Knowing their Stories

Sometimes we don’t really know or understand the barriers to learning that some individuals experience in school. We might look at the ease of our own ability to organize our time, our belongings, our ability to read, write, study, type, make everyday decisions, socialize and converse among other people. We might tend to look on others and wonder why they don’t try harder, why they are in college, or wonder whether they will ever amount to anything.

Here are a small portion of students’ stories from my personal experience: (Names have been changed)

Amy volunteered to sit on a panel with other students with disabilities to share experiences with faculty and staff during a brown bag event. She began sharing when she was diagnosed with a learning disability during grade school and moved into talking about her high school experiences. All of a sudden she began to cry and ran out of the room. She shared with me later that as she was sharing with our group, the emotions and pain she experienced in K-12 began surfacing and her emotions got the best of her. She began to remember the childhood ridicule and how instructors would be impatient with her telling her to try harder. I hugged her and thanked her for her courage to share and that even in her reaction to cry and flee spoke volumes to the listeners.

Brad was the male lacrosse player who was diagnosed with ADHD. He confined in me that the school partying scene and expectations of the team camaraderie was getting to him and not a good contributor to focusing on academics. He decided to transfer back to his hometown college and commute from home.

Kert was a football player with a learning disability that cried in my office when we were discussing his academic standing and his learning struggles for that semester. What seemed so easy in high school was now so overwhelming to him transitioning to a residential college. The rigors of practice, workouts and games along with his reading difficulties was just so overwhelming.

Timothy was the veteran returning to civilian life only to return with a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Wanting to move forward and obtain a college degree, he was hampered at times with the lingering memories of wartime experiences. He needed to sit at the back of the classroom so no one would be in the back of him. That really wasn’t good for his focusing to sit so far back but he needed to feel safe in the room full of strangers. He used to have a great memory and could retain information, but now this is more difficult and it makes test taking troublesome.

Carl had ADHD, anxiety and Asperger Syndrome. He needed to be in a separate room to take tests so that he could pace when dictating his responses to test questions. For long exams we would split the test in ½ so he could take a break and returned to complete the exam.

There are countless ongoing stories of students such like those mentioned above that seek higher education and we, as faculty and staff, have the challenge and the privilege to journey with them as they explore and move mountains to achieve their goals.

PS: Meeting with Carl often left me feeling really stupid. His passions were Shakespearean literature, the Beatles and an avid movie buff. Every time we met, he would quiz me on films or literature. Even the Beatle questions left me stumped since I had no idea what years each song was produced. I even grew up listening to the Beatles. I should have known the answers!


One thought on “Knowing their Stories”

  1. I wish some of the students I’ve encountered could somehow be offered a neuropsychological assessment to help them locate their strengths and identify the sources of their weaknesses. The students you have written about seem to have found ways to work with what they have and accept what they don’t have, for the most part. But for those who are still struggling with inaccurate labels, it is a long, hard journey to wholeness.


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