I always tell parents that it is true that things do get better as we age. It is also true that we find methods, strategies, avenues, and people who assist us along the way. Wouldn’t you agree? In fact, we cannot make it without one another. From the food in the supermarket to the fuel at the gas station, it is all provided by numbers of persons responsible for various tasks in the process of manufacturing and production. Therefore, at its end, we all rely on each other to enable our community and society to function as a whole and for each person.
However, this process can get a bit more complicated for those of us with hidden disabilities. I am often reminded of this as both myself and kids have these conditions. Additionally, I am reminded because of the work I do with persons who have similar conditions. This cohesion of myself with those I love and what I do has blessed me and offered fulfillment in every waking moment.
As such, this blog develops from a recent experience that significantly impacted and reminded me that these conditions do not go away. I would like to share how persons with Learning Disabilities, ADHD, Cognitive Disorders, ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder, and related conditions face continued obstacles and how we deal with them, especially where it concerns being a professional. For older professionals particularly, the newness of cuteness has waned and the expectation of mutual competition, social behavior, and consistent completion of daily living tasks takes root. This can be seen in the classroom, at a social event, while traveling, or even when ordering in a restaurant.
Take a moment and reflect upon the behaviors in friends, colleagues, or other relatives (not your kids) that might be a touch off, odd, or seemingly normal but yet something just stands out that you don’t quite comprehend. Consider the possibility that this is what remains for persons who are further “down the road” in life and have completed all the training and education they achieved. The little quirks or slight indicators you might perceive could actually be larger issues for that person who is working hard to keep the conditions hidden from you. Consider further the person who has spent time, money, and great effort to become a professional and works 60 to 80 hours a week because of dedication, desire, and concern for her career field and all they dreamed it would be, then maintaining it. Imagine with me the moments she spends attending social events. Try to put yourself in her place as she struggles with the sounds and the conversations. Think about how she seeks out one or two persons to cling to so that she is not noticed and how she prays that these persons don’t wonder away. This may be the same person you thought of who is often someone that attends conferences and events to sit quietly alone after the expected work piece is complete and then comes to find herself being left out, for example, of any invitation for conversation or invite to go to lunch. Remember, it is true that things can get better and at the end of it we find a silver lining. However, the other reality is that these hidden disabilities don’t just go away. Rather, we learn to manage them better and recognize that it is okay because generally work becomes our life, and our work life becomes our comfort zone. However, the secret is we must seek and look for a bit more of a silver lining than the average person. We do not recover from disability as I heard from a friend today with a disability say. This seems to be an emerging trend of thought. Yet, that is another blog!
Now that we have reflected on what the meaning work provides, I want to tell you a story of how this played out for me. The story you are about to read is not uncommon for those of us with hidden disabilities. In fact, I know this because my colleagues who are like me often share these types of stories with me.
Recently, I attended a four-day training for a highly reputable and well-known organization, whose name I will not mention. The training was for a new certification that is respected, admired, and well sought out by many mental health professionals, education consultants, and human resource professionals who acquire it to serve their clients in a variety of ways. After much work, many days of writing, research, and classes, I finally passed the course and am honored to have obtained this certification.
Like most trainings, I knew the information would be taught in a typical presentation/classroom style environment. There would be books and handouts etc. Realizing that this would most likely be the case, I had contacted the organization prior to the training to let know of my learning disabilities and hearing impairment and to determine what kind of documentation they would need and discuss possible appropriate accommodations. To my surprise, they stated that they did not need the documentation and would allow me to use my reading pen for the quiz and offered me a table to myself in the back of the room to take the quiz. In addition I would be able to ask the instructor anything I would like. However, I was not instructed nor provided that the quiz would be the same day that the information was offered or that I would not have information on what to study the night before. Instead of having a night to study, we were simply offered 5 minutes after the presentation of the material to prepare for the quiz. Now the instructor’s presentation style lent itself to what I had become accustomed to in graduate school, which was loose instructional presentation that did not follow a specified format at all times. However, this was not a problem for me, as this is a style one gets used to as an undergrad and graduate student. Therefore, presentation style was not the issue; however, the issue was how fast he spoke combined with my hearing impairment on top of the LD. And with the short four day training I had to adapt to this as adults in trainings we do. Finally, though, what the true issue was is the demonstrated inequity that the instructor displayed.
During the class, a PowerPoint slide was presented that identified that assistance was available as approved for persons with visual impairments or any sort of ESL concerns. In those cases, the assessments could be read to students by the evaluators. As such, I inquired, as I normally do, about persons with other conditions, such as learning disabilities or cognitive disorders. In response, the instructor looked at me, looked at the class, and then stated, “well everyone, I would ask you all to take serious consideration as to if these individuals are even able to benefit from this assessment.” Wow! I was so blown away that I could not even speak, and for anyone who knows me, that is and of itself amazing. All in all, it was probably for the best that I could not speak, as I am sure my response would not have been filled with choice words. I was steaming inside. Instead, however, I took a different approach. During our break, I engaged him and asked if I could take him to lunch. He responded that I could the next day.
As it happens, another woman introduced herself to me, let me know she also has disabilities, and ended up joining the instructor and me for lunch. I was glad she did because she was able to join in the conversation adding her own helpful insights. During our lunch, I asked the instructor about his statement. He knew immediately what I was referring to and stated, “I know I messed up.” I continued that his statement most likely created a bias among the students within the class.
To these points, he brought the subject up later that day. He asked me in front of the class to identify information on how to include language for his PowerPoint on accommodations. However, this is as far as he went. He did not apologize or make statements to the class that would remove the bias he previously may have placed within them. His omission left the damage he created in place.
From here, things continued to get worse. A total of five quizzes were offered. Each consisted of 15 questions and required 5 to 10 minutes for completion. Regretfully, I failed the first four. Please understand that at my age I am not afraid to disclose to a class that I have a learning disability in reading. Additionally, I wear hearing aids so that someone can help me if they are sitting next to me and a page is read that I miss and do not turn. I ask them if they wouldn’t mind pointing to the page if I look at them and point in question. Recall from earlier that we all rely on each other and that none of us could shop for food or fuel without the many.
Finally, on the last day, a silver lining began to ripple through my story. On this day, I sat next to Michelle Marin, PHR, who is the Director of Human Resources at UMOM New Day Centers in Phoenix, AZ (www.umom.org). She disclosed to me that she has a son with ADHD. She understands and empathizes with what I was going through. This was such a great moment for both of us. In my experience, I have come to love parents with these conditions because most often they are much more sensitive to these issues. Michelle, who used to work in human resources at an adolescent psychiatric program, stated that she was always in touch with the residents. Among everyone in the class, Michelle was the only one to see the pain and fear in my eyes at the thought of all these tests.
During that last class, we sat next to each other, and she was so great with me. In fact, she looked at me during one of the practice feedback sessions and said, “I have this practice delivery down. I am sure you do too. I have some test anxiety and could just use some time to relax. I can help you by reading the test prep questions to you if you can help calm me down! Deal?” I immediately said, “Deal!” That last day, I scored a hundred percent on the quiz. The instructor was blown away, and I told him what happened. For Michelle, I hugged her and thanked her while holding back the tears. I thought to myself, “Why aren’t more people in the world like her? Why won’t more people just offer to help?” Why are we so afraid to reach out and just say we all have some issues now and again, maybe not hidden disabilities but maybe like in Michelle’s case a little test anxiety, outside of that, things are good with her! What a wonderful person she is, she is a real genuine human being!
For me, the reality is that I need to hear and read the information aloud at the same time along with having the instruction on the material. This process solidifies the information for me and helps me learn the material in a multi-sensory manner thus allowing it to register in my brain so I can retrieve it like others do.
Regardless of my success on the last day, I still had to deal with the failure on the first four quizzes. Like I mentioned before, “it does not just simply go away.” To obtain my certification, I had to complete take-home quizzes, which I am normally fine with. However, my ADAAA expertise quickly caused me to identify the inequitable treatment of a person with a disability that was present in the testing I received compared to the persons who completed the in-class quizzes. The test I received contained sixteen essay questions and required two or more paragraphs per question.
I wrote pages upon pages. Even though this was not a college course, I was corrected on things I would naturally miss without a person editing, even though I used my spelling and grammar check. Therefore, I did not find all mistakes, which again is understandable per the severity my learning disability. I still only read at the 8th grade level and write at the 9th grade level, even though I am a published author. I am glad there was no math, as my math is at a 2nd grade level.
Though I passed the test, it was all marked up in color for grammatical mistakes that I made. The content was correct, but the instructor honed in on my written errors. Upon receiving it, I cried and wondered why the test was all marked up for grammar when content was the concern. At 53 years old, I was crying because he was not critiquing my content but reminding me again that I am inept, that I am different than other persons, and that he is better and smarter than me. I thought, “How many self-esteem points do you want to take away from me for no reason? I am not getting a grade from you.” To make things worse, the instructor stated that he did not agree with something that I wrote, which is the biggest irony of all. I didn’t write the statement. I forgot to include quotes. The statement he did not agree with came from a famous psychologist who wrote the material that the entire assessment is based upon.
So, where does this leave me now? It leaves me with the Silver Lining. The ripple that began with Michelle carries on. Even though it took me four days of writing to get through my test instead of the 25 minutes my peers needed, I can almost guarantee that I have a greater knowledge base regarding this information. I spent four days reading, researching, and writing to pass this certification. Additionally, I was scrutinized for grammar, not my content, by an instructor who did not recognize the inequity in his bias, which offers me more insight beyond the informational knowledge, related to this course, that I gained. I again realize the hardship that highly admired and honored organizations still place upon persons with learning disabilities.
I can almost guarantee that I learned more than most of them because there is no way they will have spent four days, reading, researching, and writing to pass a certification only to be grammar checked, spell checked, edited, and rechecked, I am not sure anyone would have wanted to go through this level of testing to get this certification. But honestly, now that I have, I personally believe that if they are going to get this rigid with people who have disabilities on an open book with this many test questions and time, then this company should consider changing the test format for everyone! They will certainly learn more. I know I did! This would offer so much more credibility for those being certified!
And that is my silver lining, I learned more, and I feel so much more prepared! It is time we remind others there is always a silver lining to most everything we experience, even some of the worst things.