Ashe Elton Parker

A Writer of LGBT+ Characters in Speculative Fiction

Learning Disability or Not?

A concern I’ve had since being discharged from the Navy is that I no longer have the ability to take tests with equanimity. The last time I tried one was a few years ago when I first decided to go to school (without knowing precisely what to do while in school). I recall little about that test aside from the fact that I went in very nervous and spent longer at it than two or three other people who arrived after me and left before me. I know this happened because I chose a testing station in the back of the room, because I was still rather afflicted with a paranoia about people peering over my shoulder at things I was doing—an sort of social anxiety where I worried about people judging me. But I took that entry test and a few days later received my score.

I didn’t end up going to college at that time. I let other things get in the way. But I’ve never forgotten my feeling of inferiority as I realized those people who’d entered after me were, one by one, leaving before I’d finished. And I felt certain it wasn’t just because I tend to struggle with certain aspects of mathematics—most especially fractions—and didn’t recognize some of the problems given me at all so spent some time sitting there wondering just which level of mathematics they were from that I had never reached. I let myself get far too distracted on that test—with all aspects of the test, not just the mathematics—and I’ve always wondered if that was just a result of my anxiety, or if I was right about my suspicions about my whole history as a student.

I wondered—have wondered since high school—if I have some sort of learning disability. Sure, given the right teacher, who could teach at my level, I can learn anything up to algebra. But I’ve always wondered if there was some sort of block in my mind with regards to education. If I applied myself—and I tell you, it took quite a bit of application—I could learn anything and get fairly decent grades, sometimes even As. But I struggled, to my mind, an awful lot.

And this has basis in my elementary school history. For most of my fourth grade year, I took lessons in a kind of Special Ed classroom called the Resource Room, where students who had difficulty with regular classes went for one-on-one assistance with their schooling. And by “took lessons” I mean I spent all day in that classroom. Two or three times a week, as a reward for working well, I was allowed to go down to the kindergarten classroom in the afternoon, where they had a special afternoon kindergarten for the real Special Ed students. But aside from those hours, which I wouldn’t be permitted to go if I did not put forth the amount of effort my Resource Room teacher thought appropriate, I was in the Resource Room.

So I’ve always wondered if there wasn’t a little something wrong with my learning ability.

I mean, I’ve heard from friends of mine who have documented learning disabilities, and read various blogs online by people who have learning disabilities that were documented in adulthood how, before their disabilities were documented, they struggled, much like I’ve always felt I have, and how they did what they could to cover up their struggles. It wouldn’t have been difficult for me to slip through the cracks. From fifth through eighth grades—middle school, for the most part—I moved from one school to another. Not due to Mom marrying some military guy, but because of family issues. In sixth grade alone I went to four or five different schools in at least three different states. The other years weren’t nearly as bad, but they weren’t the best either. At least two schools each year, and I had two years of seventh grade, both broken into a few different schools.

By the time I hit ninth grade—the first year of High School in most of the US—I was good at covering up all kinds of facts about my life, including the fact I wasn’t really picking up on something. Luckily, my ninth grade year put me in a variety of classes where the teachers taught at my level–I will be forever grateful to Mrs. Laughenberg (sp?) for being the brilliant, kind, and understanding pre-algebra teacher she was, or I would not have survived that class, because I was not ready for it, and she (and a number of my other instructors) taught me I have the right to ask them any questions I have and for all the help I needed. And that is how I made it through high school. I took that lesson of “ask anything, anytime, and get as much help as you need” from my ninth grade teachers and took it to tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grades in North Carolina. There were times I felt deeply stupid (say, during every single moment in Mrs. Jordan’s class—thank God I got out of those ones before I failed), but every single teacher throughout my high school education (even Mrs. Jordan) welcomed my questions and requests for help.

And to this day, I still feel like I’ve struggled a lot with school. When I was taking Aviation Electronics Engineering courses in the Navy, it amazed me that I could do this complicated math. I think that’s part of what broke me in that school. I could not believe what I was doing, no matter how much I proved to myself that I could. And, again, I have my instructors to thank. Without any of them, I’d have failed out of that A School within the first few weeks of lessons beyond the Navy basics everyone got. All my Aviation Electronics Engineering instructors taught at my level, every single one of them.

So, in preparation for going to college next spring (in January), I decided I needed to do some aptitude testing to determine whether or not I can put this specter of a learning disability to rest. I explained to my therapist what I wanted to do, and she introduced me to someone at the VA who gave me a contact number to call at Salt Lake Community College. Someone who works with Veterans. This person put me in touch with the testers at the VA, who called me and arranged an appointment for my testing.

I went in on the 28th of last month. The testing didn’t take very long—maybe four hours, if that. The tester, Ellen, interviewed me for my educational background and looked up all the primary and secondary schools I could remember for my school records before giving me the tests. I got to play with some blocks, match some patterns, and do a lot of math, as that was something I wanted a good, hard look at since I’ve always struggled with it. At the end, Ellen sent me home with the promise they’d have something to tell me in three weeks after she evaluated my responses on the tests and got my school records.

Even if it turns out all my difficulties are simply anxiety-driven, that’ll give me something to work with, because even with that, at least I can deal with it in therapy. If it’s more complicated, an actual learning disability, then I’ll be able to figure out ways to deal with it so it doesn’t interfere too much in school. By my calculations, I should get the results around the 18th—next week.

4 Comments

  1. Good luck. And congrats on the good teachers. My 11th grade math teacher threw an eraser at me because I didn’t understand the lesson. I never asked him another question. When I got him again in 12th grade trig, I never asked a question. I made a D in that course.

    Bottom line, I don’t care. I lost my honor student status in high school and as far as I can tell, it hasn’t made any difference in my adult life.

    Hooray for you for coming to grips with this thing that’s been hanging over you. You’re going to do great.

  2. I’m excited for you! What subjects will you be taking in college?

    • I plan on taking a course related to the medical field. Nursing. Either some receptionist/checkin-out type classes, or something along the lines of medical transcriptionist or billing and coding.

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