The signs have always been there, even though I’d spent so long ignoring them, and developed so many coping mechanisms to work my way around them, that they had morphed into the stealth bomber of my life, flying under the radar undetected.
From the inability to tie my own tie for the cruise ship officer’s uniform I donned daily, to the constantly having to write down directions to places I’d been to many times before, to ensure that I did not get lost, yet again, I had difficulties and found solutions where I could. There were constantly racing thoughts, which made concentrating an exercise in Herculean effort; the fidgeting; the nausea-inducing math phobia, which led to a passive-aggressive detest of high school, hidden report cards, and lectures from my understandably exasperated parents and teachers; and, most humbling of all – the complete inability to tell the time.
Despite all of this, I managed to make moves, career wise. I got into occupational safety quite by accident, and worked my way up to upper management in short time. As a safety and facilities officer with a well-known cruise line, I taught fire fighting, AED, CPR, first aid, and search-and-rescue techniques to the 800-plus crew members under my command. I was never once late for a meeting, nor did I ever get lost at any of our European or Caribbean ports of call. I have trained oil rig workers in rig safety and egress protocol, and been the go-to person for other HSE industry folks.
Still, my decision to finally go to university trumped all of that, and brought with it waves of doubt. I wanted my degree so badly, but I was afraid that I’d flunk out when all of my “coping mechanisms” failed at fooling my professors the way that they had fooled everyone else. It took much soul-searching for me to first set foot in the Accessibility Services Center. But when I finally did, it turned out to be the single most important decision I have made so far (besides the decision to attend university, of course). After conversing with me about my difficulties with schoolwork, they had me tested. Being diagnosed with both ADHD and a non-verbal learning disability came as a shock initially, yet was also immensely helpful in putting my early years of school into perspective.
I spoke with my mother the same evening that my learning disability assessment confirmed my challenges, and she expressed a lot of relief. She reminded me that once when I was chosen hall monitor in grade five, she had to draw the clock faces in paper for me, to indicate when it was time for me to ring the recess bell. She also said that she did not realize that I had never learned to tell the time; she had assumed that I learned shortly after that time. This is completely understandable – digital clocks became really popular around the time that I was growing up, and so it became easy for me to fake it.
The Accessibility Services Center has provided me with the tools to work with my particular learning style – learning strategists help me to map out a study plan; technology to help me focus as I read text; access to the valuable notes of a volunteer note taker should I need them. One thing that Accessibility does not do, is do the work for the student – that, my friend, is left for you to rise to the challenge. Things are challenging, yes. But challenging need not mean “impossible”. And the shaping of the woman is in the surpassing of those challenges. So… bring it on!!! Being shown a way to access my ability and realize my full potential makes me smile each time I open my textbooks. And I’m managing to do really well in school – I’m not just scraping by.
If you have a nagging feeling that something isn’t right with your learning experience, I urge you to make an appointment with the Accessibility Services Center. It is never too late to find out; you’re not “too old” to have a learning disability; and there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of (I wish I had realized this a lot sooner, instead of wasting time thinking up ways to avoid being found out).
Also, if you’d like to help out students with disabilities by becoming a much-needed note taker for your course, please click here to find out the procedure. I thank you!!!
And oh yeah – I am finally, slowly, learning how to tell the time, with the help of Dr. Levey of Accessibility. My graduation present to myself will, of course, be a shiny watch. So on that day – go ahead, ask me the time ;-)