This class prompted me to embark on a case study. I have a close friend who I’ve known since high school. Her name is Lindsay and she has severe ADD. In this blog, I will write about her experiences as an adult with a learning disability using Dr. Gerber’s degree of success model as a template. I became inspired by the readings on highly successful adults with learning disabilities. I wanted to know more about individuals in my life who have learning disabilities. Lindsay and I’s talk helped place things in perspective when I reflected back on our years of friendship. For example, I sometimes got angry when Lindsay cancelled plans last minute because she overbooked herself or I was confused at her inability to sit through a movie with me growing up. I always appreciated her for who she is, but I now appreciate her even more and what she has been able to accomplish in her life. Her guiding principles in life remind me that persistence, desire, and reframing are not concepts specific to adults with learning disabilities – they apply to all of us.
Lindsay’s rate of self-awareness grows the older she gets. Her markers of success are not defined by employment standards, marriage or family. Lindsay is not interested in setting career or family goals; instead, Lindsay is driven by Ironman competitions. Ironman competitions are triathlon races that involved swimming 2.4 miles, then hopping on a bike for 112 miles, and finishing up with a 26.2 mile run. When asked about long term goals, she said “Sure. That sounds like a great idea. That may last like 2 days and then I quit because it’s boring…Questions like where I’m going to be in five years – I have no idea. If I had to pick, maybe short term goals.” She found her niche competing in triathlons at age 28 (she’s now 30). She raced in three Ironmans in 1 year and is about to race her fourth in Chattanooga, TN later this summer. When she completed her most recent half Ironman (70.3 miles) in May 2014, she finished top 10 in her age group. She said, ” I enjoy that stuff… that kind of stuff is fun because I get off by doing well and people recognizing that I’ve done well… When I didn’t have good grades as a child, I thought I sucked…”
Lindsay was diagnosed with ADD in the fifth grade. She defined ADD as having a short attention span and a hard time concentrating. She also gets easily frustrated when she doesn’t know something, and has a tendency to give up easily. She said simply “I just don’t have the patience.” In elementary school, Lindsay received terrible grades and was “in and out of trouble…a lot.” Lindsay described an incident where she got in trouble for yelling at a student for not wearing her P.E. shoes. As a result, the class couldn’t go outside for recess. Lindsay made the other student cry and found herself in trouble again. She described another incident in which she was the only student who was “written up” for bad behavior by a substitute teacher. Lindsay’s fifth grade teacher encouraged her parents to get her tested for ADD. Lindsay’s teacher noticed Lindsay sat in the front row, asked questions, paid attention for about 30 seconds, and then she was “gone off into space.” Her fifth grade teacher’s son was diagnosed with ADD and she noticed similar symptoms in Lindsay. In middle school, Lindsay began taking Ritalin for her ADD. Suddenly, Lindsay started making good grades. She said “I started making a routine for myself. I’d come home after school, have a snack, study, eat dinner, and then study some more. I was determined to make straight A’s.” Lindsay went from straight D’s to straight A’s. Lindsay never recalled having a hard time making friends or feeling left out socially. In fact, her mom told her that she always had a lot of friends compared to her siblings. Lindsay made friends easily. In both childhood and adulthood, she said “People like me …and I’m funny..I’m so sporadic and keep it entertaining so people like to be around me.”
Lindsay’s ADD affects her ability to take tests. For this reason, her SAT scores were low. Lindsay submitted documentation for her disability to Longwood when it came time to apply for colleges. Longwood accepted her into their Plus Program. The program is designed for students with learning disabilities. Instead of going to freshmen seminar once a week like the non-disabled students, Lindsay went twice a week. She also had smaller class sizes. As part of the program, professors were automatically notified and provided accommodations like extra time on tests and separate testing rooms. After graduation, Lindsay stopped taking her medication. She has landed a number of successful positions and recently made another career move. Lindsay’s passion for racing prompted her to apply for a job at a company called RaceIt. Her official title is Sales Representative and she helps sell online registration platforms for endurance events.
Even though the job is in the a field she is passionate about, she still struggles with her ADD in an employment setting. For example, she was trying to put together a PowerPoint presentation for her boss, but couldn’t figure out how to move a text box. Instead of taking the time to figure it out, she sent the PowerPoint to her boss for him to fix. She said that her boss was “dumbfounded” that she didn’t know how to move a textbox in PowerPoint. A few months into her new job, she disclosed her ADD to her boss and requested her office be moved to a separate room. She finds it difficult to make cold calls to potential clients when others are walking by. Overall, I’m amazed at her willingness to take advantage of accommodations even though she isn’t formally aware of the ADA laws that protect those rights. Part of her reframing involves self-advocacy. She knows how she works best and what accommodations are necessary for increased productivity.
During the interview Lindsay said “I was not an athlete growing up, but I found something I like to do and keep to it.” In terms of the social ecologies on the success spectrum, Lindsay doesn’t see herself needing a huge support group. In fact, she reminds me of Chuck Close in that she said “I just cope with it and move on.” She knows she has many gifts and talents and that it’s a continual self-discovery process. She opened up that it’s taken years to improve her self-confidence. Adding to the hardships of ADD as a child, she believes her birth order may have affected how she perceived herself. She was the middle child. Her older sister was gifted in school and her younger brother excelled at sports. In adulthood, she discovered that the triathlons provide the variety she was looking for. For this reason, she is very successful. She also gets to push herself and enjoys “seeing what I’m made of.” When it comes to Ironman races, she says, “It’s all about me that day.. I get to set my own rules. I don’t like being told what to do and how to do it…In employment, I need to have help…triathlons are easier to figure things out on my own.”
After our discussion, I”m even more convinced that development and learning is a lifelong process; learning disabilities evolve throughout one’s lifespan. For Lindsay, persistence, self-determination, goodness-of-fit, and desire developed in adulthood. Just yesterday, Lindsay passed a test to become a level one CrossFit trainer. She requested her own room and extra time to verbally process the information. She texted me after she passed the test and I thought her text perfectly supported Dr. Gerber’s research on highly successful adults with learning disabilities. She wrote, “Yeah! I’m proud! Now I can coach what I love to do – see I’ll find a way to get to do what I really want…even if it takes me a little longer…” Well done, Lindsay!