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When Alexis was first diagnosed with learning disabilities in grade two, she struggled to understand what a learning disability was and why she learned differently from other students:

“I remember that I didn’t learn like other students did – I felt dumber. Once it started that I went to the other classroom, it became normal.”

Today, Alexis is a student in grade 11 and she has become more comfortable with her learning disabilities; she is familiar with her learning needs and knows how to advocate for herself. Alexis and her resource room teacher, Jenessa Dworet, have volunteered to share with LD@school Alexis’ journey as she struggled with learning disabilities and how she was able to become the bright and capable student that she is today.

Alexis’s Strengths and Needs:

When asked about her areas of needs, Alexis was quick to comment about her struggles with math:

“I have never been good at math.  Memorizing math is the hardest part.  I’m good at practicing it and doing it.  I try hard to work it out but it’s always been a challenge.  I think I’ve gotten some anxiety around it too.  I put negativity around it, so that’s what it just brings.  I say I’m bad at it now, and so I don’t do well.”

Jenessa, Alexis’s resource teacher, has also noticed her struggles with math as well as with writing:

“Writing can sometimes be an issue for her.  She really needs to talk through her ideas before committing them to paper.  She is starting to recognize how capable she is with her writing.  She still sometimes asks for unnecessary support to get started.  However, her significant struggles are around math problem solving and understanding math concepts.  It was hard to watch such a confident young woman lose faith in her abilities when it came to math.  She got through it though, got the necessary requirements, and now is pretty proud that math is behind her – forever.”

To accommodate for her struggles in math and writing, Alexis has learned to implement a number of strategies that help her complete the task at hand:

“I use extra time and come to the resource room to get extra help.  I break down the steps so that the work is easier.  I have a quiet place where I study.  I have gotten better at asking for help.  I know what to ask for and I ask earlier.  I ask before it’s due rather than wait until it’s an emergency.”

Although Alexis struggles with math and writing, executive functioning skills are an area of strength, as Jenessa remarks:

“Alexis has a lot of enthusiasm for life and a strong sense of self-worth.  She has excellent executive functioning skills – she is able to manage her time wisely and keep her belongings and ideas organized.”

Becoming Her Own Self-Advocate

Throughout her years in school, Alexis learned to become a self-advocate; she feels comfortable to ask for help early on when needed and communicate to her teachers what she needs in order to be successful in the classroom. However, being able to self-advocate isn’t always easy, as Jenessa points out:

“Asking for support is complicated – the student first needs to know what the issues are and how to articulate them. Then, the student needs to find a way to keep asking the teacher until the explanation makes sense. That’s really hard! On top of that, students face some teachers who are not receptive to supporting students.”

Although Jenessa has only known and worked with Alexis for one year, she has watched her develop strong self-advocacy skills:

“Alexis found her voice and faced even the most ‘fearsome’ teachers, only to find out that they were in fact eager and able to help her.”

A Message to Educators

With encouragement from family, as well as Jenessa, Alexis has gained the confidence and tools she needs to succeed in school. Reflecting on her journey with learning disabilities, Alexis shares an important message to educators:

“I would tell teachers that every student learns differently.  You can’t just teach just one way and expect everyone to get it because some students can’t.  You can tell when a teacher genuinely cares about the success of a student.  Some teachers just hand out work and if you do it, you do it, and if you don’t, then whatever – you fail.  Even the students who don’t often do their work, they can tell when a teacher cares.  That’s important, especially for kids who have difficulties with a subject.”

Jenessa, who has worked with many students like Alexis, has learned that when teaching students with LDs, it’s important to be mindful of the impact a teacher may have:

“I think it’s important for teachers to be hyper aware of tone and the words we use with students with learning disabilities.  We sometimes forget how powerful our words are or how attitude can have a significant impact on a student’s attitude towards school, learning and even his identity.  Students with learning disabilities are extremely sensitive to verbal and non-verbal messages about their abilities.  It doesn’t take much to discourage a student from trying.  That being said, genuine positive feedback has just as strong and opposite effect.  I’ve seen math teachers move mountains by empowering a student through small successes.”

And as Jenessa points out, Alexis’ journey with learning disabilities has been inspirational:

“Alexis is going to be an inspiration to other students who struggle with school.  She already is, but I know that her passion and skills will pull her towards helping others see their abilities.  She can be fierce and I know that fire will take her anywhere she wants to go.”

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Did you enjoy reading this success story? Check out the podcasts below where Jenessa Dworet is interviewed on the topic of self-advocacy and three of her students reflect on their journey to becoming self-advocates.

Click here to access the podcast entitled, “Supporting Students on their Self-Advocacy Journey” on the LD@school website.

Click here to access the podcast entitled, “The Journey to Becoming a Self-Advocate: Three Students’ Perspectives” on the LD@school website.