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Danya PhotoWho says that students with learning disabilities (LD) cannot pursue a post-secondary education? Meet Danya and her story of perseverance, humility, and collaboration.

Danya, 27, has returned to school. Despite an LD and an attention deficit disorder (ADD), she is in the Registered Practical Nurse program at Collège Boréal. Danya has had many successes and obstacles to overcome in order to get where she is today. This is the third time that Danya has been enrolled in a postsecondary program; her difficulties have caused major delays in her graduation from college. She has also had to wait in order to re-take certain courses, because of the course schedule and offerings. In the meantime, Danya is working in a seniors’ home in order to acquire practical experience.

Danya and her mother, Carol-Ann van Rassel, explained how, with the support of the school team and the family, a student with an LD or other challenges can succeed at school, at work, and in life generally.

Danya's Story:

Danya has had to overcome many obstacles over the years to get where she is today. In elementary school and high school, Danya worked with educators who took her LD into consideration and gave her the support she needed. She remembers the educators who focused on her strengths and supported her needs: ‘I remember the ones who encouraged me and who were patient with me. Those are the ones I remember. I learned so much from them.’

Danya still uses a number of the compensatory strategies that she learned and was encouraged to use early on; strategies for getting organised and studying, for example. Ms. Van Rassel adds that the educators who worked most successfully with her daughter were those who insisted that, when it comes to work, quality is more important than quantity. Those who took the time to get to know Danya, and her strengths and needs, introduced adaptations early in the school year and gave her daughter a chance to thrive.

Several personality traits have contributed to Danya’s success. First, her sociability and communication skills have been extremely helpful to her for expressing her needs. She does not let shyness stop her and dares to ask for clarification when she does not understand something. Danya smiles when she recalls that, even though educators may find her repeated questions tiresome, they need to be patient and answer her questions to help her to more fully understand. A student with an LD will often have difficulty articulating or pinpointing what he or she does not understand. Educators can help by reformulating, providing examples, and providing visual support. Danya also perseveres. Her mother says that Danya has succeeded because she is so determined, and that she will continue to succeed in spite of the challenges she meets in life.

Danya relates that when she first enrolled in college, she did not ask the Student Services Centre for help because she did not see how it could help. This time, however, she brought her records with her (for example, a recent psycho-social assessment, her last IEP at high school, and her report cards). She explains: ‘I have the adaptations I need in order to succeed. I have extra support, which means that I can listen without worrying about taking notes, because I find it hard to do both at once. And I have time to study in my own way.’ She adds: ‘If I had known what a difference it would make, I would have asked for help sooner. I’m older now and I understand my needs better. I have learned. I am more comfortable asking for help and explaining my needs.’

Messages for Educators

Danya’s story contains many twists and turns; however, with ongoing support from her family and with the skills she has developed at school and in the job market, she is better able to articulate her needs. Her story illustrates the long-term impact of the support that educators provide when they recognise the individual strengths and needs of a student.

Her story also illustrates how pedagogical strategies learned in elementary school and high school can be used later in life for achieving success. Danya’s mother has this message for educators:

The most important thing you can do is love them and believe in them. The teachers who worked with her strengths instead of getting hung up on her LD helped her to grow and become who she is today. It’s really important for teachers to have a good understanding of learning disabilities. Over the years, I’ve found that the teachers I had difficulty with didn’t understand ADHD. They often thought that because she wasn’t hyperactive, she didn’t have ADHD. As her parent, I often had to meet with them and talk to them about what would work for her. In some cases, I was hesitant to change their way of assigning tasks or assessing her learning. However, most teachers were very happy to have the information that I provided about my child and her learning style and they appreciated having an opportunity to understand her better.

Click here for a primer on teaching students with ADD/HD.

Danya adds that, in order for students with LDs to succeed academically and personally, educators need two important qualities: patience and calmness. Because of her challenges, Danya had to ask for clarifications if she was to reach her full potential. Educators should not assume that all students understand everything; they should take the time to review and make adaptations, based on their students’ needs. Danya states that students should never be put down because they often take criticism to heart. Even though she may have worked twice or three times as hard to complete an assignment and achieve the hoped-for result, her hard work was not always obvious.

Danya’s message to other students with LD

Danya has this message for other students with LDs: ‘Never give up, no matter what the challenges are. Don’t get discouraged. Keep focussing on your goal. You will encounter obstacles, but that’s all they are, and they can be overcome. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.’

Related LD@school Resources

Click here for strategies to deal with behavioural challenges in the classroom.

Click here to read an article on executive function and LDs.
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