Traverse City Record-Eagle

Life

April 6, 2009

I am different, not disabled

A change in schools brings out a change in me

My relationship with reading started in kindergarten when I was unsuccessful in learning the alphabet. The school wanted to hold me back, but my parents wouldn't let them. That summer my mother slaved away making flash cards to help me learn.

As my struggles turned into frustration, reading became a mandatory task instead of the empowering discovery it was for all the other children my age. As hard as my mother tried, I was still perplexed when it came to reading.

In the fall of first grade I was diagnosed as "learning disabled." I was now required to attend special education along with all the other children whose problems dwarfed mine. From that time through fifth grade I carried the stigma of "learning disabled." It was like a heavy rock in my pocket, it weighed me down and hindered my progress. I hated being taken out of normal class to go to special ed. Needless to say, I improved, but I still wasn't fixed. "Fixed" was not the term the public school system used, but that was how I was treated; as if I was broken, in need of repair. And so, I continued to stumble through reading, as if my brain wore a blindfold.

I wasn't stupid -- anyone who met me could tell you that. I walked at 10 months. My verbal communication skills where above average. This invisible block that surrounded my reading abilities mystified my parents, teachers and family, as well as me. As much as I disliked reading, I loved it too, because if I could read it meant that I was normal. My longing to read was so great that I would even fake it. I memorized books when people read them to me. Then I would "read" them from memory. I tricked a few people this way, but when they asked me to read something new, I evaded their request.

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