Aaron Bailey is a 25 year-old who is diagnosed with: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) combination type, a learning disability in mathematics, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and depression; additionally, Aaron struggles with reading and writing. Aaron graduated from the Child and Youth Worker (CWY) program at St. Lawrence College in Kingston, following which he attended Griffith University in Australia and completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Services. Currently, Aaron works as the Project Consultant for the ASD Transitions Project at the Regional Assessment and Resource Centre (RARC), at Queen’s University. Aaron shares his experiences…
When were you diagnosed with learning disabilities (LDs) and how did you feel during the process?
I was first diagnosed with a learning disability when I was 12 years old, in grade 7. There were 3 main things I took away from the process of being diagnosed with a learning disability: I was stupid, different, and weird. My diagnosis wasn’t a happy thing; it did not help me understand my difficulties, as it wasn’t really explained to me. It seemingly proved that I wasn’t like anyone else.
What are some of your strengths? What were you most successful at in school?
One of my strengths is working with children, probably because I still act like a child. I have an innate ability to connect with youth, especially those with disabilities. I excel in music and use it as a therapeutic tool to help me cope with my disabilities. I am a creative person and I am able to express my creativity through different forms of art. I love to learn by using my hands, I am a very tactile (hands-on) learner, and find if I am able to use my hands, I understand much better. If I am really interested in a subject, I will “hyper-focus” and try to learn that subject inside and out, such as working with youth and music.
Some courses I succeeded at in school were Drama, Living and Working with Children, co-op placements where I was able to work with children, and Phys. Ed. (where my ADHD energy was able to be released). I did surprisingly well in Science because I am a tactile learner and the ability to try experiments helped me to better grasp concepts. In grade 11 English, my teacher encouraged me to focus on topics and books that really interested me, which got me more engaged in class and allowed me to succeed. Post-secondary education was much easier for me than secondary school, as I was able to choose what program I wanted to be in. My interests helped me to stay focused and understand the course material much better.
What are your learning needs? What did you have the most difficulty with in school?
My learning needs vary depending on my disabilities. With my learning disability in math, I had a few accommodations, including a calculator (even for tests and exams) and I received a “formula sheet” which had the math formulas on it. With my ADHD I had a hard time paying attention in class and often got distracted. With the use of fidget toys, stretch breaks (a.k.a. body breaks) or going for a walk around the school, I was able to sit in class for longer periods of time. My anxiety created a lot of stress in school, especially on tests and exams, and I required a quiet room to do the majority of my tests and exams.
I think the most difficult part of school for me was trying to learn in an environment that felt like it was not designed for my learning strengths and my needs. A lot of the time I felt like I did not belong because I could not sit still or I was not processing the information fast enough to keep up. It was hard for me to go back to a place every day where it was difficult to learn and where not all teachers understood my learning challenges.
What do you believe is most important for a teacher to know about helping a student with learning disabilities succeed in the classroom?
In college, a Support Staff said something to me that I never forgot. To this day, it is the best advice I have ever heard from an educator: “I don’t care what you have… All I care about is how you learn!” I understand that it’s important to know about students’ learning disabilities. However, in the big picture of their education, what matters is how they learn and how educators can add their learning style/strengths to the class dynamic.
Is there anything else that you would like to share about your experiences with learning disabilities?
Growing up with my disabilities I felt utterly alone in the world, as if there was no one like me who struggled how I struggled. I felt like I was incapable of learning or understanding anything that I was taught. If there is anyone who feels like this, please know that you are not alone. There are so many people out there who struggle. People who have similar difficulties may surround you, and you might not even know it. Please know that you do have the ability to learn. Sometimes it may take longer than you would like and you might not always be able to take the “easy” path. You may be forced to take the “scenic” route, which may take longer, but you will get to the end and finally learn what you’ve been trying to learn for some time. I am 25 years old and I continue to take the “scenic” route and learn things I wish I had known years ago; what matters is I finally learned it, and so will you.
If you would like to learn more about Aaron and his many successes, click here to visit his website.