Guest blogger Andi DeField, Esq. is a trial attorney in South Florida who recently won the title of Miss Atlantic States International. A former public relations professional, Andi has worked hard over the years to succeed in school and professional life, despite her struggles with various learning disabilities.
"I have had the privilege of learning to manage and overcome my dyslexia, dyscalculia and lifelong ADD because of the amazing work of dedicated tutors, mentors, and organizations like Learning Ally," she says.
We're honored that Andi has designated Learning Ally as her chosen nonprofit to promote and support during her upcoming campaign to win the top crown in the Miss International Pageant.
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When I was five, I almost failed kindergarten. At an overcrowded public elementary school, I was simply lost in the shuffle. With 400 kindergartners sharing one large open room in which to learn a state-mandated curriculum, no one saw my telltale signs of disability. I became shy and withdrawn. I was no longer excited to go to school and pleaded with my parents to let me stay home “sick” as often as possible. My family became concerned and confused as to why their seemingly bright child became insecure, unsure, and distant.
Early identification of learning and reading disabilities is critical to the success and well-being of any child or adult. By educating the public on learning and reading disabilities, we not only remove the stigma associated with these learning differences, but we allow for the early identification and management of these disorders. I am eternally grateful that one very special teacher took the time to notice that while I loved to discuss what we learned one-on-one, I had difficulty reading and could barely identify numbers. At her suggestion, my family brought me to a child psychologist, and the results were astounding. I was not “dumb” or “stupid” as I thought I was. Rather, I was classified as a “highly gifted” student. I simply operated with a learning difference.
Within a few short years, I was diagnosed with mild dyslexia and severe dyscalculia—learning disabilities characterized by confusion with letter or math symbols. In college, I was diagnosed with ADD. Despite my learning differences, I developed a passion for academia and the work ethic necessary to succeed in spite of my disabilities. Now, I am a dedicated trial lawyer, the reigning Miss Atlantic States International, and a woman who has learned to accept and laugh at herself. This August, I will compete for the coveted title of Miss International in hopes that I may represent our learning and reading disabled community at the international level, while promoting early identification and management through resources like those provided by Learning Ally.
I credit my success to the immense support of my family and my community. Instead of coddling me, or treating me like I was less-than, my family provided me with the tools necessary to succeed and, in turn, demanded greatness. While I benefited from a change to private school, I still sat through hundreds of hours of after-school and weekend tutoring to help me grasp basic concepts that other students took for granted.
Teachers, friends, and professionals served as mentors and tutors, while Learning Ally and other organizations provided me with the tools necessary to succeed academically.
Academic success and validation, however, was only a portion of my journey. Oftentimes, students like me are overlooked by the education system as being unmotivated, slow, or stupid. I believe that this is why so many children and adults with learning disabilities suffer from a host of other problems like anxiety disorders and low self-esteem. These students are more prone to feelings of self-doubt, worthlessness, and are more likely to be bullied. In fact, I suffered from social anxiety throughout most of my childhood. To overcome my painful shyness and social anxiety, I entered a local scholarship pageant in middle school, requiring me to speak and compete on stage. Despite my debilitating insecurity—yes, I forgot my entire rehearsed speech while on stage and proceeded to freeze like a deer caught in headlights—this challenge forced me to identify and confront my weaknesses. I learned how to think on my feet, how to enjoy public speaking, and, most importantly, I learned that the crown could be a microphone, allowing me to share my story and reach out to others fighting the battle to self-love and self-acceptance in spite of their learning or reading disability.
My struggle to overcome my learning disabilities has taught me life skills that have proved vital to my success as an adult. Failing made me humble. The hundreds of hours of tutoring taught me dedication. Trying to balance my hobbies with school taught me responsibility and time-management skills. The struggle itself taught me goal-setting, appreciation, and perseverance.
Indeed, it is the constant challenge that helped me to grow and evolve. By working to overcome the hardships, I realized my ability. While the road to success may have more obstacles for those faced with a learning or reading disability, it is our job as a community to provide those individuals (or ourselves) with the resources necessary to succeed while challenging them to do so. As Peter Marshall once said, "When we long for life without difficulties, remind us that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure.”