“Retard girl, retard girl!”
The chant shot across the playground as a mass of children swarmed around the Special Ed classroom, striking the small girl with the unruly afro she had inherited from her mother. As the mocking voices grew louder, the hateful chant crashed over the little girl’s resilient stance.
I was that little girl. I had just been diagnosed with a severe form of dyslexia, rendering it nearly impossible to read or write. Listening to the bully’s attacks, I promised myself in that moment that no matter what hardships I might face in my life, I would overcome them; nothing was going to stop me from working towards my goals.
Anne Ford & Allegra Ford Scholars
Our Anne Ford and Allegra Ford Scholar winners and finalists—all high school students with learning disabilities (LD)—share their stories of struggle and success with us every year. If you or your child is facing obstacles because of LD, these personal accounts will no doubt give you hope. Read the 2012 winning essays from Silvia Ortiz-Rosales and Joshua Piscitello, and learn how you can apply.
Anne Ford & Allegra Ford Scholars
“Retard girl, retard girl!”
I’ve been called many things throughout my life. …Lazy, stupid, doesn’t even try…
My third grade math teacher doesn’t believe me when I tell her I can’t read the directions she has written on the board. Again and again I ask her to read them to me. She refuses.
So I sit in my third grade math class and draw (the one thing I can do). The teacher catches me and throws me out of class, saying I’m lazy, not even trying to do my work.
I cry because I want to do well, to understand…to read. But I just can’t, and I don’t know why.
The boy who everyone says is the stupidest in the fourth grade calls me stupid, so he can feel superior to at least one person, because at least he can read.
I cry because I feel that, in part, he’s right. I’m not stupid, I tell myself over and over again. It’s hard to believe when not being able to read is equated with being “slow.”
2010 Anne Ford and
Allegra Ford Scholar
President Obama has a nation of educators looking for “it.” Steven Jobs of Apple computers wants to unleash “it.” Superpower countries like US, China and India are in the race of their lives for “it.”
As for me…well, I already have “it.” Actually, I was born with “it.” I was born with the gift to create, to invent new ways of doing and being. I am a person who learns differently and therefore, by default, sees differently and will help this planet in ways it has yet to see.
Some people fear heights, other people fear snakes, but what I fear is writing essays. I find nothing more daunting than a blank sheet of paper waiting for me to divulge my thoughts and feelings that do not want to come. My head is streaming with thoughts, but my hand fights the transfer of my own ideas to the blank sheet of paper. I look at my hand and ask, “Why, why does writing have to be such an arduous ordeal? Why do you prohibit my thoughts from gushing out of my head and onto a simple sheet of paper? Why am I destined to agonize over a task that others find so effortless?” “I do not know why,” I tell myself, “but I am who I am, and I accept that.”
|2012 Anne Ford Scholar Silvia Ortiz-Rosales describes herself as having a "thirst for knowledge and success." Once her dyslexia was identified in fourth grade, Silvia promised herself that she would not let LD hold her back from academic and personal success.
Silvia received her scholarship award at NCLD's 2012 Benefit. View video and photos from the event.
My teacher walked to the board and began to write down our assignment. Tonight it was simple: log into an account and register our names. When I got home, I hoped to make a good impression and register my name early. To my surprise red words came to the screen claiming the password I entered was incorrect. I tried several times and came to the conclusion that the teacher must have given the class the incorrect password.
My name is Jared Schmidt. I am eighteen years old and I live in the state of Maine. I have a language processing disorder called dyslexia. I found out that I had dyslexia and dysgraphia when I was in the fifth grade. I always wondered when I would be able to read and write like the other kids. I kept thinking if I worked harder or kept trying that one day it would “just click.” That is what I had heard happened to most kids. The problem was that I was getting older, and the work was getting harder, but I was not getting better at reading or writing.
|Hillary Page Ive
2010 Anne Ford and
Allegra Ford Scholar
“A wheelchair-bound person can’t play soccer,” a man translates from Arabic to English. Without pause he is asked to translate, “Before Braille was invented, could blind people read?” Everybody in the room hesitates, stuck between two correct answers: yes, because blind people had the capability, but no, because they could not demonstrate it. Suddenly, everybody realizes that a disability does not hinder capability, something that I had learned years before. I take a hiatus from recording the meeting and reflect on how I was invited to visit the Kingdom of Bahrain in 2009 to serve as a disability consultant for the U.S. Department of State.
Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Edison, Nelson Rockefeller, Alexander Graham, Walt Disney, and Charles Schwab are well-known names associated with great achievements in life. I am proud to say I have something in common with these individuals. We all share the learning differences associated with dyslexia.
I was adopted at the age of three weeks old. When my adoptive parents brought me home they probably thought that this was going to be the perfect baby girl who would complete their family. However, from the earliest time that I can remember I always felt like something was not exactly right. I was a very talkative child, and I think society sometimes bestows a more positive connotation on outgoing children, in contrast to shy children. So I started life out on a high note.
My name is Troy Sponaugle, and I have had a learning disability since as long as I can remember. When I was very young, I was tested and soon found that my trouble in school was a result of a birth defect. The doctors called it “cognitive learning disability with visual and motor integration difficulty.” What they referred to as visual integration difficulty was what was holding me back in reading. When the other children were reading chapter books, I was trying to sound out words and make meaning out of simple sentences. The second disability the doctors mentioned was called motor integration. It held me back even further in my studies because I could not write like the other students in my class. Throughout all of this, my parents were very supportive and helped me learn what I needed in order to succeed. The first step that we took was getting an Individualized Education Program (IEP). This helped to identify my problem and set me on a path to learn in my own way. Next, I was transferred to a self-contained classroom where there were other children like me. We were given special attention and all made great strides in the right direction. It was there, too, that I rose to the top of my class and discovered my above-average ability in mathematics. Most importantly, I learned that my challenges could not keep me from succeeding. From that point on, I refused to use my learning disability as an excuse for not achieving.
I stare down blankly at the black printed numbers placed dully upon my test paper. I read the problem slowly in my mind. Gradually the all too familiar feeling creeps in like a dark, looming menace waiting to strike. As I try to formulate an answer, I feel the clouds of mental blockage rolling in and taking with them all of the steps and processes that I had relentlessly studied the night before. The more I try to focus, the more information slips from my grasp. It was hopeless. My unknown learning disability had taken its course once again.
My name is Joshua Piscitello and I am a young adult with a reading and writing disability along with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. I want to share some of my life’s events and the ways I have come to understand and find success with my learning disability (LD).
Eyes rolling. Voices sighing. My math teacher stared at me with hesitant eyes and raised eyebrows as I explained my confusion with the problem on the board. Every so often he would try to clarify the problem, glancing between me and the board, and pointing with his marker. Students began side-conversations in low tones, accentuated by uncontrollable laughs. Finally I told him, "I understand," when he turned to quiet the growing voices of the class, even though I felt it was no clearer than when we started. I was often behind, lost and confused.
As a child, I grew up in a household of very intelligent parents and siblings. I found that I kept up with my siblings in every respect except in spelling, reading, and writing. In my early years of education, many of my teachers said I was a "late bloomer." My mother felt that this was not enough explanation as to why I was excelling in everything except reading and spelling. So, after exploring every option that the school had to offer special needs students, my mother took me to be privately tested. I was found to have "classic" dyslexia.
When I am older and think back on my high school career, my mind will immediately fix on the mental image of a sea of navy blue- and maroon-colored polo shirts. After all, my uniform shirts have been a familiar image for the past six years of my life. Although my shirts have faded, formed hidden holes, and shrunken in size; they still signify how I am one of the lucky few students that attends The Preuss School. A school in direct connection with the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), The Preuss School is acknowledged throughout San Diego County and nationally for providing a high level of education for low-income, minority students. The Preuss School UCSD sets high standards for its students. A student there since the sixth grade, I can attest to the challenge of longer school days and years. I have endured my share of Advanced Placement (AP) classes and grueling nights of studying. The only difference between me and my peers is that I struggle with a learning disability.
One in every ten people has some form of dyslexia; and I am one of those people. When my peers, teachers, and people in general look at me they probably see an intelligent, outgoing young lady. I bet not one of them would suspect me of having dyslexia. I was diagnosed when I was in third grade. However, I really did not know what dyslexia truly was until I was in middle school, and even then I did not know how to "get around it" and accomplish my goals, academically or socially. Then, I entered Norfolk County Agricultural High School, where I was, for the first time, provided with new, creative teaching styles and challenged by a teaching staff that did not see me as problematic. For many years, I have been battling my dyslexia which I will continue to do for the rest of my life. The only difference is that I am now ready to fight back.
I remember that the hallway was empty. I was grateful; an empty hallway meant nobody I knew would see me through the three panes of glass artfully spaced on the door clearly marked "Special Education/Learning Disabilities." Flanked by my parents, I sat across from people related in varying degrees to the pending subject, namely my yearly IEP evaluation. I was running my hands along the ridge of the used-gum side of the table. Ms. Boeck my case manager said, "Sasha, you are a real success story." She was referring to my grades as well as appreciating my input at the meeting. Telling the adults at the table what I felt I needed as support and what I didn't think was effective or helpful was a big step forward for me. Nevertheless, hearing her words, I remember glancing up at my mom, tears sliding down her cheeks and collecting in the corners of her beaming smile, and I felt a sense of real accomplishment.
While many define life as black or white, it is the multiple shades of grey that are found between those two extremes that truly define me. Throughout my life I have faced and conquered many obstacles which include a severe auditory processing disorder, a speech impediment and Bell’s Palsy. The road was never easy but my determination never once failed. My goals for myself academically, socially, physically, and athletically have always been set way above the bar others set for me. I am proud to say that I have surpassed all their expectations.
For my entire life, as early as I can remember, I have had a learning disability. It has been described as a language disability, speech disability, learning disability, reading disability, and finally dyslexia. The truth is, the disability I have is specific to language and reading. It has also affected my speech development, and I attended speech class until I was in the ninth grade. I have never been able to read phonetically. Phonics may as well have been a foreign language. So, it only goes to reason that if I never learned to read phonetically then I certainly could not spell phonetically. Decoding new words for me is almost an impossible feat. My spelling abilities are limited to those words I have memorized or the words that people around me can spell. In describing my learning disability, I guess it would be easy to imagine that it would be my biggest frustration. However, in my life it has been my greatest triumph.
I will bring an "uninvited guest" along with my repertoire of skills and abilities to college next year. This uninvited guest is the burden brought by my specific learning disabilities and attention problems.
Changes and experience represent a major part of my high school years. In my mom's words, "Ali, you grew up too fast." In my freshman year, my mother started working third shift at Hallmark factory out in Lawrence. This is also known as the "graveyard shift" as she works midnight to eight in the morning. I started taking care of myself. My dad no longer lived with us, and I only saw him on the weekends. I made myself dinner and breakfast, worked fifteen to twenty hours a week, and was a full time student in school at the age of fifteen with a learning disability. My challenges in school were quite difficult. I knew I could succeed.
Growing up in Southwest Florida was perhaps no different than growing up anywhere else. I was a "project kid" but I didn't feel I was any different than anyone else. Growing up in the projects is not so bad if have the love of your family. I had a mother, a father, two sisters, and a whole array of aunts, uncles, and cousins. I vaguely remember going fishing with my father. I remember my older sister pulling me around in a red wagon. I guess I just remember being a little kid. I want to have memories of my mother. However, my real memories start when I was just five, when my life completely changed. It changed to the degree that I had to pick myself up at a young age and, with God's help, make it in life without a mother or a father. For you see, when I was five years old, I witnessed my father stab my mother to death in our living room while my older sister, our four-month-old sister in her arms, and I watched in terror.
2013 Anne Ford Scholar
Ironically, Mrs. Abernathy’s fourth period freshman English class was reading The Miracle Worker, a drama about Helen Keller, when I, a meek Enrichment Center girl, transferred into her class. I looked like any other blue-eyed, pale-skinned and frizzy-haired girl; I could hear fine and had perfect vision. However, when I read, my words sounded as though I were blind. No matter the part I was assigned I stumbled, stammered, and tripped over the simplest of words. The classroom filled with every sort of noise; the loudest of which was the laughter. Every mistake I made seemed to erupt with a new wave of laughs from my peers. Soon it became not just harmless laughter, but jeers and jabs. I could hear them whisper to me, “Hey, you reading today, Helen Keller?”
I felt a tap on my shoulder and someone whispered, “Leah it’s time to go.” Alice, the special education counselor, has come to take me away from my friends. I turned bright red from embarrassment and followed her from the room, head bowed in shame and hands clenched in anger. “I hate her. She thinks I am stupid. They all think that I am stupid,” I would later sob to my mother.
2008 Anne Ford Scholarship Runner-Up
Rachel Origer has struggled with learning since the first grade when her reading disabilities were first identified. As she reflects upon years of frustration, feelings of self-doubt and incredibly hard work, Rachel recalls never allowing herself to "give up" and with support from her family and school personnel, being "determined to find a way" to work around her learning disability. While in school, she has been able to hold a steady job, is president of the Family, Career, Community Leaders of America Organization, and is an active member of several clubs, including the National Honor Society, Environmental Club, and a mentoring program called Peer Assisted Leadership. She dreams of entering the field of special education, so that she can "make a difference in every student's life, and give them the confidence that they can achieve their goals."
It has been my dream to become a designer within the toy or gaming industries after graduating college. I always tell everyone: I think outside the circle, I am very creative and imaginative. I work better if my hands are busy; I can visualize the end project. When asked to solve complex problems in Robotics class, I would just dive right in and sometimes grab Legos or do a few brief sketches to help solve the problem. When I thought I had the solution, I would start building the robot, and I would continue to do it over and over again, if not in class then at home until it worked properly. I realize I will have to work exceptionally hard to achieve my dream, since I have a language-based auditory processing learning disability. My disability significantly impacts my ability to hear and sound out words, comprehend the subject while reading or listening, and spell words correctly.
As I sat with Mrs. Domin at the round table, I stared longingly out the window at the other children playing during recess. This was the first time I was held in during recess because I had not completed my class assignment. I stared blankly at the page, desperately trying to figure out the written instructions. All the other students had already finished their assignments, while I had yet to begin mine. Mrs. Domin leaned over me in an attempt to explain the instructions, but the words on the page still seemed infinite. It was not until she finally read the directions aloud to me that I understood what I was supposed to do.
2013 Anne Ford Scholar
It is very hard to say when I first noticed my dyslexia. I learned the alphabet, but could not understand how my peers could read sentences on a page with dancing letters. It was like a daytime nightmare to hear my teacher’s voice asking me to do pop-corn reading. Teachers noticed how I struggled. I was tested in school and by a psychologist and both diagnosed me as dyslexic. Dyslexia? What is that? Is there something wrong with me? These were questions went through my head and it scared me. My mother explained that my brain is wired differently than most. Throughout my grade school years, nothing seemed to help me be successful in my studies. My math and reading skills were well below grade level. I wanted to read, but there was little progress.
I am presently enrolled in Landmark School, a school specializing in the remediation of kids with learning disabilities (LD) and I am fortunate to be publicly funded. I am proud to be one of a few chosen to be in their Student Advocates program, where I help to raise public awareness of LD.
In second grade, my parents had a conference with my teacher where they discussed how I was not progressing as fast as other students. It was suggested that I be tested for learning disabilities (LD). My parents agreed and took me to Northwestern University for testing. I was diagnosed with dyslexia.
Life has its ups and downs, but I have learned it is a lot like farming, and weather is a lot like learning disabilities (LD). Just as no one can change the weather, I can’t change my LD. But I have learned how to compensate.
Ever since I can remember, school has been so difficult. I enjoyed school, but didn’t understand why I would study so hard and do so poorly on my schoolwork. I can remember my third grade teacher, Mrs. P, wanting so much to help me. She felt so bad for me, and shared with my parents that it was going to be a challenge to pass the state reading test. I could only read at a beginning second grade level, and my grammar skills were even worse. Mrs. P was so dedicated. We worked together before and after school for months, just as a farmer does during the planting season. It was hard, but like a good harvest, I passed that state test.
Obstacles in my life have been many, but I have and always will continue to overcome them. Presently, I am 18 years old and a high school senior. I was retained in the first grade and diagnosed with a learning disability (LD). It was very difficult to not only watch my established friends move up to the second grade, but I also had to leave my new classmates to go to a resource classroom. I was sad and felt like a failure. Many kids thought I was odd, and it was difficult for me to make and keep friends. Many of the kids that I came in contact with would tease me and call me names.
2013 Allegra Ford Thomas Scholar
“There is a brilliant child locked inside every student.” –Marva Collins
My learning disability has made it difficult for me to do things at home, school and in my community. When I was younger it was hard to play video games since there was always something to read or memorize. In the second grade it was difficult to stay on task and keep up with the rest of the class. I found myself falling behind and did not understand why. Even hanging out with friends was challenging, since I would get confused by directions and when I tried to buy something at a store, my computation was not adequate. These are just a few ways my learning disability has affected me in school and in the community.
Describing a learning disability is hard, especially because reading and writing are difficult for me. People always ask me what it is like having dyslexia. During this past weekend, I found a good way to describe what I’m going through.
This past weekend, I ran 30 miles to raise money for a girl with leukemia, and a good question came up. A fellow runner, Zach, asked me what it is like to have dyslexia. I realized I did not have a good answer for him. Then, another friend, who is not a runner, asked me what it was like running 30 miles. While I was trying my best to describe to him the challenges of the run, it made me look more closely at the things I see every day. He gave me that same look I got from Zach, when I tried to explain what it was like to be dyslexic. Their faces expressed utter confusion. Without saying a word, they told me everything I needed to know: they really couldn’t understand what it is like.