“I Am Who I Am Because of My Disabilities”: Perspectives of a Resilient Post-Secondary Student by Jason Ford

Jason is 22 years old, has LD, ADHD, and, in his words, “just enough OCD to make things interesting!” He is currently in his third year of a four year business degree program and volunteers with children with learning challenges. His intent is to obtain a degree in Education once he has completed his business degree.

I’d like to start by saying that I have a diagnosed permanent learning disability, as well as ADHD and enough OCD to make my life that much more interesting. To me, this sounds more like a confession then a story, but life is what it is and I’m who I am because of my ‘disabilities’.

Before I get into the story, I’d like to share some of my background to help give perspective on my life up till now. Firstly, I have a twin brother. While I love him to death, he’s the kind of guy who never needed to work in school to get the high grades. As far as I’m aware, he could sleep through the class and get an A on the final. My little sister is similar to him in that regard. As long as she tried she would do amazing, despite how much effort she would put into it; it was all a problem of motivation for her, not her ability to learn and apply what she learned.

My parents, as far as I’m concerned, are god-send. They are both very supportive and did their best. My mom was the best I could ever hope for. She would always point out that “I’m still her baby no matter what my grades were” and would judge us on how hard our teachers told them we were trying, not our grades. While she didn’t have many problems in school, my grandfather did and she provided me a lot of strong advice that helped me get through some of the harder parts. My father, on the other hand, had the same problems I did. Still to this date, I am eternally thankful for the advice he has given me over the years, even though I didn’t make sense of them until I was about 18.

My biggest problem is with words. If you vocally ask me what a word meant, I can tell you what it means. When I read a word, however, I’m not always capable of matching the word to its definition or I’d confuse it with another word. My favorite, and best, example of this are the words ‘canine’ and ‘canary’. During a placement exam for post secondary, I was asked the difference and I wasn’t able to tell the difference between the two words; I thought they both said canine. Again, I am thankful to my parents for drilling into my head that there is nothing wrong with asking questions, so I just asked and they told me the words. With the help, I was able to complete the placement exam successfully… with a decent grade, if I remember correctly.

From the start of school, it was obvious that I had problems learning; though I wasn’t diagnosed with anything until much later, between grades 4 to 6 I believe.  Regardless of when I got diagnosed, I can still vividly remember what it felt like to be the one who couldn’t read. In grade 4, I remember having to do presentations on the book we read that week. I remember walking up to the front of the class and telling them what I read in my Dr. Seuss book, directly after a classmate of mine finished talking about the Lord of the Rings book he just finished.

Honestly, I think that was the point where I decided that I couldn’t read and I just stopped trying. At that age, I couldn’t understand why I was different then everyone else and just thought I was stupid. While my parents would dispute this (and they were right), I just stopped bringing it up because I didn’t believe them and kept of believing that till I was about 16… To give credit where it’s due, I still remember my twin reading a book to me. It was one of those books where you can make choices and that effects what happens by going to a specific page. This is still a powerful memory for me, but it wasn’t enough for my younger self to affect my choice.

When I hit junior high, it didn’t get any better… worse actually. I still had problems with reading and writing, two grades behind to be specific. My brother, on the other hand, was at a university reading level at that time. Saying it was difficult for me at that time would be an understatement. No matter how much my parents would tell me that I can’t be compared to him because he is a different person, I always did. No matter what I tried to do, and I tried as hard as I could for the longest time, I couldn’t even match his abilities and beating them seemed impossible from where I was sitting.

To make my life even more pleasant, because of the attributes I inherited from my ADHD, most people would keep their distance and I felt really alone. I still had a few friends, mind you, but I didn’t know the difference between a friend and a good friend at that point and thought quantity was the important part.

For most of my schooling, my marks were mediocre at best. If I got a 60% on anything, I would be excited. I rarely passed my spelling tests, reading tests just made me stressed, and I rarely told my parents my marks because I didn’t want them to feel disappointed in me, so asking for help was out of the question. The feeling of isolation at that point was intense, and I still remember it quite well.

In grade 9, I failed my social studies midterm. I don’t even remember telling my parents that. I avoided all conversations on the subject of marks, up to the point I would storm away in tears about something small and insignificant if it would change the subject around marks. The first success I remember ever feeling was on the final for social studies, ironically enough. It was the first time my school used a taped exam for me, so they recorded someone saying all the questions for me. I got a 90% on that test. I was so proud of myself and it was the first time I figured out that I might not be a stupid as I thought.

Grade 10 didn’t go that well for me; I passed everything and enjoyed the change in pace, but aside from that it was just another school with new people. The summer after grade 10, however, was life changing. We went to visit some of my mother’s old friends, if I remember correctly, and I was bored… I mean REALLY bored. Staring at trees for hours on end can only be so interesting and having ADHD didn’t really help either. I was bored enough that I broke the rule I made for myself on that trip and borrowed the book my sister brought with her to read.

I still remember that book, and it is still my favorite series of books. Sure, it’s aimed at a lower age group then I am now, but I have a lot of history with it and I still enjoy reading it. That summer, I spent more time in my room reading then I did anywhere else. In two months I finished 8 books. My parents only made passing comments about my new reading habit, mainly just poking fun at me as per our family tradition of interaction. I do remember, though, a phone conversation I overheard my mother having saying how proud she was about it and how quickly my parents would get me another book if I asked.

At that point, I switched high schools. In the new one, I met my new councilor who helped me succeed. The teacher aides were also amazing; they were supportive, funny, understanding, and would give me candy when I asked… Ya, the candy doesn’t seem much looking back, but at the time the small kindness of it all meant a lot.

That year was amazing, in some respects anyways. I didn’t really like high school, but who does? In either case, with the support the school gave me and me finally figuring out that I wasn’t stupid, just different, I was able to achieve the grades I’ve always wanted. In my final year of high school, my final exam mark in science was higher than my brothers. I still don’t let him forget about that.

Now, I’m in my third year of my business degree and I read every day. I can’t even sleep without picking up a book anymore. Matter of fact, at this moment I’m debating with myself if I should pick up the book I’m reading and finish this story later.

After years of struggling with myself, the learning strategist I see regularly complements me about all my strategies I’ve developed to enhance my learning; most of them I learned from my dad’s advice, though I’d never tell him that since he doesn’t need another reason to boost his ego. I know all of the things that distract me during school so I avoid them, I get several people to proof read my work, I take notes in class to help me remember what was said, I ask more questions them most of my class combined, I make a relationship with my professors (which has saved me more times than I would like to admit), and I use all of my disadvantages and turn them into advantages. My dad is the one who kept telling me to do that. Took me years to figure out how to “use all of my disadvantages and turn them into advantages”, but I think I’ve figured it out. Sure, it took almost 12 years to get, but better late than never. Now, like I said, I’m in my third year of a four year business degree, I volunteer weekly with children who have the same problems I had in school, and have decided that after I’m done my business degree, I want to become an elementary school teacher to make sure no child has to go through what I did.

To end my story, I’d just like to say one of my favorite quotes from my dad:

“My opinion of ‘learning disabilities’ is that they are more likely ‘teaching disabilities’. We try teaching people based upon a ‘norm’, if you deviate from that norm (better or worse) you are considered to have a ‘learning disability’, when in reality the system cannot seem to adjust their teaching styles to adapt to the needs of the learner. “

I know from personal experience that my dad was right (and I’ll never hear the end of that). Having a ‘learning disabilities’ isn’t a disabilities; it’s just a learning difference.

© Jason Ford and LDExperience. Please cite this article as, Ford, Jason. ” ‘I Am Who I Am Because of My Disabilities’: Perspectives of a Resilient Post-Secondary Student” www.LDExperience.ca, March 1, 2010.