National Center for Learning Disabilities

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Learning and Living With a Cognitive Learning Disability

special-needs-stories-student-taking-testMy 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.

Our first Anne Ford Scholar, Troy Sponaugle, shares how his learning disability not only affected him in school but socially as well. His cognitive learning disability became something he viewed as a challenge rather than a hindrance as he got the proper accommodations to help him rise to the top of his high school class.

I have always had good grades and take pride in my triumphs, but my success has come through a lot of sacrifice and hard work. My success has not been a result of natural cognitive ability like many other students, but it has been a result of my ability to push myself harder and study longer than most of my classmates. I know that I am still affected by my learning disability in class because I am always one of the last ones to turn in tests, quizzes, and in-class essays. My spelling is poor, and my in-class writing tends not to be as robust as my writing assignments outside of class. My achievement is high, but I know that it could be higher if I would not have to compensate as much for my disabilities. The fact is, I know I have already won far more then most of my critics have predicted. As a result of my disability, I have received support from many people. My biggest supporters have been my parents who worked with me on homework and projects. Others who have helped me have been my special education teachers who directed me to become more and more self-reliant. Now, I rarely rely on their help, and I am mainstreamed in Advanced Placement (AP) and Gifted and Talented (GT) courses through a regular education program at Fall Church High School in Fairfax County, Virginia.

While I have worked hard not to let my disability interfere in my studies, I have found this has been even harder in my personal life, especially dealing with personal relationships. When I was much younger, this was more of an obstacle than my school work and sometimes it did affect my studies. When I had to leave the class to work on my English with my special education teachers, I was labeled by my classmates as being different and suffered their ridicule and name calling. Once they learned where I was going, they verbally attacked my disability and my personal appearance. This got me into trouble. As they began to throw words, I began to throw punches. I became an outcast for this and other reasons. In the end, all of this has been good for me because it has helped me to mature faster and learn how to build strong, lasting relationships. Now, I have many friends who have seen me through this and have helped make me who I am. For this, I am grateful.

The future looks bright for me. I have received an early acceptance at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University where I hope to major in Aerospace Engineering. I see my future as an unknown that will be a challenge as well as a blessing. I wonder how I will carry my success to a new college where I will have to rely on myself more than ever. While I know that the responsibility will be mostly mine, I do know that the support of my parents, special education teachers, and my course professors will still be there. When I earn my degree my largest challenge yet will be to go out completely on my own and work as a professional with a new boss. I will learn to balance a personal life with my profession. All this can be positively or negatively affected by my cognitive leaning disability. It will be new and a challenge; I look forward to it.

While having a learning disability can be tough and even frustrating it can also be a blessing. I have worked through the good times and more of the bad. I don’t resent a minute of it. A learning disability is not something that I use to make excuses for poor academic achievement. It is something I embrace and fight with every step of the way. It is not the learning disability that is holding me back. It is up to me, since the only person I have to blame is myself. If I dig deep enough I might find that my learning disability makes me a better person today and forever.