The Gifts I Gained From Having A Learning Disability
Learning Disability definition, according to Google-a condition giving rise to difficulties in acquiring knowledge and skills to the level expected of those of the same age, especially when not associated with a physical handicap.
I was a child with a learning disability, I was a high school and college student with a learning disability, and I am an adult who has a learning disability — -but thanks to amazing teachers, parents and mentors I have acquired the skills to overcome my personal learning disability.
Sleeping, while being almost 40 weeks pregnant, has been quite the challenge and so at night my mind tends to wander in the past and dotes on my fears for the future. With starting a new business and bringing a totally new product to market, my fears have certainly heightened and my feelings of vulnerability and lack of confidence have hit an all-time high.
I remember sitting around a table with my parents, teachers and school administrators hearing talk about my learning disability and supports that would be put in place to help me succeed. I already had two tutors coming to the house and enjoyed my one-on-one lessons so I didn’t think twice about seeing more teachers in a smaller setting.
In elementary school, it seemed exciting to leave the classroom and get small group time, in a quiet room, with another teacher. There was something special about getting to leave the regular classroom and go sit on a medicine ball, listen to soft music play, and receive close to one-on-one attention. Come middle school, these special feelings turned into feelings of awkwardness and discomfort. For me, it felt like someone had turned on a light and everyone else in my class got the memo that it was a day to wear red shirts and blue jeans and I had missed the boat, again. Leaving the classroom for learning support began to feel like a big flag waving that showed I was different, learned things at a slower pace, and needed extra support to succeed. Come high school I used to wait until the bell would ring and then dodge into the learning support room, hoping no one would know or notice that Shannon Thacher spent class time in a “different” place and took tests in a “different” room. These feelings of vulnerability — feeling “less than” my peers, not as intelligent, a little slower to understand things, and “special” began festering inside and the negative self-talk kicked in.
When I went to James Madison University, my freshman year, I remember wanting to tear up the IEP and pretend that I didn’t have a learning disability and start “fresh.” However, this was not the case and I spent time taking tests and receiving extra support in Wilson Hall, at the learning disabilities center. I remember not wanting to take advantage of the amazing services that were offered to me throughout college because of this stigma I had let grow inside of my mind.
Life is funny though and I ended up picking a profession, teaching, where I had to confront my fears and my view of having a learning disability. Becoming a teacher, an elementary teacher to be specific, forced me to look back at my educational years through a different lens. Sure, I LEARNED differently, I SAW things from a different perspective, but that didn’t mean that I was “less than” my peers. If anything, it gave me the gift of perseverance, the gift of humility, and the realization that I am not defined by the words on an IEP, but rather what I do as a person and the impact I can make on others lives with the skills and knowledge I have gained. I would not be who I am, not have been the teacher I was, or the mom I plan to be if I didn’t have a learning disability and experience the challenges it brought and at times, still brings.
Since opening up my online store and selling the DrippLip, many people have commented that what I am doing is brave, exciting, and inventive. I am glad they see it that way because most of the time, when I wake up at night and think about this journey I am on, I feel confused, intimidated and foolish. That vulnerable part of me starts to make its’ appearance late at night and the doubts of success set in. Do people like my product? Is it too different? Am I “less than” my friends and peers who are working with great companies or making a huge impact on others lives? I am not crafty like those amazing women and men on Etsy, so how will I ever compare? Will I be able to succeed?
Each day I have to step back and remind myself that the only person I have to prove something to is me — -and the big man above. I don’t know that the DrippLip will be a huge success, but I do know that I wouldn’t have pursued my desire and dream of bringing it to market if I didn’t have the experience, skills and confidence that I gained through having a learning disability. Seeing the DrippLip being used in other households and knowing, through feedback we have received, that it is already providing clean feedings to other babies across the USA — reminds the little girl inside of me — who waited until the bell rang to run into the learning support room, felt “less than” her peers a majority of her educational years, and studied for hours and weeks to earn a B — -that she is fully capable and deserving of big things and making positive change, even if it means she has to work a little harder and a little longer to see it through.