Justin's Story: From Chaos to Structure
Who am I?
My name is Justin MacNeil. Now a college student enrolled at Landmark College in Putney Vermont, I find myself thinking about the steps I took to mature as an individual and progress academically. I was not always as confident and efficient in assignments, or daily tasks. How did I learn to adapt and cope with my learning disability? Until college, school was a complete nightmare, and each day was another day of struggle and chaos. Around the 5th grade I was diagnosed with severe dyslexia, a language based learning disability. A few years following I was diagnosed with ADHD.
Learning with Dyslexia and ADHD
With careful consideration my family decided that a private all-boys middle school might be a help. The school enrolled boys from grades 5 to 9. This school provided reading tutoring along with specialized academic and behavioral programs. Despite the school’s effort and my own, I was just not making any progress. My reading and spelling were not improving at all, and as a result of my ADHD, my behavior was still poor and disruptive.
I was then taken out of this private school and was placed in the 8th grade of the special education department in the public school of my home town. It was about this time I started various trial periods with different ADHD medications. Medication worked fairly well to keep me calm and focused. As a result, the behavioral problems were no longer an issue in school, for the most part. However, this is when I myself started to notice I had severe reading and spelling problems. Now I could focus enough to actually sit down and realize it. I was extremely embarrassed to be called on to read from the text in class all throughout middle school. As part of the special education program, within my IEP plan, I was provided with a Wilson Reading tutor. Wow! This tutor and I clicked and Wilson Reading was truly a help. Moving on from middle school to high school, it was arranged for me to go to this tutor’s house twice a week after school. There I would work on school assignments and Wilson Reading. My progress was phenomenal. My reading and spelling improved tremendously along with my reading comprehension, although grades were mostly Cs. The only problem now was, I had absolutely no level of independence and I could not complete any assignment by myself. I literally had to be sitting down next to someone to do anything. This was not good for my self-esteem and on top of that, I was considered by my peers as among the SPED group. Along with my poor social skills, popularity was not a strong suit for me in high school. Despite my great progress with Wilson and reading, high school was still a major struggle and an absolute nightmare. As a result of my ADHD and the plain fact of just hating school, sleeping became a major struggle. As a result I frequently missed school altogether, and the days I did manage to make it I was always late. I was actually skipping school so often that I ended up failing two classes my senior year in high school, history and math.
During the summer of 2007 after my senior year, things started to turn around. All of my struggles have actually been beneficial for my development. That summer I put tremendous effort in making up those two failed classes. I went to my Wilson tutor’s house every week that summer to make up my math course. I also went to another tutor’s house (my dad had known and arranged for me to work with) to make up my history credit. On top of that I had completed the entire 12-step system of the Wilson Reading program that summer and received a certificate of completion by the creator of the program. I completed both subjects that summer and passed both of them with As. I received my high school diploma later that summer. Just to stress how important the summer of 2007 was for me, I was accepted to Landmark College.
What I’ve learned
The first few semesters at Landmark were a bit of a struggle for me. Looking back now I’m betting it was because up until now I never had any real study skills. I was not used to being independent with assignments and had not developed any executive functioning skills. But the semesters kept rolling and I am now finishing up my 7th semester here at Landmark. I cannot stress enough the progress I have made at Landmark. My reading comprehension is now at advanced college level reading; my writing is much more fluent and well developed.
Spelling is still a little iffy but with the use of assistive technology that Landmark provides and aids in training, I have the ability to be much more fluent with my spelling. Kurzweil is a great example; this software reads my papers back to me along with any of my text books, scanned text, or Internet text. I have the option of setting a preferred reading pace. It also incorporates study skill features such as highlighting, margin noting, and voice recording capabilities. These study skills features help me make note of particular areas within my writing that I need to work on or add more to. For example, I can highlight a particular sentence in my writing and then add a voice memo that records my voice talking more about that topic or area. I can then add a margin note that pops up to summarize a particular paragraph or even an entire chapter in one or two sentences. The program has three complete dictionaries within the software for spell checking and looking up definitions, along with many other features. Kurzweil helps me to hear my mistakes when I’m reading my own papers. It helps me to structure papers better because I can hear how it flows when it’s read aloud. Kurzweil has helped me tweak the spelling and grammar on many of my papers. Inspiration software has also been a tremendous help for independently preparing my own study guides. I start off by easily creating a complex tree diagram to replicate the course content, click a button and it is instantly transformed into outlined form. It’s great to use when I’m studying to further understanding course content by organizing it into diagrams and or outlines.
With the use of coaching assistance and assistive technology tools available here at Landmark I have developed great note taking and study skills, such as “point of relevance studying,” which is studying content the way it would be displayed or delivered on a test. For me, I write out each area of study and their answers as if they were going to be a thought or short answer question. Then no matter how the content is delivered on the test I’m ready. I have also developed effective focusing strategies and executive functioning skills with the help of coaching assistance. The greatest skill I have learned at Landmark College is just how important exercise is when it comes to sustaining focused effort and initiating daily efficiency. As a result, my sleeping schedule has improved tremendously. I am much better now at getting to classes than I was in high school. Basically, what it all comes down to is daily routine and structure. To be efficient during my day I need to get up at the same time every day, and have the entire day strictly planned out. I need to take my medication at the same time every day, and work out at least twice a week. Then everything else seems to fall in place in a positive way.
Where I’m going
My progress has been enormous and my self-esteem and social skills have developed greatly. It seems that one of the biggest skills for success is developing a good understanding of self concept and awareness. It helps to becoming aware of your strengths and weaknesses and knowing what strategies work for you. All of the struggles and chaos I faced only left me with a positive awareness of the way I tick. I have picked up many strategies and techniques along the way for coping and managing effectively. I am now ready for independence at any university. Bring It On!! I will be graduating next semester with an associate’s degree in liberal arts from Landmark College. I’ve been on the Dean’s List twice and qualified for Phi Theta Kappa. I am planning on receiving a higher degree in applied exercise science/health and pursuing my gift in music. I strongly believe that any individual with a learning disability or ADHD can adapt and learn to be efficient in all daily tasks. Anyone can move “from chaos to structure.”