5 Really Weird Side Effects Of My Learning Disability
This feels like a really weird place to announce this, but I have a learning disability in written language. I got my first IEP in third grade, which is basically the government's way of saying that writing -- this thing I am doing right now for money -- is a thing I am very bad at. I don't have a specific label to put on my diagnosis; it's more like a patchwork of issues that don't fit me into any one known category, but which did qualify me for special education assistance for most of my life. So suck it.
I've learned to compensate for that disability pretty well over time, but it still affects my life in some strange ways that have little or nothing to do with the actual "can't writing words good" aspect. For instance ...
I Can't Do Puzzles, And Everyday Live Is Full Of Them
In order to get my diagnoses, I met with a district psychologist. I remember the process pretty well, because I was the only third-grader he met with and I got to miss a lot of class because of it. So it was a pretty enjoyable experience for me. I remember bragging to my friends about it, like, "I bet all you losers wish you had sweet special education potential like me, SUCKERS!" Then I'd spin-kick them in the face and say, "Sorry, my learning disability caused me to do that."
The test I failed the hardest was called Do A Puzzle, which proves that psychologists aren't very creative people. There were these blocks that were half red and half white. The psychologist had cards with a picture on them, and he asked me to copy the image on the card with the blocks within a certain timeframe. Guess how often I was able to copy the shape in the allotted time? If you guessed never, then congratulations, your prize is a smug sense of superiority. It turns out I have spatial reasoning issues, which is a fancy way for saying that my brain sees puzzles and lets out an extended bloodcurdling scream.
Unless you have the thing that I have, you don't realize how much of life requires those skills. I don't just mean things like doing your taxes or building a nuclear fallout shelter, either. For instance ... maps? Big fucking puzzles. I have yet to meet a major U.S. city I can't get blindingly lost in. Even with GPS, it's hard for me to properly orient myself in relation to the map. I joined a gym the other day, and there are nice little pictures on all of the equipment that tell you how to use it ... PUZZLES. I've always wanted to be able to French braid my hair ... HAIR PUZZLE. Cleaning your room? CONVENIENT EXCUSE PUZZLE. Packing a suitcase? NOPE PUZZLE. I just throw all that shit in there and call it a day. Will it fit? No way to tell, just ball it up and pray to whatever gods you have. I'm pretty sure the Romans had a packing god. They had a god for everything.
Because of my inability to navigate stuff like this ...
I Had To Become A Tiny Con Artist To Get Shit Done
Having a learning disability is all about compensating. There is no "cure" -- you just learn how to deal with it. One of the shadier ways I compensated for my disability was talking other people into doing things for me. This meant I had to learn to read people pretty well from a young age. The weird thing that led me to learning that skill was tying my shoes. Shoe-tying? STRING PUZZLE. That's always been an issue for me. Let me be clear, I understand the basic mechanics of how to tie a shoe: There's a bunny and he tries to run away in terror, and then you strangle him to death. At least, that's how I remember it. But no matter how I try to murder the bunny, my shoes just don't stay tied.
My brain giving my hands the silent treatment is a big part of the disability. I was constantly getting in trouble for having untied shoes in school, until I discovered a quick and efficient way to get them tied: Convince someone else to do it for me. When meeting someone new, I figured out pretty quickly whether or not they were a shoe-tying friend. The kind of girl who loved to nurture was a great person for me to hang around. They would see me yanking in frustration on my shoelace and offer to help. After a while, they would just follow me around keeping an eye on my feet for me. As I got older, my boyfriends took over this valuable service, because apparently teenage boys find girls who can't tie their own shoes hella hot. People skills are an awesome thing to have on your mental resume, and I developed mine so my teacher wouldn't punish me for having my shoes untied.
Reading My Own Notes Is Like Trying To Solve The Da Vinci Code
I had a work meeting the other day, and I always like to take notes during those. The act of writing down the words seems to help the information stick in my head. But if I want to go back later and discern some kind of meaning from the notes I've taken ... HAHAHAHA, WORD PUZZLE!
I look back at my notes and think, "Hey, Past Lydia, how was this going to be helpful to you in any way, sweetie? What does 'Docs-Dan Doc' mean? We'll never know. I wrote 'verified' and I circled it? In fact, I circled everything because ... if they're not in boxes, they will all fight each other?" Sometimes I'll draw something to help me remember and it becomes a part of the notes. Sometimes I draw an octopus because I like them and they seem friendly. Then I have to decode the octopus.
Honestly, note-taking is probably the area where my disability is the most pronounced, and there's a good reason for that. It didn't really become essential to me until after junior high, when I had already been taken out of the LD program. When I retested in high school, I had learned over time to compensate for my disability so well that it had almost disappeared on paper. That meant I no longer went to the LD classroom. If I had kept my IEP through high school, I would probably be able to write notes that don't look like I took them while on LSD.
I mean, I totally did take them while on LSD, but they don't have to look that way.
All Of My Childhood Fun Was Secretly Therapy
Hey, do you remember that classic childhood game where your parents cover the kitchen table in shaving cream and you use your finger to spell out difficult words in it? No? Congratulations, you probably didn't have a learning disability! In the same way that I hide pills in my dog's treats, my parents hid a lot of my therapy in fun games. I didn't even realize a lot of the fun things I did, like coloring different parts of words in crayon, were not something everyone else was doing.
At school, I had a little stick with a face on it, like the one that hosted Nick In The Afternoon. I would put it down between each word I wrote to teach me not to smush all my words together so that all my sentences looked like the word supercalifragilisticexpialidocious over and over again. I did notice that nobody else in third grade had a Stick Stickly, but I just thought that meant I was a badass and everyone else could suck it. (An opinion I hold firmly to this day.)
It's only now, as an adult, that I realize how hard my parents worked not only to help me compensate for my disability, but also to normalize my treatment. I never felt dumb, or less than anyone else, and that's because I had fantastic parents and some really good teachers who worked very hard on my behalf. Or maybe it's because I'm too dumb to realize how dumb I am. Oh god, what if it's that?
I, Like Most Learning-Disabled People, Super Excelled In Another Area
One of the big misconceptions about LD people is that we are bad at every subject or generally unable to process complex information. In my experience, it's more of an imbalance in my brain. Some LD people have genius IQ in one area paired with a low IQ in another. Agatha Chrisitie, Richard Branson, and Henry Winkler all struggled with learning disabilities. That's right, The Fonz has a learning disability, so it's officially what all the cool kids are doing now. People still emulate Fonzie, right?
In my case, I developed a very high reading comprehension. Teachers could tell from speaking to me that I was intelligent, and from reading my handwriting that I needed severe help. I'm surprised they didn't flag me as a potential serial killer. I can't tell you how many times in my life I heard, "I would think she's dyslexic if she weren't such a good reader," mostly because a big problem of mine was writing letters and numbers backwards. And in blood.
I remember my school library being divided into sections and color-coded so you knew what books were for which grade. I was always taking books from the upper-class section. The librarian worried about me reading books too mature for my age. She once told me I couldn't read The Hobbit, so I pretended to put it back and just stuffed it into my book bag and checked out a Baby-Sitters Club or something. Then I had nightmares about Gollum well into my adult life.
It turns out that reading a whole bunch is a pretty good warm up for writing a whole bunch. And now, even though the U.S. educational system has a document that says I am very bad at this thing, I do this thing for a living.
Suck it, U.S. educational system. SUCK IT, PUZZLE!
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