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"Hey, Helen Keller!": Living With Dyslexia and ADHD

Special needs stories-Special education stories
Holly Schallert
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?”

“Holly could still be successful,” my first grade teacher told my mother when she first told her of my disabilities. “My sister has ADHD and dyslexia, and look at her! She cuts hair!” Not many people had high expectations for my reading and writing skills. Like Helen Keller, many people did not understand my disability and either tried to ignore the problem because nothing seemed physically wrong or they mistook my inability to read and write for an intellectual disability. This is partly because when I was in sixth grade, I had the reading level of a second or third grader. However, many people didn’t know my intelligence was above average. In hopes for success, my mother carted me off to multiple tutors and summer schools. I took advantage of extended time on standardized tests, dictated exams, and special education. I used assistive technologies such as spell check, talk dictionaries, books on CDs or tapes, graphic organizers/planners, calculators, and word prediction programs to enable or enhance my learning abilities.

Facing those who didn't believe she could succeed in school and peers who taunted her for being different, 2013 Anne Ford Scholar Holly Schallert set out at a young age to prove that people with learning disabilities can be an asset to the world.

In school and in the community, I had low self-esteem when I was a child and young teenager because I feared people looked down on me because I was “stupid” or afraid my dyslexic secret would be revealed. I often cried or threw tantrums in Sunday school or Girl Scouts when someone asked me to read. The fear of not being accepted afforded me the opportunity to acquire friends who didn’t mind being different and liked me on the basis of who I was, rather than what I accomplished (or failed to accomplish) in the classroom.

While in Wesleyan’s Enrichment Center, I had the same homeroom as the “normal” general education Academy kids. I met other blue-eyed, pale-skinned, and frizzy-haired kids. When I looked in the mirror and back at everyone, I kept asking to the same two questions: “What makes them so different from me?” and “ Why can’t I do the same things they do?” I was not sure of what I could achieve but I knew I was better than the cruel names the other kids called me. I just wanted to prove their expectations wrong; then, I started wanting to prove my own expectations wrong.

At the end of middle school, I attended one regular class, but I knew I could accomplish the work my classmates did in all the other classes. I gathered my courage and met with the high school principal, Mr. Rickman, and asked to take regular Academy classes in addition to the most rigorous course load offered to ninth graders. With much apprehension, the Enrichment Center Director and Academy Principal decided to give me a chance. Since then, I have kept my determination and not only have taken four Advanced Placement classes (half of which are English courses) but also I have become a Junior Marshal for the graduating class of 2012 and I am one of the top seven students in my class.

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