As a reader of LD.org, you know that people with learning disabilities (LD) are often some of the most intelligent, creative, and innovative folks around. We bring you stories of both celebritiesand everyday people who are not just surviving life with a learning disability, but truly thriving. Most of our success stories are told after-the-fact: by people who have already graduated and established their careers. But what does an LD success story look like as it’s happening—in middle school, in high school, and beyond? What might a person with LD in the midst of their educational journey have to say?
14-year-old Jack is here to give us a glimpse into his life as a high school freshman with dyslexia. We last checked in with Jack at the beginning of this school year, when he shared the success strategies that got him through middle school and how excited he was to start at a science, technology, engineering and math-focused high school. Has high school been everything he hoped? How is self-advocacy different in high school than in middle school? We interviewed Jack and you'll want to read on to find out more about his journey.
So you’re well into your first year of high school! How has the year been going? This has been the best school year ever. I am attending a high school that focuses on math and science learning through hands-on projects. I am making new friends and really like my teachers.
A big transition like moving on to high school can bring challenges, too. Have you had any? Yes. I am in all general education classes, but I have a special education caseworker who was out sick for much of the early part of the school year. So I decided to take my IEP into my own hands and wrote letters to my teachers explaining my accommodations and I also spoke with them individually. My teachers have been really helpful and everyone has been really trying to make sure I get what I need. But it is up ultimately up to me to advocate and let teachers know my needs.
Another thing that has been hard was that my school’s principal who I liked very much stepped down early in the year. The principal, Dr. M., made me feel welcome and accepted at Tech High from the moment I applied. He never expected less of me because I am dyslexic and he was a big advocate for me—in fact, at least once a day he would show up in one of my classes and give me a thumbs-up, that always boosted my day. I felt like he had my back and just knowing that made me want to learn more and more. He saw me and my potential from day one, not just my dyslexia.
When he stepped down, it was very hard because he was the one person at school I felt expected the most from me. It makes a difference having someone like the principal believe in you and recognize how my struggles in classes are different than most kids. I wish I could still see him during the day. I wrote him a letter to let him know how he made a difference in my life.
How did your teachers react when you told them about your dyslexia? When I gave them the letter the first day and told them I was dyslexic, I was surprised…although they were all really kind, I could tell many really didn’t know exactly what that meant or they might have had misconceptions about what dyslexia really is—they probably thought I just read poorly and can’t spell. I’m still not sure if they understand the whole picture. That is what is hard. I get good grades and they know I am smart but I think it’s hard for them to understand how I learn differently or how my reading level makes things that are simple for other kids a barrier for me. I don’t think dyslexic kids have a problem learning, I think they don’t get taught in the way they learn easiest.
You’re meeting new people all the time and making new friends. Does the issue of your dyslexia ever come up with them? What do you say if it does? Yes, one girl came up and asked me about the assistive technology (AT) I was using and I could tell a bunch of others were listening when I said I was dyslexic. I explained it as “reading and writing are hard for me.” I also mentioned things that are easy for me, so they understand that dyslexics have strengths too. I shared this blog with them, another page that lists famous dyslexics, as well as the blog Ben Foss wrote for NCLD.
That’s an excellent point.; The dyslexic community is trying to create awareness by defining dyslexia by its strengths, not by the weakness it causes in reading. Last time we talked, we discussed how you feel your dyslexia helps you to think in creative, visual and out-of-the-box ways. How have those strengths been helpful so far in high school? My teachers have been key in helping me make the most of the strengths of my brain. In Engineering/Science, my teacher allows me to express my engineering thoughts and ideas by doing them physically in projects. In English, my teacher allows me to use my imagination and allows me to write essays in a creative way. My Math teacher is hilarious and very visual, so his teaching style works well with how I learn. I also joined the basketball team at school so I am using strengths outside of the classroom as well.
Outside of your special education caseworker and the assistive technology you use, do you get any other support with the parts of school that are difficult for you? I am in my school’s AVID elective which helps with organizational skills. I work with my awesome English tutor at my house three days a week. Writing still takes me a lot longer than it takes other kids. I had to write a paragraph last week that took me almost all day, even with my AT. I always know what I want to say and have all the ideas in my head immediately. I actually love telling stories. It’s putting the words grammatically on paper that’s hard. But I also attached an added piece of artwork I drew (not required) and so I had fun doing it.
What is your advice for other young people with dyslexia who are making the transition to high school? Know that when you have an IEP, you will have things go wrong, like I did with my case manager not being available to fill in my teachers at the beginning of the school year. Always have a Plan B and advocate for yourself earlier than later. It’s OK if your teachers don’t know about dyslexia. You can teach them. Excel at being dyslexic, be proud and define yourself in a balanced way by supporting your weaknesses but also by working hard at your strengths. Talk to your friends so they can understand you better. Appreciate those that help you be yourself: your parents, friends and teachers.
See my favorite quote by my favorite dyslexic. This explains what it feels like being dyslexic going through our school system: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” -Albert Einstein