“To students with learning disabilities—diagnosed and undiagnosed—starting school this year: You aren’t alone. I stand with you.”
I posted this to my Twitter account and other social media platforms last month and encouraged my friends and followers, including my fellow Young Adult Leadership Council members, to share this affirmation. I want folks with learning disabilities—people like me—to see these words and hear them everywhere.
Several hours prior to posting my message of affirmation, I saw an influx of pictures and announcements on social media about starting a new school year. My mind drifted back to younger versions of myself. I remembered moments from high school, middle school, and elementary school. One of the most painful memories involved being told I wasn’t trying hard enough. I try not to think about past negative experiences. But the heartbreaking reality of how many students with learning disabilities struggle and are going to struggle this year—like I did—suddenly hit me and made me emotional. I was reminded of why I became a social worker: I wanted to help these students succeed academically and emotionally and ensure that they don’t fall through the cracks.
I recently earned my master’s degree in social work, and this fall is the first time in more than two decades that I’m not a student. The journey to get to where I am now was anything but easy: I was diagnosed with nonverbal learning disability (NVLD) at 14 after failing ninth grade physics and geometry. And for many years before that, I struggled in other areas, including processing information and understanding abstract concepts. It wasn’t until college that I began to realize my true potential, both as a student and as a person. I’m incredibly lucky to have received the academic and emotional support I needed, particularly at Landmark College. At Landmark, I learned how to learn and persevere through my challenges. I was given the tools to build a successful future for myself. I gained confidence in my abilities, and here I am. I have a master’s degree and a dream to help others with learning disabilities.
I encourage those with learning disabilities to ask themselves this: What would you say to your younger self? What sort of advice would you give yourself?
Here is mine:
“To the second-grade girl who won spelling bee after spelling bee but struggled in math—I am with you.
To the sixth-grade girl who wrote beautiful poetry but failed test after test and was told she wasn’t trying hard enough—I am with you.
To the ninth-grade girl who was diagnosed with a learning disability and wanted to feel smart and loved—I am with you.”
We are with you.
Michaela Hearst is a member of NCLD’s Young Adult Leadership Council and is an advocate, writer, and most recently, a social worker. She can be found on Twitter at @MichaelaHearst.
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