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Beating the Odds Again

Speical Needs StoriesI resist the urge to slink farther down into my seat, as perspiration begins to gather on my face and hands. I hastily wipe my shaking hands on my jeans in order to grasp the whiteboard marker. As I approach the board, analyzing the equation and steps involved to reach the solution, a thousand thoughts cascade around in my head, a jumbled and illogical mess. Then, I “blank out” while staring at the problem, attempting to tune out varied snickers and whispers of answers from students who think this problem is just “so easy,” or who are being entertained witnessing a classmate’s humiliation. Dyscalculia compromises my ability to learn math in a traditional manner. Even review problems frequently seem brand new. This is not for lack of focus, effort, or due to laziness; it is simply a learning disability I struggle daily to overcome. I am the face of dyscalculia. My learning disability only affects mathematical concepts. In other areas of academia, I excel — I am an honor student.
Jana Simmons, a 2011 Anne Ford & Allegra Ford Scholarship Finalist, is a fighter by nature. After beating the odds once by surviving her premature birth, Jana is striving to beat them once again by passionately pursuing a career in nursing despite her dyscalculia.
Born at 25 weeks gestation, my chance of survival was slim. Doctors told my parents that if I were to survive, I could potentially face a dire prognosis. They fully expected that I would have severe health, sight, and learning problems — that I would not lead a normal life. Fortunately, I was able to prove them wrong. They soon realized that I was a fighter; I beat the odds. The only long-term effect of my being born prematurely is having dyscalculia. While touring the neonatal intensive care unit at Minneapolis Children’s Hospital several summers ago, I learned that it is not uncommon for preemies to have dyscalculia. For whatever reason the receptors in the brain which help us understand mathematical concepts frequently don’t develop properly in premature babies. With everything that could have gone wrong due to being premature, I am very fortunate that my learning disability only affects one subject.

Now I am at a crossroads in my life. I have dreams and goals that to some may seem impossible because of my learning disability. Through living with dyscalculia, I have learned the importance of hard work, patience, and perseverance. I will not give up. My goal is to become a registered nurse. While still in high school, I am taking steps to help this dream become reality. This year, I will be taking Medical Terminology, Medical Careers, and be enrolled in the Nursing Assistant program at a local college. While math is not my strength, I know becoming an RN is possible. I have spoken with medical personnel and done some research and learned that there are nurses with dyscalculia. This gives me hope. The advice offered is to follow my dreams and never give up. When one wants something badly enough, no matter what obstacles they have to overcome, they will find it within themselves to make their dreams come true. I am determined to become a nurse — even if it takes me longer than others to earn my BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) degree.

I am a firm believer in the saying, “If you want a future, you need college.” Attending college is the only way to make my dreams and goals become reality. I cannot get this picture of myself in pink scrubs with a matching stethoscope, attending to my duties as a registered nurse while roaming the halls of a Pediatric unit at a local hospital out of my mind. Like the medical professionals who helped me win my battle to survive, I too desire to make an impact on the lives of others like those doctors and nurses had on me. As a family friend who is a registered nurse put it, “Nurses can make the difference.” Nursing is no longer just a career goal for me, it is my passion. I am determined to prove to myself and others that I can become an RN — in  spite of my learning disability.

College is the key to becoming a registered nurse. Next year I plan on attending Anoka-Ramsey Community College to start my journey towards becoming a nurse. Math will always be a struggle, but through hard work, determination, and perseverance, I know I can succeed. While many of my friends and classmates hope to have fun next summer after high school graduation, I am planning on taking a math class. I feel starting early on the math requirements before starting other classes will be beneficial. I also know in order to succeed in math at the college level it will be important for me to openly discuss my learning disabilities with my professors so together we can come up with a plan for success.

I beat the odds once and I am determined to do it again. My struggles in math will not deter me from becoming an RN. Living with a learning disability has helped me realize that the disability does not define who I am. Rather, the lessons learned and applied from living with dyscalculia such as hard work, determination and perseverance determine who I am, and what I will become.