Growing up, my mother always said, “Never use your LD as an excuse.” What she meant was that she never wanted me to be a victim to my learning disability, but instead to always look for ways around it. Before college, I was lucky enough to attend an amazing private school, progressive and innovative in its teaching methods, which gave me the flexibility and support to learn in a style that worked for me. So my LD was a non-issue. But once I got to college, a more traditionally structured school, I began to hit barriers that had not existed for me at the high school level. I actually chose my school because I knew that the rigid structure would be extremely difficult for me, and I saw it as an important challenge. I knew that if I could succeed there, I would be able to do great things. But it was in college where I learned what having a learning disability really means for me and it was one of the most difficult obstacles I have yet to face.
I remember quite well my freshman writing seminar. I have always struggled with writing as part of my LD, especially when it comes to grammar and spelling. I knew I had big ideas, just no idea how to express them. My professor gave me my papers back, always with the same comments. Always. She would always ask about the details: “ Where are the details?” I tried everything. Finally, the term paper. I remember locking myself in a room and working non-stop on the first draft. I thought to myself “well, if I force it and power through it, I have to get it. If I give it my best, I have to succeed, right?” Wrong. I got the feedback and it was the same exact feedback I had been getting all semester. What was wrong with me? Was my best not good enough? I begin to see something was seriously wrong. Everyone else had put in half the time I had, and all done really well. I continued to try to improve, but saw no improvement. There had to be something wrong.
That was when I discovered the extent of my learning disability. I have known about it since second grade. But in my primary schooling, my effort was always recognized, even if the final product was not great. So I cried and went to a book store. I was walking around the bookstore and I came a across books on learning disabilities and AD/HD. Up until that point, I had not put together that my issues could be caused by my LD. The book changed my life. At that moment I decided to scrap the whole paper and instead write about learning disabilities and why I could not improve on some of the tasks the professor had been giving me. I also included ways she could teach better to people like me.
I handed it in. I was so scared to get it back. She handed it back to me and said “Josh, thank you. No one has ever challenged me like this and I was not even aware of what I was doing. Can we meet more to talk about how I could better teach people like you.” I got an A. I was blown away. It was then that I realized, I was not going to use my LD as an excuse, I would use it as a source of power to get what I needed! I had to realize that I really was different from others, disabled or not. I truly do have different needs then the majority of people and the professors didn’t know how to deal with it. I was not going to rely on their good graces or judgment, I had to make it clear what I needed to succeed. Thus I had to think about it: “what do I need to succeed?” I had to become my own best advocate.
Learning how to identify and effectively verbalize what I need to succeed has been a critical skill as I have begun my career since graduating in 2008. Many of my peers, LD or not, really struggle to know what they need and be able to tell their managers about it effectively. Some will be too pushy and some won’t say enough or anything at all. I have learned how to tell people what I need in a respectful, non-pushy way, always making sure that somehow I get what I need. It is this skill set that has made all the difference, in both my education and young professional career.
Josh Wexler was diagnosed with LD and AD/HD at age seven. He grew up in Brooklyn, NY and graduated from Dartmouth College in 2008. Currently, he works for a large consulting firm and lives in New York City.