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My Frustrations and Triumphs with Learning Disabilities

Special Needs Stories - Special Education StoriesIt has been my dream to become a designer within the toy or gaming industries after graduating college. I always tell everyone: I think outside the circle, I am very creative and imaginative. I work better if my hands are busy; I can visualize the end project. When asked to solve complex problems in Robotics class, I would just dive right in and sometimes grab Legos or do a few brief sketches to help solve the problem. When I thought I had the solution, I would start building the robot, and I would continue to do it over and over again, if not in class then at home until it worked properly. I realize I will have to work exceptionally hard to achieve my dream, since I have a language-based auditory processing learning disability. My disability significantly impacts my ability to hear and sound out words, comprehend the subject while reading or listening, and spell words correctly. At a very young age, I started speech therapy because I could not speak correctly, which continued until middle school. I went several times a week after school and was given practice sheets to do every day that helped me learn to speak properly. I hated practicing every day, but in the end I am very thankful that my mom made me do them. Today, I have very few issues with speaking, although it is still very difficult for me to sound out words I do not know. I have learned to memorize many words and their meanings so that I can recognize them by sight.

Luke DeLaura, a 2011 Anne Ford & Allegra Ford Scholarship Finalist, is an honor student, soccer player, and community volunteer who dreams of becoming a game or toy designer after college. But success has not always come easily for him. Since early childhood, Luke has struggled with a language-based auditory processing learning disability. Through hard work, skillful use of assistive technology, and a lot of perseverance, Luke has overcome the obstacle of LD to become the successful person he is today.

Learning to read was extremely difficult for me. I learned by using the Wilson Reading Program, tapping out words while reading. I found this would work for easy subjects, but it did not help me to enjoy reading, nor did I want to do it around others. I definitely did not want to read out loud in class utilizing the Wilson method. Once in high school, I was struggling with how to use the Wilson method with my history and biology classes. I had reached a point where the words were just blending together and made no sense to me. I could not comprehend enough of the subject to take a test, write a report, or do a term paper. I was so frustrated, embarrassed and unsure of how I would make it through high school.

The only good thing I had going in my freshman year was my love for soccer and playing on the high school junior varsity team. Soccer was my release from everyday frustrations. However, towards the end of the season I tore my ACL. This made it more difficult for me to concentrate on my work. I was overwhelmed and stressed out. I had a lot of people in my corner; this really helped motivate me and guide me through this tough time. I worked with my English teacher to help me put together a term paper; she taught me how to take information from the textbook, putting one sentence at a time on index cards.

By the end of my freshman year, I began trying different things to help with my schoolwork that included staying after school with teachers, using index cards to study, making my own vocabulary quizzes, testing myself, and having someone read chapters to me. My grades started going up and my frustration started to dwindle away. These changes really made a difference; I am now an honor student. For the 2009-2010 school years, I was given the Academic Appreciation Award for making honor roll my entire sophomore year. This was quite a task, but in the end I was extremely proud of myself for what I had accomplished!

When I look back on my freshman year, I know it was a turning point in my life. By the end of the year I had learned many valuable lessons about myself. I was no longer shy or embarrassed to talk about my disability or to ask for help. I was able to share with my IEP advisor some of my issues with learning, leading to the setup of Kurzweil for my sophomore year. I have used Kurzweil for the past three years, and it has made learning much easier for me. I started realizing my potential as a student going into my junior year and I was willing to take classes that would challenge me. I took Introduction to Engineering, Robotics, and Animation, without the help of a teacher aid or a note taker.

Unable to play competitive soccer after my ACL injury, I have volunteered to manage the soccer team for the last three years. I volunteer at a camp for kids and work as a soccer referee for young kids. I spend a lot of my free time helping my family; my Mom has Multiple Sclerosis and is the caretaker for my grandfather who has late-stage dementia. I do whatever I can to help make their lives a little easier. I will need to find additional solutions that will help me in college. I know if I am willing to work hard and ask for help when I do not understand something, I can go after my dream and succeed.