I’m not retarded: Growing up with a learning disability

I absolutely hate the word retard. I don’t even care how you use it, if you use that word I instantly lose all respect for you and there is no way of regaining it. Because the very word itself denotes being lesser than someone or something else.

When I was in second grade my studies were not going so well. I wasn’t able to focus on anything and it seemed like everything that I was taught was just to difficult for me to comprehend at the speed that the class was going. No one really knew what was going on with me. My mom thought maybe I wasn’t ready to be in second grade. My dad thought I was just being lazy or something.

It wasn’t until the next year that anyone thought there might actually be something wrong with me. I remember third grade pretty well considering how long ago it was, it seemed like it was harder than anything I’d learned in school so far. But my teacher, Mrs. W was possibly the most helpful teacher I’ve ever had. She was the first person to suggest to my parents that maybe I had a learning disability.

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So needless to say my mom scheduled to have me tested at the University of Michigan pediatric hospital. I don’t actually remember this day at all other than being annoyed that I had to wake up so early and not being allowed to eat before we went. But since then I have read the diagnosis notes from it. It very clearly states that I do in fact have a learning disability.

The doctor diagnosed me specifically with Asperger’s Syndrome. It’s a high-functioning disorder on the Autism Spectrum, which highly effects social behavior, and thus effecting ones abilities to learn in a typical classroom setting. If you’d like to know more about it heres the webpage on it from Autism Speaks.

I don’t remember ever in my life having any distinct reaction to my disorder. To me it’s just a part of my life that I have to cope with in the best way I know. My parents reactions though were both very distinct and very different.

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My mom reacted as you might expect a mother to react. She wanted to have the whole game plan. She wanted to know if there was medication to take, if I would need to go to a special school. She was willing to do whatever it took to make it so that I had as normal of a life as I possibly could. I will always be grateful to her for that.

My dad on the other hand, refused to believe it. He still clung to the idea that I just wasn’t trying. He couldn’t believe that something was wrong with his daughter because he wouldn’t have it. It’s the only reason I could ever find to blame myself for their divorce. I once again was nothing but a disappointment to him. At least for his sake, I’m not biologically his.

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Like I said I’ve never personally had any reaction to my own disability. With that being said I’ve never actually told anyone that I have one. I mean I don’t even think my best friend of twelve years knows. That’s because of the stigma. I was genuinely embarrassed that I couldn’t learn like everyone else, that my brain moved slower, that I couldn’t understand peoples emotions as soon as they showed them. I never showed people my class schedules because I didn’t want them to know I was taking special ed classes. All because I didn’t want to be made fun of.

Countless times throughout school I would be sitting in class or in the cafeteria and a group of kids would be making fun of one of the special needs kids because of something “weird” they did. I knew those kids, I had classes with them. I knew they couldn’t help the things they did. That’s just the way they were. It hurt me to see them being treated that way, but I never once stood up for them. If I had, I felt and still feel I would have also been made fun of. Most likely it wouldn’t have even been because the bullies knew I had a disability, but because I was hanging out with the “retards.”

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I probably don’t have to say it but I will, Learning Disabilities make it really hard to learn. the best way I can explain it is think about trying to build a rocket ship with nothing more than the instruction; build a rocket ship using the parts in front of you. That’s what school was like for me. Everything was hard from day one. Sure I understood things, but I could never express that I understood them because I didn’t know how.

Certain things though made absolute sense to me. The two most prominent were music and history. Out of all my classes I’d say those were always my best. With music I think it was just that I had a natural love and talent for it. It’s like a second language to me. I know more music across more genres than you could probably even think of. That’s apart of the reason I’m pursuing performance, because it’s literally the only thing in my life that’s made 100% sense to me.

History on the other hand was like my dirty little secret. I absolutely loved learning about historical events, especially within the 20th century. I would regularly come home from school and watch the History Channel just to learn something new.(This was back when it actually had programs about history and not ghosts, aliens and pawn shops) My problem was that my grades didn’t quite reciprocate my love for it. I’ve since changing my college major from History learned that I cannot stand how it’s taught in schools. In school history classes are just boring, which is like a slap in the face to the people who lived through the events in my opinion.

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Come my senior year of high school. I’m a C – average student and I have no plans of going to college. Basically I had know clue wether or not I’d even graduate on time. Honestly the very thought that in nine months I would be done with high school was a bit terrifying. But with the support of my mom, some very caring teachers and my full schedule of elective classes the second semester, I managed to graduate with a 2.7 GPA which I will be forever proud of. The best moment of graduation for me was after I walked across the stage I walked past the teachers on my way back to my seat, and there was Mrs. W, who had become good friends with my mom over the years. I walked over to her and hugged her, she teared up a little bit. I thanked her for everything she’d done.

Just by asking the simple question of wether I might have my disability, she gave me the opportunities to succeed in school. If it wasn’t for her caring, I could have easily been a high school drop out or had been held back a year or two (which would have only made things worse considering the classes after mine had heavier graduation requirements)

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I took some time off after high school to attempt to find myself. Per my moms rules, I either had to go to college full time or work, so I worked. I feel it made me grow as a person. It also gave me a whole new field to explore my disability. The one thing I learned is that I can never work in retail or food service because of my difficulty reading people. But I made it work, I’ve found what I’m capable of doing. I currently work for an event company and I really love it.

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Being an adult with Aspergers is hard. I’m always going to be maturely behind everyone else my age. I still have social problems that seriously hinder me from making friends. I am not what you would expect of a 23 year old woman. But you know what I else I am? I am a functioning adult with a secure job. I have a roof over my head, be it my moms. I am of track to go to a university in the fall and graduate with a degree in something that I love. My disability has never once defined my life. It doesn’t define what I’m capable of in life. I can be as successful or unsuccessful as I chose to be. I could fade away into nonexistence or I could give something great to the world, like Satoshi Tajiri, who also has Aspergers, did with Pokémon. I’m not perfect and I will never be perfect. But I  am perfectly me. I am not retarded, I’m different.

à bientôt

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