02 Nov Yes I Get Extra Time to Take Tests, But No You Don’t Want My Learning Disability
I vividly remember the first time I had to justify getting extra time to take a test. It was my sophomore year of high school, and the other special kids and I had been cordoned off to take our finals. My crush walked by and I said hello, hopefully.
“What are you getting extra time or something?” he said. I was surprised but not shaken. I told him I was. “Well that’s not fair,” he said.
“Would you ask a handicapped person to compete in a race without his wheelchair?” I said. He retorted that ADHD isn’t the same as being handicapped. “Just because you can’t see it doesn’t make it any less real,” I said and walked away. I got an A- on that final. It was Algebra II.
Having a handicap that people can’t see is a constant fight of justification. In addition to ADHD, I have mild dyslexia and a host of annoyingly vague diagnoses, including a language learning disability and a math disability.
It began in first grade. I couldn’t read so my mother had me assessed. I was diagnosed with a reading disability, the old way of saying dyslexia. In second grade, I was separated from the rest of my classmates. I sat in a room with four or five other kids, most of whom had much more severe problems. As I grew and my classwork became more involved, I continued to struggle. I was assessed again, and told there was nothing wrong with me.
My mother disagreed. She took me to a different specialist who confirmed I did have learning disabilities, a few actually. The reason they were hard to see is because I’m smart. There is a name for this: twice exceptional. It’s when a child has high intelligence and a learning disability. Many twice exceptional students go undiagnosed. Most, like me, are able to compensate for their weakness. They may get C’s when they could be getting A’s, but unless someone questions their performance, there’s no reason to rock the boat. Thankfully, my mother is a questioner and she rocked the boat.
In third grade, I was diagnosed with ADHD, a math disability, and language disability. My mother resisted putting me on medication. Instead, I got tutors, extended time on tests, and permission to use a calculator when others couldn’t. I was finally performing at my ability level.
In fifth grade, I came home crying every day. We’d moved to California, and at my new school I was teased constantly for talking too much and saying stupid things. I couldn’t control the way I was acting. A psychologist recommended ADD medication. We tried it, and I instantly felt in control again; my impulsiveness faded, and I was no longer a social outcast.
High school was trickier. It was embarrassing to wait in the classroom after everyone else had left to finish a test. My friends constantly questioned my getting extended time. Some went so far as to try and convince their parents to have them tested so they could get it. It doesn’t work that way.
I never told my friends it took me twice as long to do my homework, that I got so lost in mathematical equations I wanted to cry, and that I still couldn’t list the months in order despite being 16 years old. Instead, I let them be jealous and kept my pencil-breaking moments to myself.
Everything was a battle: doing homework, getting extended time and other exceptions, even learning itself. My language disability meant it was difficult for me to learn a new language, so that requirement was waved; instead I went to Spanish immersion camp over the summer. Getting extended time on the SAT, SAT II, and AP exams was a fight involving foot-high stacks of reports proving I was learning disabled. We won.
At the same time that my mother was fighting for me, she was also advocating for my younger brother who has severe dyslexia. After dealing with us, she became so fascinated by learning disabilities that she got a PhD in educational psychology. My mother is now one of the foremost psychologists who specializes in twice exceptional minds in the nation. She has changed children’s lives and brought parents to tears by catching things others have missed.
People tell me ADHD or other learning disabilities aren’t real, but spend a day in my mind and you’ll understand. Imagine your thoughts are constantly interrupted. Imagine not being able to do basic math. Imagine spelling or saying things so wrong it’s comical. Imagine being consistently late despite every effort not to be. Imagine having your intelligence and capability consistently questioned because of things you can’t control.
That’s what it’s like to have a learning disability.
By Scout Maceachron. Reprinted from: Seventeen Magazine