October 10th, 2019

In Pursuit of a Dream

My dream is to be a clinical mental health counselor!

I built my whole college experience around a plan to go to graduate school right after I completed my bachelor’s degree in psychology. Achieving that dream has been filled with challenges and many ups and downs.

You see, I have dyscalculia, a math learning disability. This disability requires me to be an advocate for myself in both school and life.

During my undergraduate studies, being an advocate meant meeting with my professors to explain my disability and making sure my accommodations were in place for all my classes. Even with the accommodations, it required a lot of hard work on my part. I had to complete a full summer of math classes to stay on track for my major and had to re-learn math concepts for what seemed like the hundredth time.

It was worth it, as I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in psychology.

Now on to graduate school!

My experience of applying for graduate school was somewhat like that of my classmates, but I faced a different dilemma. I made the risky decision to apply to only one graduate school—Arizona State University—because I did not want to attend any other school. I had taken the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) with accommodations for my learning disability. I managed to score in the average range (meeting my own personal goal), but slightly below the recommended score for the program.

While writing my admission’s essay, I had to decide whether to disclose that I had a learning disability. Up until that moment, I had been very outspoken about my dyscalculia and I was not afraid to discuss or claim it as a part of my story. However, I wondered if the admissions committee would think that I was incapable of succeeding in graduate school or that I would require too much assistance and guidance.

For me, this self-doubt and self-criticism comes with the territory of my dyscalculia. I had worked hard to overcome those thoughts and feelings, but they came back when confronted with the question of disclosing my disability at the application stage.  By disclosing, was I risking my dream of being a mental health counselor?  After much thought and weighing the pros and cons, I decided that my dyscalculia was a major part of my story and not only did I want to disclose it, but it became the central part of my admission’s essay.

After months of waiting, I was accepted into the Master of Counseling program at Arizona State University, and I was on my way to achieving my life’s goal. I am a month into my graduate program, and it has been amazing, challenging, enlightening, and everything I had hoped it would be. There are times when I wonder if I will be able to succeed and keep up with my classmates, the same concerns that have plagued me for as long as I can remember. I still feel constant pressure within to prove to myself that I deserve to be in graduate school and that I am meant to be on this path.

Despite this pressure, I have only been met with understanding and accepting professors in graduate school. Frankly, this has been a surprise. I sent an introductory email to all my professors to disclose that I receive accommodations and to provide an informational sheet I made on dyscalculia. To my surprise, one of my professors told me that she was previously a school psychologist, she knows about dyscalculia, and is open to working with me in any way to ensure I can be successful in her class and master the material. Her email was not uncommon, as I received similar emails from my other professors. I feel honored to have fully supportive professors and a graduate program that is well structured and will help me achieve my goal.

Graduate school is an incredible learning opportunity for me and presents its own unique challenges. I am still exploring ways to learn and process all the information I am taking in from classes and while my learning disability makes these things extremely difficult, it is not impossible.

I wish I knew more about how other students with learning disabilities successfully complete graduate school, but the research just does not exist beyond knowing that 7–8 percent of all graduate students identify as having a disability. There is not specific data on graduate students with learning disabilities or their completion rate. I think this information could be helpful to students and educators.

I hope that my story can be helpful to other students who may be struggling. I want them to know that they are not alone and that they can succeed in college, graduate school, and beyond. I believe that personal advocacy has built my skills to be a national advocate for me and for other students with learning disabilities.

I am on the way to achieving my dream!

Savannah Treviño-Casias, a member of the Young Adult Leadership Council and is pursuing a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling at Arizona State University. A version of this blog was posted on the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services Blog.

Join the NCLD movement