What My Learning Disabilty Has Taught Me

Oh no, I am going to fail. It is my freshman year of college, and I have just been handed my first syllabus ever. My automatic assumption of failure is due to my learning disability and lack of self-esteem I have because of it. As I was entering into college I knew the statistics were against me, only 34% of students with learning disabilities graduate from 4-year university within 8 years. However, my greatest challenge wasn’t “overcoming” my learning disability, but finding the confidence to acknowledge my intelligence.

In the past, I have regarded my learning disability as a weakness, an obstacle to overcome and be ashamed about. As I entered college, I struggled and continue to struggle with the notion that I do not belong at Connecticut College, and my academic failure is inevitable. It turns out, I am not alone in this assumption. I spoke to Melissa Shafner, the head of the Student Accessibility Services here at Connecticut College. When students enter college, Schaffner explained, they get to choose whether they want to be defined by their learning disability. This longing for an identity can lead to a closed mindset, a belief that they understand what tasks and classes they excel in. By only taking classes one knows they will do well in, they can never understand what they are capable of achieving.

I can attest to Shafner’s theory. Upon entering college, I dreaded the idea of taking another language course, I was convinced I would fail. This assumption, lead me to believe that I didn’t belong at Conn. But Connecticut College forces students out of this “closed mindset.” The College curriculum requires students to take a variety of courses in the humanities, sciences and language arts. So there I was, a Sophomore in college taking an entree level Italian class, with the knowledge that I had never actually passed a test in a foreign language. But something happened, I used the same type of work ethic I had mastered in High School, I was tutored three times a week, I spent hours outside of class studying Italian vocabulary. The result was not just an A in elementary Italian, but a huge increase in my ability to take on new challenges.

It turns out my learning disability forced me to master a variety of skills that would lead to academic success in college. I only had to let myself take on these challenges. Shafner, corroborates this belief. Success in college correlates to a growth mindset, especially for students with learning disabilities. By encouraging students to step out of their comfort zone, they realize they can accomplish much more than they had anticipated, and as a result, their confidence will grow.

Taking an Italian course, and not just passing but excelling let me believe I belonged in college. I discovered that I have cultivated skills as a result of my learning disability. My study habits, tenacity, and people skills have all stemmed out an assumption that I had to work harder in order to achieve a little. The ultimate test was proving myself wrong, by taking on new challenges and allowing my confidence to flourish. Now, I no longer assume that my learning disability will hinder my success, but is what allows me to be successful.

However, the statistics are still against us. Students with learning disabilities in the U.S take longer to graduate college and graduate at much lower rates than their peers. By viewing a students strengths rather than weaknesses and empowering students to acknowledge their intelligence, I believe more students can look at a syllabus and say; I can do this.