By Contributing Writer Julie Dunn.
Let’s just say I didn’t have the greatest relationship with my school desk. It seemed that no matter how hard I tried, information just wouldn’t stick inside my poor brain. Math, in particular, was my kryptonite. But unlike Superman, I sadly did not have any powers that kept me from failing each and every math exam.
I mean I was no better at remembering my multiplication tables than I was at ‘remembering’ my gym sneakers for the dreaded mile run. So I’m not the gal to do your taxes, you get my point. But for years I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was somehow intellectually different from my classmates. And well, I guess I was.
Spoiler alert folks, I have a learning disability; a processing disorder in fact. Which in elementary terms, means it basically takes me a lot longer to, you guessed it, process information than the average folk. But don’t just take my word for it, according to the Learning Disabilities Association of America, “learning disabilities are neurologically-based processing problems. These processing problems can interfere with learning basic skills such as reading, writing and/or math, as well as interfering with higher level skills such as organization, time planning, long or short term memory and attention”.
On top of that, I also have Dyscalculia, which apart from sounding like a spell in a book of witchcraft, is a severe difficulty in comprehending mathematic symbols. You may have thought one type of learning hinderance would be enough, but apparently, my neurological system thought otherwise. That combined with a healthy dose of incessant anxiety contrived rather the perfect cocktail for making my academic experience quite the ordeal.
Together, all of this made me a psychologists dream and quite frankly, the school systems nightmare. To help with my academic hurdles, I was given a 504 plan and sent along my merry way, however, it was clear that my disability was one that of an inconvenience.
When I required help such as extra time on tests or printouts of lectures, I found it proved rather quite difficult to be provided with the accommodations I was entitled to. But what was I entitled to?
According to The Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts, “Section 504 is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination by federally funded institutions, such as public schools, against individuals with disabilities. Section 504 ensures that a student with a disability has equal access to education by providing accommodations for the student. Students who qualify for a 504 plan cannot be denied the opportunity to participate in any aid, benefit, services, and/or activities that are available for students without disabilities. This includes school sponsored non-academic and extracurricular services and activities”.
Sounds pretty broad right? Well, I’m not the only one to think so, “It was all incredibly confusing said Beth Ferrari, who has struggled with getting her son William academic help for his disability. “We had to fight the school tooth and nail just to get extra help outside of the classroom. The teachers really didn’t pay attention. He was supposed to get special accommodations but most of the time he wouldn’t because they just didn’t take it seriously. They really don’t give you any help with the process, there is no one to guide you and you’re really just left to your own devices in figuring out what your rights are, eventually you just lose your fight, they just wear you down”.
So not wanting to be a nuisance, I gave up, decided I was dumb and that school was just something I would always be lousy at. Years later looking back on my experience, I now realize that it wasn’t my lack of mental capacity that was the problem, but the school’s approach to dealing with my issues.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that school systems scrap their ways of dealing with disabilities entirely, as I do think there is something to be said about the strides in identifying and diagnosing some of the learning hurdles that students may face. However, this is only half of the battle, acknowledging the issues only go so far without proper execution and these policies that schools are falling short of is what ultimately I believe is failing our students.