I have written about my Aspergers, but not yet about my learning disability.
My learning disability can best be described as a processing disorder. It is difficult for me to link certain processes or steps in a problem together. I also have trouble translating my thoughts in to words. It took me a long time to learn how to write because even though I could see the letters and knew what each one meant, I would end up just drawing a straight line across the page and crying because I couldn’t figure out how to write. To visualize what is going on in my brain, imagine a wire that is broken but both ends are sparking hard enough to make a weak connection.
I went to a school for kids with learning disabilities from kindergarten through second grade. Despite rigorous testing that showed I had learning disabilities (Asperger’s diagnosis came a few years later) I did not quality for state aid, so my parents had to pay college-level tuition to pay for me to go to a school in Manhattan, New York. I woke up at 5:45am every morning to catch the 6:30am school bus in order to get to school on time.
Those three years while I was in that school were amazing! With class sizes of only 12 people and two teachers in a classroom, I received all the help I needed. And with a class of only 12 people, everyone was friends with everyone! I went to occupational therapy (coordination issues) and speech therapy once a week. It was nice for my parents too, as the other parents of the kids in my class were all wanting to help their kids and were thus understanding of all the other parents and their concerns. During the second grade, I was devastated when I found out that my test scores were high enough to mainstream me in to regular public school. Many of my classmates ended up staying at the school through high school, but all the ones I keep in contact with are successful in their respective careers.
After going back to public school, I did well academically (it was a mixed bag on the social front) up until the 6th grade, when my family moved to New Jersey, where the public schools were much better and competitive. I quickly started bombing math exams and dreaded school like never before. My quirks certainly did not help me socially. Most of my conversation consisted of spouting random facts I knew from thumbing through my family’s large encyclopedia collection. Remember those?
I made my way through middle and high school with the help of an army of tutors, mainly in math and science. I have always been pretty good at reading comprehension and writing, but math and science were my weaknesses.
College nearly broke me. I got decent grades my first year, A-‘s and B+’s mainly, but I was taking intro-level courses similar to my AP classes in high school. When my second year came around and I started thinking about my major a little more, the higher level classes drew out my learning disabilities once again. Despite hearing explanations over and over for many concepts, and seemingly understanding them, I was unable to answer my homework questions and bombed many tests. I nearly failed the two classes I took. I begged my parents to let me drop out, that college wasn’t for me, why should they waste their money if I’m going to do so badly? I wanted them to let me come home (even though I didn’t want to leave my friends) and take coding classes at the local community college. With a firm no, my parents insisted I keep trying and switching majors to find my place. I am grateful they pushed me because I do think the college experience helped me grow, intellectually and socially.
As a very logical, practical person, I wanted to major in business or economics and work in a developing country to help build up their markets and processes or create policy around these issues, as I thought this would be a good way to enact positive change and still earn a living. I gave Political Science a shot as well, but I continued to get bad grades even in the lower level classes, and became increasingly disillusioned with the way the American government works. I ended up as a Sociology major. I thought the subject was/is interesting, but I resented it because it is just not a practical, marketable major and is grounded largely in theory.
When I finished college, I knew I was going to have to go back to graduate school. I had a strong interest in urban planning, and knew I’d be unable to get a job without a graduate degree. Graduate school was surprisingly okay; the material was right in line with my strengths. I even conquered my fear of math and really enjoyed data analysis.
At my current job, I have been feeling overwhelmed. I have really had to curb some of my Aspergers-induced ramblings and combative debates in social interactions with my co-workers. I am careful about the social events I go to so I’m not overloaded but still socialize with my co workers in a more relaxed setting. Additionally, I am learning new coding languages at work while still working on projects. This has become overwhelming for me; I really like data analysis but some of these coding languages are not particularly intuitive and others have picked it up much more quickly than me. I am not a competitive person at all when it comes to school or work, but I do want to be competent at my job.
I have been trying to study the material as much as possible during and outside of work. At this point in life, I’ve learned all the techniques to work around my learning issues, but the biggest one is to just work really hard, to study intensely and immerse myself in the material. I have to read the material slowly, over and over again, and do several practice problems. Studying alone is key so I’m not distracted. In lieu of a tutor, I post questions on Stack Overflow or Reddit, which has served me well thus far.