A- A A+

Growing up Fast with a Learning Disability

Special Needs Stories - Special Education StoriesChanges 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. I tried to pretend I did not have a disability. I fooled everyone, and almost myself, because I was truly challenged by my disability. I read twice as slow as an average student and rarely understood anything I read. I could not complete any writing assignments without help from my LD teacher, Karen Lyerla. I also had to complete most of my English tests and any test with written essays with Ms. Lyerla. This disability frustrates me a great deal knowing that if I did not have the learning disability I would be in the top ninety-ninth percentile of my class. I tried not to let this get to me. I have achieved mostly A's and five B's in my high school years and am in the top ten percent of my class. It is something to be extremely proud about, and I am.

Ali Dankenbring, a 2005 Anne Ford Scholarship Finalist, not only had to deal with a learning disability, but with multiple situations in her family life that forced her to grow up quickly. Ali strives to achieve in spite of all of these things and is inspiring because of her positive "no regrets and no excuses" attitude.

During my sophomore year, I experienced more family problems. My father died unexpectedly of a heart attack. Our income was cut in half. My mother worked more overtime, which meant I became more independent. I see and talk to my mother about two hours a week. She does pay the bills and gets the food every week, but mine is not the typical family. I grew up faster and matured quicker than most high school students.

I do not regret growing up as fast as I did. I was determined to keep good grades with no push from my mom; it was something I wanted. I became responsible and respected. Peers looked up to me and asked me how I did it. I tell them I have the heart of my father and the strength of my mother. With those two things I feel I can conquer and accomplish anything. When I want something, I become totally focused on achieving that goal. My grades and my achievements support and prove my ability to focus and achieve. I hope to be a leader for others to be able to do the same.

With all this I still have time to give to my community. I have tutored USD 497 students in math since the beginning of 2004. I have volunteered at various organizations over my high school years. I have served food on Saturdays at LINK, which is a place in a basement of a church that serves free lunch four times a week to the community. I have also volunteered at the Lawrence Public Library for several hours working with children on various arts and crafts projects. I have aided the political community as well - counting kids votes in a local parade, working the tent for the Woman's League of Voters, and working at the Democratic Headquarters. These and other community activities have given me a sense of self and the knowledge that I actually did something positive in someone's life.

A college degree is the obvious and only step for me in my immediate future. I have many majors and minors in mind that would fit my abilities and interests. I have a passion for art and photography. I also have an amazing ability and enthusiasm for mathematics. I could apply all of these in numerous different ways. Thinking into the future on a career, I have determined that the best fit for me might be using my talent and giving to the community as a teacher. I plan to double major in mathematics and fine arts and then eventually obtain a masters in mathematics. I know this is a great deal to accomplish for some one with a learning disability, but I feel that it should not weigh me down and keep me from what I want to do.

I am able to balance my schedule better than most adults. I do not need to use a planner on most days. I still write everything down, but my memory is impeccable. School always comes first; I'm very dedicated to my academics. Work comes next, and I have been saving up money for college. Finally, I have my friends and family supporting me in all my endeavors. Growing up fast and experiencing many changes was not easy, but I'm a stronger, more dedicated and committed young woman having undergone my "rite of passage." I hope to be a model for other learning disability students in the ways I have handled the challenges in my life and with my disability.