Learning Disabilities  

My Life-Time Struggle with Learning

My Life-Time Struggle with Learning

As you will learn in these pages I am a true "Life-Long Learner"  I earned an undergrad degree at the most academically demanding post-secondary institution in Canada - Royal Military College. I went on to earn two graduate degrees and in each of my post-secondary endeavors I graduated at the top of my class. Yet, throughout my life I have been academically handicapped with what is widely known today as a "Learning Disability"  most of my symptoms can be  categorized under the term - Dyslexia.

There is plenty of information on the Internet today about learning disabilities in general and Dyslexia in particular, so I won't get into the technical detail but rather tell you what I experienced and how I was able to succeed academically in spite of this affliction.

Throughout my early academic years at St Mary's Catholic School and Owen Sound Vocational Institute (OSCVI)  I was unable to keep up with the other kids in my classes. I really thought that I was just "stupid" and this was always confirmed by my class standing and reinforced by my teachers. For example, I just couldn't spell - the letters would get all mixed up and for reading, I was barely literate when I started high school.  I recall in grade 5 we had these "Spelling Contests" where the teacher would line us up in two teams on either side of the class. These were both humiliating and embarrassing since I always had to sit down on my first word.  To minimize the pain I strategically positioned myself at the end of the line with the hope that there would be at least one other get their first word wrong, so I wouldn't be the first to have to sit down.

My poor reading ability caught up to me in Grade 7 where I was held back to repeat the year. In spite of it being my second go around, I still ended up at the bottom of the class - how embarrassing! This pattern of failure continued into high school where after grade 9, I was moved from the general program into a trades program designed for those with limited academic ability. In spite of this I failed again and instead of going back to repeat the grade I choose to drop out of high school and join the Navy.

I was so excited to leave the academic work behind and learn a trade in the Navy. However I found myself back in the classroom in a lengthy trades training program. As with my previous experience I was failing miserably.  That is until one of my instructors sent me for evaluation and academic re-training where I was given techniques that helped me pass the course.  It turned out that I wasn't "stupid" after all -  I just learned differently!  I needed more of a practical 'hands-on' learning environment - I needed to hear and see the lessons rather than read them.  Extracting knowledge from the written page was an enormous struggle for me; but, tell me about it, or show me a video and I instantly understood. 

Progress was slow at first but once I caught on to this "academic-thing" I didn't want to let it go. I discovered for the first time that  I could learn and that I wasn't stupid after all. This new-found understanding of the "learning process" stimulated my interest in Education. I signed up for correspondence courses from the "Radio College of Canada" that I did at sea. I then attended high school classes at night school which led me to post secondary studies at the Nova Scotia Institute of Technology (NSIT) and then on to Royal Roads Military College. However, it still wasn't easy. I had to develop ways of learning without a heavy reliance on "textbook learning".  I found that if I joined study groups at military college where the group discussed the lessons and concepts presented by the professor, that it all came together for me.  So I began to form my own study groups and gained a reputation for my physics and engineering problem solving.  So when asked about how I would solve a complex problem by a fellow student I would ask what their understanding of the question. Once I heard their explanation of the problem I could immediately walk them through the solution.

This is an inheritable condition It can affect you and likely has if you're listening to this page. When my son Brian, your uncle or father, was in grade two he was sent for a battery of tests and diagnosed with the same problems.  He received help to work-around the issues. Like me, he discovered how to learn differently to be successful. As I'm sure you know he has two degrees and is a successful teacher.

In hindsight this "Learning Disability" was really a blessing.  Without this I would have done what most of my classmates in high school did. They graduated from grade 13 (yes high school was 5 years in those days)  and not having the financial recourses to attend college or university, got a job that they worked at for most of their lives.  On the other hand my "Learning Disability" led me to drop out of high school, learn how I could learn successfully, earn three degrees and have two financially rewarding careers. 

So remember, if you find yourself facing this learning challenge.
You're not stupid!
You just learn differently!

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