When School’s a Struggle

by Lauren Owens

Horizon Reporter

Idiot. Stupid. Special. These are only a few of the names I was called and how I felt growing up as a child with learning disabilities. My teachers didn’t understand me, my friends didn’t understand me, and my mother tried her hardest to figure out how to bring up a different type of child. For the most part, I was alone. Because of this, today I am an artist.

Dyslexia is not about intelligence; it’s a processing problem. I’m just wired differently. That’s okay with me, but not with the educational system.

Dyslexic Dysgraphic is when the brain reverses the order of words and numbers. This not only affects my ability to spell and read, but also affects my ability to concentrate, write, organize my thoughts, and even balance. So, needless to say, school is exceptionally hard. Because of this I have been avoiding school like the plague for five years.

Now that I’m giving education a third try, I’m going out of my way to get all the help I need. For 11 years, Bill Culwell, has been the director at the disability center at Whatcom Community College.

“Everyone is different,” Culwell said. People with the same “label” for their disability manifest differently from person to person. The disability center is here to give support and certain accommodations for students. Culwell and his colleagues see a wide variety of disabilities such as learning, emotional, physical, or other sorts of mental disabilities like Aspergers and autism.

The most common are ADHD and dyslexia. Most of the students that Culwell sees are between the ages of 17 and 25 because this is the age where emotional problems such as depression or anxiety can arise. About 50 percent of this type of disability is genetic; the other 50 percent is situational.

A few accommodations that the disability center offers are longer test times, note takers, CD or auditory tapes, and color transparent cards for a dyslexic student. All students must have documentation of a disability through physiological test evaluations, which determine the disability type and help the student gain a stronger understanding of their educational strengths and weaknesses.

The second day I met Culwell, he took out a batch of different color transparent cards, pulled out a book, placed a light blue card over the page, and said, “read.”  I have heard of this technique before, but never tried it.

“People don’t know unless they are exposed to it,” Culwell said.

With that I started reading. I tried out every color, and then got to fire engine red, and stopped. It was amazing! Something in my brain slowed down and the words felt like they were stuck in Jello instead of the usual jumping around like Mexican jumping beans. It felt like a drug, Culwell started laughing, and I grew confused.

“In 12 years or so, nobody has chosen the red card,” he said. His colleague walks by and said, “Maybe it’s because she’s an artist.”

Figures. Even amongst the few, I am still one of a kind. Whatever the reason I chose red, it worked, and I now rarely read without it. Thanks, Bill.

Some students find themselves struggling with different aspects of the college experience. For this reason the disability center is open and available for questions and advice for anyone who wants it.

My educational experience as a child and to this day has been an uphill struggle. I have been taken out of normal classes such as gym or sex-ed to attend extra time in learning the basics of math and English. I thought I was smart, but as I watched everyone I knew fly past me while I struggled to keep up, I felt sad. I have had dozens of tutors, several psychologists, different forms of medication recommended, and years of special testing to determine what “educational level” I am at. I understand where everyone was coming from now that I can look back. What else could they do?

I am a bird trapped under water trying to be a fish. I am color blind in a world where passing color tests determines your entire future.

I believe that if I figure out myself to the fullest extent, I can work with my weaknesses and maybe even have them work in my favor through art and photography. “If we don’t compare ourselves to others, we do much better in school and life,” said Culwell.

To view some of Lauren Owens’ pictures, check out her Web site at LOPHOTO.net

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