstacles in my life have been many, but I have and always will continue to overcome them. Presently, I am 18 years old and a high school senior. I was retained in the first grade and diagnosed with a learning disability (LD). It was very difficult to not only watch my established friends move up to the second grade, but I also had to leave my new classmates to go to a resource classroom. I was sad and felt like a failure. Many kids thought I was odd, and it was difficult for me to make and keep friends. Many of the kids that I came in contact with would tease me and call me names.

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How Dyslexia is Like a Thirty-Mile Run

Special Needs Stories - Special Education StoriesDescribing a learning disability is hard, especially because reading and writing are difficult for me. People always ask me what it is like having dyslexia. During this past weekend, I found a good way to describe what I’m going through.

This past weekend, I ran 30 miles to raise money for a girl with leukemia, and a good question came up. A fellow runner, Zach, asked me what it is like to have dyslexia. I realized I did not have a good answer for him. Then, another friend, who is not a runner, asked me what it was like running 30 miles. While I was trying my best to describe to him the challenges of the run, it made me look more closely at the things I see every day. He gave me that same look I got from Zach, when I tried to explain what it was like to be dyslexic. Their faces expressed utter confusion. Without saying a word, they told me everything I needed to know: they really couldn’t understand what it is like.

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Love + Support = Success with a Learning Disability

 

 

Special needs stories-Special education stories
Kcory Woltz
2013 Allegra Ford Thomas Scholar

“There is a brilliant child locked inside every student.” –Marva Collins

My learning disability has made it difficult for me to do things at home, school and in my community. When I was younger it was hard to play video games since there was always something to read or memorize. In the second grade it was difficult to stay on task and keep up with the rest of the class. I found myself falling behind and did not understand why. Even hanging out with friends was challenging, since I would get confused by directions and when I tried to buy something at a store, my computation was not adequate. These are just a few ways my learning disability has affected me in school and in the community.

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