A teacher reflects on her own LD story
As a child, I had all the signs of an anxiety disorder. I was often teary at school, terrified to be called on in class, worried about events, my family and people beyond my control. I would hide in the library or in the woods behind my elementary school at lunch and recess to avoid interacting with my peers. Despite this, I had good friends, was fairly well liked by my peers and did well in a majority of my subjects in school. I even often raised my hand to be called on when I knew an answer or had questions. I loved school- mostly because I dreaded being at home a large part of the time.
My parents were verbally and physically abusive towards me which exacerbated my anxiety – or caused it, I’m not sure. My biggest fear was being in trouble or doing so poorly at school that my parents had to be called at home about it. One of the first times I had a negative call home in elementary school (I don’t remember what it was for) I was beaten very badly when my Father got home from work and I was locked outside of the house in the dark for a terrifying period of time; we lived in a rural area so there were no street lights or neighbors around. When my teachers told me they had to call home, I remember being short of breath, shaking, crying and begging my teachers not to call home. My teachers never called home very often thankfully; partly I believe because my Mother did not speak English very well and was very difficult to understand on the telephone. I believe my Mother was often frustrated because she could not understand my teachers well, so she took her frustration out on me. If my teachers had called home later when my Father was home (who spoke and understood English perfectly) or invited my Mother to the school in person to talk about me- I think the frustration of my parents would have been eased, therefore making my life easier.
Along with my anxiety and I also suffered from debilitating headaches. They were migraines. At the time no one knew what they were because it was thought that children could not suffer from migraines; so they were not treated properly and I remember being in pain for long periods of time or doped up on pain medication. As well, with the language barrier that my Mother had, and being my primary caregiver; I believe she may have not advocated well for me to my Doctor. I missed weeks and weeks of school from my headaches.
As early as preschool I began to show signs of a dyscalculia with the anxiety, (but before the migraines). I remember struggling to count random amounts of toys and taking longer to count the dots on dice to play my turn in games like snakes and ladders. I would cry when I was told I couldn’t use my fingers to count in elementary school. I would cry at least once or twice a week over math homework and zone out during math lessons at school because I was totally lost. My anxiety prevented me from asking for the help I needed because sometimes I was so lost I didn’t even know where to start asking questions. My parents believed I wasn’t trying and just spending too much time crying. My teachers believed I was another girl who was bad at math. If teachers had spent more one on one time with me asking me to solve problems; they might have noticed there was a problem.
As a teenager the signs of dyscalculia were more obvious. I couldn’t tell time until I was at least twelve or thirteen. I couldn’t count change or do simple math problems without using my fingers. I would regularly reverse numbers around in problems in my school work or write the wrong numbers down when copying questions. In music, I struggled to figure out the timing of each piece and how many beats were in each bar (even after regularly taking music classes for over ten years). I always mixed up or forgot the actual numbers on the combination to my school locker. I only remembered the motions of the dial on the lock, not the actual numbers. This was how I remembered phone numbers too, by remembering the movements on the phone pad rather than the actual numbers. I also struggled in learning how to drive, mixing up my left and my right frequently- which is still a problem I have today
As a teenager, I still had signs of anxiety that were exacerbated with the new, unfamiliar social situations. I also began to struggle with completing work on time and especially during timed tests. I found I would get so anxious during tests that I would shake and couldn’t write. I told my counsellor my problem and she arranged for me to have oral tests with some of my teachers or to write research papers instead of having timed tests.
I was never diagnosed with a learning disability as a child; often I was told I was better than average in many of my subjects. I had missed lots of school due to illness, so teachers may have thought I was delayed due to that. I was diagnosed with depression however and saw school counsellors regularly from middle school to graduation. I was recommended to see a counsellor outside of school but my parents wouldn’t allow it.
I knew I was poor at math and numbers since I could count, but I never believed I had a legitimate learning disability until I spent time working as a bank teller for about a year. While I had a great sales record (selling people new banking products, credit cards and switching people to online and mobile banking) – my balancing errors were regularly the highest of any teller in the region. I often put the decimal points in the wrong spots when entering cheques into the computer; I counted out the wrong change for people; I paid the wrong amounts on bills. I one time made an error that had a client bounce several cheques and nearly cost his business a large contract. Even though I easily could have been fired, I never was because of my good sales record and because I was one of the few employees that was adept at the ‘new technology of mobile banking’ on cell phones. I was exhausted each day after work and sick with anxiety about going in the following day. Then I had my first panic attack.
I was at work during a very busy day where I was struggling just to keep up with the other tellers, when a client that had complained about me and my banking errors had joined the line up to see a teller. When I saw him remember not being able to breathe like someone was stepping on my chest, feeling dizzy and being barely able to put my closed sign up for my desk. I staggered to the back bathroom and lay on the floor for what seemed like forever. A colleague found me after I was gone for twenty minutes- I told her I had a migraine. I was sent home, made a doctor’s appointment and didn’t go to work for the rest of the week. I quit my job at the bank six months later, even after being offered a sizable promotion.
In the years since that first panic attack, I have been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorder. I have unofficially been diagnosed with dyscalculia- although my psychiatrist ‘doesn’t see the point’ of me getting an official diagnoses as an adult. I also have nerve damage in my upper back, neck and shoulders due to a high speed car accident during university, which had intensified my migraines that I still suffer from. With all of this, plus the stresses of everyday life and holding full-time work, trying to be ‘average’ is a monumental effort.
I had one teacher in elementary school for two years in a row, grade three and four, who by my grade four year started to really question my anxious, teary and frightened behavior- who really tried to pry and figure out what was going on with me at home and inside my head. I remember resisting her questions, avoiding her and being angry at her for being nosy. I remember saying things that I thought she wanted to hear to make her stop asking tougher questions. I had middle school and high school counsellor who were both the same way; really trying to figure my situation out with me resisting. If I could give them advice now on what to have done with me back then; don’t give up, take my situation seriously, don’t rely on me being ‘a nice kid’ as a sign that I will be okay, be skeptical when I say things are fine/I understand and most of all, don’t work alone- team up and collaborate with other educators and people I am in contact with in the school.