In the summer of 2002, my family packed up a large moving van and moved from the (then) small town of Lehi, Utah to McKinney, Texas. I was 9 years old at the time and excited to move to such a big state I had heard so much about.
About a month later, I started 4th grade. For anyone who is not aware, public education in Texas is very different from public education in Utah. Scan trons, accelerated reading, weekly tests, and the fact that we had a math quiz the first week of school were all foreign things to me. Needless to say, it was a slap in the face.
Up until then, my teachers knew that I was behind on pretty much everything school-related but they figured I would “eventually catch up”. My 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Gavito, immediately noticed something was different about me. She took me aside after school for a few days and gave me some exams to fill out. Long story short, I was diagnosed with Dyslexia and mild ADHD.
So here I am, almost two decades later. I graduated high school, received a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management, work as a Customer Success Manager for a company that creates virtual data rooms, and am married to the love of my life (who, by the way, is a high school math teacher).
It hasn’t been easy. I learn differently and I grasp things differently. When I was finishing up my freshman year of high school, I found out that out of the 810 kids in my freshman class, I was ranked 737 (regarding grades).
Needless to say, if I can graduate high school and college, anyone can.
Here are a few things I have learned over the years that have helped me conquer these learning disabilities and gotten me to this point in my life.
Breakfast: The MOST important meal
We hear the saying that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and that couldn’t be truer for people with learning disabilities.
I learned quickly that when I choose to drink water and eat carbs/proteins in the morning, my day goes a lot better than if I were to eat donuts and wash it down with a glass of sugar-heavy juice.
Fruit is also a great way to give my brain the spark of energy it needs to be alert and attentive that day.
Here are some of my favorite breakfast foods that have made a world of difference for me:
- Wheat toast
- Protein Bars (Quest and One bars are my favorites)
- Raisin Bran cereal
- Oatmeal (I love adding chia seeds, cinnamon, and dehydrated cranberries)
- And of course…. WATER!
Notes, and Notes, and more Notes
I learned that the best way for me to retain information is just to write stuff down. It doesn’t have to be on a nice note-taking sheet with a perfectly sharpened #2 pencil.
Usually, as the teacher was talking, I would write down things they were saying on the same piece of paper I was drawing Star Wars pictures on.
Writing things down constantly helped me retain important information that later helped me on quizzes and tests.
Activity and Brain Breaks
If you’ve ever met someone with ADHD, you know they have an enormous amount of energy. I’m 26 years old and I still have a surplus of energy at the end of each day.
I have always been a runner. Putting in my headphones, blasting some 80’s rock, and running a few miles is what has kept me sane.
It’s imperative that I make an effort to stay active so that my brain can rejuvenate and stay focused.
Limit Distractions (2020)
This is something I have recently implemented since I have digital distractions competing for my attention 24/7. Recently, I have turned off all notifications from my phone except for texts and calls. On my computer, I don’t get any notifications from Slack, emails, social media, annoying software updates, or anything else.
This has made a HUGE impact on my productivity at work and everyday life.
I can focus more on the tasks at hand rather than being distracted by a slack notification or incoming email. I have become more aware of myself and know that these notifications trigger my ADHD to the point where it’s hard for me to stay productive and focused. It has also made it easier for me to be more present in the moment outside of work.
If there are any parents of teens reading this, I would highly recommend implementing this practice with them :)
And finally, Humility and Self -Awareness
When I started middle school, all my classes were the advanced (Pre-AP) classes because those were the classes all my friends were in. I learned very quickly that these classes moved too fast for me and I had to move to the lower level (academic) classes.
I also needed to be in a room of 3–5 other kids every time the school needed to take a state-wide test. We would be with a teacher who would read us the test questions and answer choices. This was to help me focus better and have fewer distractions.
As you can imagine, this was incredibly humiliating for me since I didn’t feel I belonged with this group of kids that “learned differently”.
With the guidance of my loving parents and hard-working teachers, I was able to see why this was necessary. And more importantly, they helped me see that these classes did not define me as a person.
I knew I needed to work a little harder than most of my peers and while I was never on the Honor Roll or in the National Honor Society, I still passed my classes with a sense of pride and accomplishment.
This isn’t rocket science. Believe me, if it was, I wouldn’t be writing about it.
Simple, daily efforts made the daily struggles easier and easier. It took some time and practice but I can attest that it’s worth it.
My motto: keep trying, keep pushing, and keep learning.