Have you ever read something I’ve written and thought it seemed a bit half-formed? One aspect of my business and my education that I struggle with is communicating my ideas with proper spelling and grammar. As a young child, my difficulties in reading and writing were identified very early on. Growing up in Thailand in a dual-language household, I was already more likely to experience language delays. By Grade 3, my teachers were implementing academic accommodations to keep me from falling behind my peers, with mixed success. I have struggled with reading and writing for the entirety of my education, frustrating my teachers and fellow students. I would notice how I was held to a lower standard than my peers, and was still struggling to meet it. It was only recently that I was tested, and it was discovered that my reading and writing skills are at a lower level than over 94% of my peer group. At times, my writing has been considered unintelligible, even by the people who know me best.
I also was at the mercy of developing technology. When I was in elementary school, the only kind of digital accommodation available to counteract my disabilities with reading and writing was Dragon Speak: an early speech to text converter. Spell-check was in its infancy. My accommodations made me stand out from my peers, and were not always effective in helping me communicate my ideas.
In Thailand, my schooling was an International Baccalaureate style of education that was very free-form, and focused on creative thinking. While this helped me develop my speaking, my critical thinking, and my curiosity, it did little to help me with my struggles in articulating my thoughts on paper, and comprehending what I was reading. My difficulties were emphasized by my teachers’ constant degrading remarks about my intelligence, and their insistence that I was never going to amount to anything, never attend college, and never achieve anything academically. I did my best to apply the accommodations provided to me, but my morale was incredibly low. Still, I pushed forward.
Eventually, I realized that the structure of my school needed to change. I moved to the US, and started attending a Catholic school in Indiana. The structure of this education helped me buckle down, and approach my studies from a new foundation. All the while, I continued to access extra help in the form of reading and writing tutors. I still continued to struggle academically, because while I could talk about concepts proficiently, I could not write about them effectively.
Even though my grades were affected by my reading and writing skills, I kept good grades by contributing in other ways. I spoke up in class, I sought help from my teachers, I did extra-credit. The structure of Catholic education balanced my ability to think creatively with the ability to conform to the academic expectations placed on me.
As a current college student I have technology, years of educational strategizing, an ability to advocate for myself, and access to experts. I have worked hard to be able to communicate my ideas, and hope to continue my education and pursue my Masters and my PhD. But that is all in the future. Now, I have gotten to a place in understanding my abilities and my limits that allows me to do what I love, and nurture my own curiosity. Grammarly, friends willing to go over my essays, and many hours spent editing my work all contribute to my success in school, and business. Despite doubts of my abilities, I utilized the help I received to attend one of the most prestigious design schools in the United States, and run a successful business, all while engaging in historical research about the medical bone trade. For now, I may slip up when I write, because I am relying on dictation apps, and may not always have someone to go over what I say before I submit it. I am a work in progress, but have no intention to ever stop learning.
Having been critiqued for my spelling and grammar my entire life, I realize the effect that it can have on self-esteem. I may not always get it right, but I have come to a place where I can usually effectively communicate. I want to encourage all students with learning disabilities to access the help they need. You never know the great things you could achieve with the right kind of help.