Growing up I always had issues feeling confident about my learning ability. I knew throughout elementary and middle school that I learned differently than my peers, but it wasn’t until high school that my parents and I discovered why. In my junior year of high school, I was finally diagnosed with learning disabilities (LD) and since then my feelings towards academia completely changed.
I remember feeling a huge sense of relief because I no longer needed to endlessly search for the reasons behind my difficulties. Instead, I began to understand my learning disabilities so that I could figure out what I could do to learn at the best of my ability and stop comparing myself to my peers, as I had done in the past. I felt an even bigger change in myself once I started working with my special education teachers and using the testing accommodations in my Individualized Education Program (IEP).
The testing accommodations granted by my IEP allowed extra time to complete tests (“time and a half”) and a separate, quiet location for me to take my exams. The testing accommodations really helped me change my report card and more importantly, my self-esteem. I was excelling and felt more confident than ever as I started focusing on my achievements without comparing them to my peers. I also began studying differently as I learned new techniques from my special education teachers and tutors. As high school came to a close, I felt pretty confident going into college understanding my LD and advocating for what I needed most.
However, like most college freshmen, I felt like a fish out of water for the first semester of college. It was difficult being in a new place, making new friends and going to class all at the same time. When the time came for me to take my first exams I was completely scared, but knowing that I had my testing accommodations really helped calm me down and focus on the exams. As the semesters went on my self-confidence increased drastically. I no longer felt like I was battling with my learning disability and self-esteem. Instead I was learning how to achieve my highest goals.
Overall, I believe it was my understanding of how I work best as a student that helped me succeed. I put effort into not comparing myself to others and how they learn. This is easier said than done, but it truly helped me. By focusing on my personal best, and using my accommodations with no shame, my self-confidence skyrocketed.
My advice for students with LD who have confidence issues is to remember that just because you learn differently doesn’t mean you can’t learn and achieve your biggest dreams. Take the time to try out different studying techniques to find out which ones bring out your most effective skills. Don’t be afraid to be your own advocate.
Jillian Levy is the Web Production Assistant for the Online Strategy and Engagement team at NCLD. She grew up with learning disabilties and is a champion of self-advocacy. Through her work at NCLD, she hopes to educate children and adults with LD to self-advocate as well.