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Living in Two Different Worlds

special-needs-stories-two-girls-sitting-and-chattingWhen I am older and think back on my high school career, my mind will immediately fix on the mental image of a sea of navy blue- and maroon-colored polo shirts. After all, my uniform shirts have been a familiar image for the past six years of my life. Although my shirts have faded, formed hidden holes, and shrunken in size; they still signify how I am one of the lucky few students that attends The Preuss School. A school in direct connection with the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), The Preuss School is acknowledged throughout San Diego County and nationally for providing a high level of education for low-income, minority students. The Preuss School UCSD sets high standards for its students. A student there since the sixth grade, I can attest to the challenge of longer school days and years. I have endured my share of Advanced Placement (AP) classes and grueling nights of studying. The only difference between me and my peers is that I struggle with a learning disability.

2009 Anne Ford & Allegra Ford Scholar Macy Olivas shares her experience of being diagnosed with a visual processing learning disability (LD) as a junior in high school. Her story shows us how her disability went unnoticed for so long as well as her plans for helping students with LD in the future.

From an outward perspective, many would think that I am a typical Preuss student. I have maintained a solid spot on the Principal’s Honor Roll, am involved in copious amounts of extracurricular activities both in and outside of school, and am committed to achieving my goal of being a successful undergraduate college student. Among my peers, I am seen as the meticulous girl who stresses the importance of perfection. But the reality is that I live in two different worlds. The minute I get off the school bus in the morning, I begin to play the role that many of my peers hold me to, but when I get home I am confronted with the reality of the struggle it is to complete my homework. For a long time, I was successful in keeping the two worlds separate. I understood that I spent more time on assignments than my peers did and although it was frustrating at times, I knew resentment would not get me A’s in my classes. I quickly recognized that, unlike many of my peers, just reading my notes was not enough to guarantee my success on a test. I took up study methods like making flashcards, coming up with memorization songs, and making visuals to understand concepts. In the classroom, I isolated myself by taking the front seat in every class, and even asked a teacher if I could sit at his work desk because it would guarantee me a full view of the board. I milked my teachers for every bit of help they could offer me by showing up for lunch tutoring and made it a routine to stay until 5:30 pm everyday for tutoring. All of these efforts worked well up until my junior year.

A year filled with AP classes, college searches, and standardized tests like the SAT, my junior year also brought along the diagnosis of my visual processing learning disability, one that requires me to take multiple approaches to learning. With even more activities piling up, my teachers finally began to discover my other world. After I frequently showed up to class half asleep, my counselor approached me about my sleeping habits. When asked why I went to school so tired, the only response I could give was that I was merely trying to catch up. She then sat me down and asked me to map out a typical school night. We concluded that, on average, I went to sleep at 11:30 pm and woke up at 3:00 am to finish up whatever I had not finished the night before. In the following weeks, my parents called the school asking if it was normal that I spent so much time on my homework. This action triggered my counselor to call a roundtable meeting with my parents and all my teachers. Revealing that they often had to extend time on tests for me, and often noticed that I lacked fluency in fundamental concepts, my teachers confirmed that my work habits at home mirrored those in the classroom. Since I was achieving high grades, there was a general hesitancy to test for a learning disability, yet we proceeded with testing.

My testing took several months. While it was taking place I found myself in the middle of SAT, ACT, and AP testing. I cannot express how frustrating it was to study so hard for each individual test and not be able to finish any one of them. No matter how many SAT weekend classes I took that year, my score always ended up being significantly below average. When I was diagnosed with a visual processing learning disability, I felt somewhat relieved. It explained my work habits and removed the burden of comparing myself to my peers. Most of all, I felt proud of myself. I endured six successful years at what Newsweek magazine ranked the sixth top high school in the nation by compensating in the areas I was weak in and never once letting myself give up.

I am positive that my persistence will continue when I am an undergraduate student. I have always known the importance of a college education and am confident that this [Anne Ford and Allegra Ford] scholarship will serve as a catalyst to my dream. When I graduate, I plan to open up a support center for learning disabled students. The center will serve as a place where students can receive additional help in breaking down the college application process and taking standardized tests, as well as learning strategies to utilize in the classroom. I have already been preparing myself for my future goals by familiarizing myself with laws like the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and I plan on interning at UCSD’s Resource Center. I’ve learned to embrace my learning disability as a gateway to discovering fun new methods of learning.

I may wear the same colored polo shirts as my peers, but I am finally accepting my individuality. I learn differently than everyone else but I do not allow that to limit how much I am able to learn. I hope that my future goals can serve in providing an environment where that message can be communicated to other students.

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