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Trials and Tribulations: The Highs and Lows of Dealing with LD

special-needs-stories-spell-stressGrowing up in Southwest Florida was perhaps no different than growing up anywhere else. I was a "project kid" but I didn't feel I was any different than anyone else. Growing up in the projects is not so bad if have the love of your family. I had a mother, a father, two sisters, and a whole array of aunts, uncles, and cousins. I vaguely remember going fishing with my father. I remember my older sister pulling me around in a red wagon. I guess I just remember being a little kid. I want to have memories of my mother. However, my real memories start when I was just five, when my life completely changed. It changed to the degree that I had to pick myself up at a young age and, with God's help, make it in life without a mother or a father. For you see, when I was five years old, I witnessed my father stab my mother to death in our living room while my older sister, our four-month-old sister in her arms, and I watched in terror. You hear about these types of things happening, but I think most people don’t really believe they do. So began my journey of relying on my older sister and myself. My grandmother got custody of us, and my father was sent away to prison. My sister and I never really felt safe; we always felt our father was going to come back and do the same thing to us that he did to our mother. It wasn’t a pleasant memory. Over time, we began to fear less and less. This is mostly due to our huge family support system. My extended family made sure that my sisters and I were taken care of and loved, but the gap that was left by losing my parents would stay with me for a very long time.

Our 2003 Anne Ford Scholar, Shannon Terrell, not only was diagnosed with a learning disability at a young age but began her education career right after a catastrophic family tragedy. Her story exemplifies perseverance in teaching others to accommodate a student with LD as well as being motivated to overcome fear after a life-changing event.

I started school the year my mother died. Obviously, a lot had happened in my life for me to be starting school so soon, but the family thought it best I try to live as normal a life as possible. It was in kindergarten that my learning disability started to reveal itself. I was a little overwhelmed at all the lessons being thrown at me. I was overwhelmed period, by everything that had gone on in my young life. My first grade year proved to be even rougher academically, and the decision was made to repeat the first grade. I had a problem trying to understand the reading process and, at the same time, was diagnosed as having a vision problem. The vision problem was corrected with glasses, but the reading never got easier for me. When I was in the third grade the decision was made to test me for a learning disability. My third grade teacher’s hunch proved to be right, and I was put in special education classes. I still struggled in school and, by the time I got to the fifth grade, I again had to repeat yet another grade. The second go around of my fifth grade year, I had a wonderful teacher who took the time to break my academics into segments that I could handle and understand. From that point onward, I seemed to learn how to cope with my disability and make it work for me instead of against me. My self-esteem soared and my grades started showing a great improvement. It wasn’t until that year I actually started having a positive view of special education. I became my own self-advocate. I started making sure teachers understood when I needed help understanding my school work. I learned to be a tough kid when it came to defending myself. I had already had my mother taken away from me, and I wasn’t going to disappoint her or myself by being anything less than successful in my life.

I started making such great progress in school that by ninth grade, I was taken out of self-contained special education classes and put into all regular classes with inclusion teachers to help me. I am now a senior and have remained in all regular classes. I passed my high school competency test for a standard diploma the first time I took it my junior year! I have been on a college track because I have always known this would be the path I would take after high school. Everyday, I have to prove to the mother I lost and to myself, that I would be successful. I have maintained over a 3.0 GPA while taking some rather difficult courses in high school. I still have a weakness with my spelling and sometimes with my writing, but thank goodness for computers and spell check! Those are tools I cannot live without for the rest of my life.

When you have a learning disability you have to deal with several negative aspects of life. Students in school will sometimes snub you because you go to special classes. They will laugh at you if you take longer to finish an assignment than the rest of the class. Teachers have been known to criticize my spelling and writing, until I very firmly go up to them and show them a copy of my IEP (which I carry with me daily). I show them my modifications page that states I am not to be penalized for spelling. I explain to them how I am allowed more time for assignments. Many teachers are willing to accommodate, while others view students with IEPs as a burden and pain. I know the law and I know my rights, so I continue to stand up for myself in the classroom. I like to think I do this in a calm manner. I don’t want to be thought of as a trouble maker. Teachers know this about me and I usually get a lot of help.

I have a true love of children and especially infants. I have always wanted to become a pediatric nurse. I want to be a professional that helps others, but especially to help those who cannot yet help themselves. I want to have a good life and not to have to rely on anyone else. With a college degree, I can have a quality of life. It’s my hope that others in my family look up to me and, hopefully, the younger members of my family will follow suit.

I have a very strong conviction to God. He has gotten me through all the trials in my life, and he shares in my tribulations. He guides me through all my daily tasks and gives me the strength to endure on the days I want to quit. I thank my mother for still being with me after all these years. I know she is very proud of me. I give credit to God first, then my family, many of my teachers, and then to myself, for always reaching for stars and sometimes catching them.