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Finding a Use for My "Magical Hands"

Special needs stories-Special education storiesMy 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).

My dad passed away in the year 2000. I was crushed. My whole family was devastated and my world changed. My family and I had to make a lot of adjustments. I had to start thinking on my own. I did not have someone to tell me what to do or how to do it anymore. My father helped me realize that I learn differently then most of my peers. He acknowledged my frustration with the traditional learning that I had to deal with at school and made me realize that my learning abilities were just different, not a personal flaw. My reading and writing disability along with my inattentive ADHD has made it difficult for me to learn through reading and writing. I have a decoding disability, which makes it difficult for me to interpret symbols, and I write very slow and write how I hear the word phonetically. The gift that my father taught me is that I have “magical hands” and that’s how I learn. My style of learning is by listening, watching, and then doing.

For 2012 Allegra Ford Scholar Joshua Piscitello, learning disabilities (LD) made school a place of struggle and disappointment for many years. But he always knew that his future would be linked with what his father called his "magical hands," and as he grew older, he began to excel in programs that emphasized hands-on learning. Now graduating from high school a confident and assured young man, Joshua has a plan for his education and career that makes the most of his unique abilities and creativity.

Joshua received his scholarship award at NCLD's 2012 Benefit. View video and photos from the event.


My disabilities have affected me greatly. I felt stupid when I was in class and when I needed directions repeated, I was embarrassed to ask for help and afraid to reach out. I developed low self-esteem and was depressed daily having to spend half my day in a world that was so restrictive and backwards to me. I was sad that no one really knew how hard I was trying to follow the demands that were put on me. I was frustrated and overwhelmed in trying to keep up academically with my peers and trying to please my teachers.

My grade point average and my semester grades fluctuated due to my disorganization, poor follow-up meetings with my teachers, low self-esteem, and lack of the ability to read and write at normal speed. I was trying to complete my daily homework independently and trying to remember which day assignments were due. I often had homework assignments done but did not hand them in because I forgot them at home or in my locker. I often would forget my pencils, pens, calculator and other materials that would help me get through my classes. My disabilities prevented me from filling out forms like job applications when opportunities became available, and understanding healthcare forms when I went to the doctor. I struggled to obtain my driver’s license because I couldn’t read road signs and the license exam manual, even though I knew how to physically drive a car.

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While all of this often makes daily life difficult, there are times when my unique style of learning is an asset. An example I can share with you is when my mom and I built a model engine for a car together. Although my mom insisted that she read the step-by-step instructions to learn about the parts and fitting of the pieces for her to help me put the engine together, I could not wait and I was able to complete putting the engine together by the time she read through half the manual by using my compensation of sight learning and by fitting the pieces together by trial and error.

During high school, I was provided with special education resources which helped me develop skills in studying, time management, and self-advocacy. This allowed me to complete a general education curriculum. I have worked very hard at trying to overcome and compensate for the barriers to learning caused by my LD, as well as to raise my self-esteem.  I meet with my guidance counselor on a monthly basis, have attended student services for help, and belonged to a therapy group run by the social worker at the school. I have also gone to a private therapist for about a year and worked through some life issues that I have been through that were causing me pain, stress, and anxiety. Following a doctor’s evaluation, I was placed on medication for ADHD. I go for medication checks every three months and let my doctor know if I need changes in my dosage.

Two people have made success on my LD journey possible: my mother and my special education mentor at school. My mother has had a great impact on helping me learn about my learning disability and ADHD and has taught me how to manage the stress these problems can cause. We talk a lot about issues in my life and we problem  solve together. We decide what is best for me and how to resolve the issue. I find her patience, understanding, and unconditional love very comforting. She has changed her way of communicating with me to get things done. She provides me with choices and is very flexible if I am unable to stay on task. Rather then punishing me when I don’t do my chores around the house, she calls me and allows me to explain why I have not followed through and wants to know why I have not contributed to do my part. She then allows me to reschedule my responsibilities or do them later on during the day when my stress level has decreased. She leaves picture reminders on Post-it notes and helps me to organize my daily activities and responsibilities. We also attend my yearly IEP meetings together and review my progress, evaluate my accommodations, and discuss the need for any changes.

The other person who has been key is Mrs. B, my special education and skills teacher since eighth grade. Over the years, she has come to know me very well and has seen the changes, growth, and maturity within me. She helps me keep abreast in my studies, homework, and testing skills. She is very approachable and I have learned how to trust her, talk to her, and reach out to her for help when I need it. She has taught me to use a daily planner to keep organized and how to use assistive technology to succeed in school. Computer tools, like spell check and a word processing program, have been very helpful in increasing the speed and accuracy with which I do work. Mrs. B has done so much for me over the years and has helped me become the proud self-confident young man I am today.

Despite my LD, I have dreams and goals that I would like to accomplish. I am currently working two jobs to save up money to pay for some of my college expenses. I recently found employment in an auto body shop called Aironomics, where I have a great preceptor and boss. They are teaching me the trade of auto collision repair and customized painting. My employment there has helped me decide that this is the right career choice for me…I LOVE IT!

I have a dream, in which I see myself owning my own automotive shop, and fixing and painting cars, trucks, and motorcycles. It feels so real, so good, and I am very proud of myself. I have taken automotive classes yearly throughout high school and saw that I can really develop this skill, learn this trade, and be successful.

I plan to attend Lincoln Technical Institute and earn a certificate in auto-body repair. This program is a perfect fit for my style of learning. I am a hands-on learner and Lincoln Tech automotive classes have 80% hands-on learning and a small student/teacher ratio of 20:1. I have met with many staff members from the campus and attended an orientation class. It seems perfect for me. I will be able to truly make the most of what I am good at.

I know my Dad would be proud of me for using the gift he taught me I have—“my magical hands.”

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