By Suzanne McNamara
Shoulders hunched and hands intertwined in front of me, my eyes wandered and slowly focused upon pink tennis shoes labeled “L” for left and “R” for right. I waited while all the reading groups received their instructions before my teacher would reach my group, the slow group, the group of one. Me.
I struggled to make sense of the letters on the page. The alphabet was a mystery to me: the letters appeared as a random jumble. It seemed so easy for my classmates, but for me school was hard. Everything was a challenge. I knew I was behind. I knew I was slow. I felt so stupid.
I was so far behind in reading that the next year I was placed in the first grade – kindergarten combination class. After the kindergartners left for the day, the teacher would give me focused attention. It wasn’t enough; I needed more assistance.
In second grade I continued to struggle, and so, my family brought in outside help. Twice a week I left school to see a private reading specialist. I worked hard. My routine included extra homework, computer time, and flashcards, and practice, practice, practice. By the end of the year I had made enough progress to rejoin my class. I was reading at grade level.
Over the years my academic performance was mixed. Though at grade level, my teachers believed that I was capable of more. Meetings were arranged, and Student Study Teams were held to discuss my progress. Attention was a problem. I persevered but always felt one step behind.
Eventually, I was evaluated by the school psychologist . She found the root cause of my learning difficulties – Attention Deficit Disorder, Visual-Motor Integration and visual processing speed deficits. I may seem that being labeled with a learning disability would make one feel embarrassed or dumb, but I felt reassured and confident. There was a reason school was so difficult. Knowing why I struggled allowed me to develop strategies to support my own learning.
I understand that it takes more from me: more work, more effort, more patience. When I was younger, I did not believe that I could be successful, but I gained confidence. I realized that I did not have to be in that reading group all alone. It was this realization that has gotten me where I am today.
I was a question mark in kindergarten. Now, I am Student Body President and an honors student. I will always learn differently, but I chose to challenge myself. Perseverance pays off. I look back at the students in kindergarten with me, the ones in the top reading group, the ones my teachers saw promise in while they worried about me, and I realize that for some of my peers learning came easily. They seemed more capable, but I have something special. Determination.
A learning difference has been a difficult life lesson, but, because I never give up, I succeeded in becoming the student that little kindergarten girl dreamed of being.