On Tuesday Nov. 28, on a cold rainy night, Eye to Eye and the Center for Community Engagement (CCE) held a Share Your Story event where students with learning disabilities shared their experiences at Wolff Auditorium, detailing how Eye to Eye has helped them and the importance of accommodations for their disabilities.
Emilie Pratt, a student and Eye to Eye mentor, opened with a poem describing her experience with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Throughout the poem, Pratt described having difficulty with schoolwork, being “subject to funny looks” and how her brain felt like her greatest saboteur.
“Accommodations and audio books / Some education to stop the funny looks,” she said. “These are simple and easily provided / But without them we are all so divided / It’s not fair not fair to others some quickly say / But we argue it’s just leveling the field of play.”
Haley Miller, a junior speaker, described her experience with attention deficit disorder (ADD) and how Eye to Eye has impacted her life. She was diagnosed after her freshman year of college.
“I constantly tell people that I am like one of the mentees, as I consider everyone in Eye to Eye to be a mentor to me,” Miller said. “Many of my friends had grown up having to advocate for themselves and were comfortable with their difference when they started college.”
Even though Miller’s friends have been called offensive names, the resilience she saw in them inspired her and they became her heroes.
“Through their stories and advice, I began to see my own self-worth and realized that having ADD wasn’t such a bad thing,” she said.
Jonathan Blanco, a senior speaker, explained his experience with dyslexia since second grade, and how school early on was not welcoming.
Blanco would see a specialized tutor twice a week, resulting in him being late for school every Tuesday and Thursday. Even though his tardiness was excused, he still had to enter a classroom full of glances as he walked to his desk.
“The greatest fear of my second grade and later self was to be called on to read in class,” he said. “I remember looking at the upcoming sections and reading it to myself over and over and over as fast [as I could] to memorize a segment of it.”
Upon coming GU, Blanco said he was given the accommodations to be successful and be equal in the classroom.
“Yes, I get extended time, and yes I get to use the study room, but only because I need it,” he said.
Abi Kirsten, a sophomore speaker, explained her experience with anxiety, bipolar disorder and ADD, and what would happen during anxiety episodes.
During these episodes, Kirsten would feel her heart drop to the pit of her stomach as it beat faster, and the she would slowly raise her voice and yell and scream as though she was in pain. Her body would then collapse to the ground as she kicked, screamed and thrashed her arms and legs.
These episodes kept her from doing well in school, and she was soon prescribed medication for her bipolar disorder and anxiety.
“Because of my learning disabilities mixed with my mental illnesses, it made it even harder to get work done and get good grades,” Kirsten said. “And you wouldn’t even have the slightest suspicion that I had learning disabilities and mental illnesses just by looking at me.”
She added that people with learning disabilities and mental health issues want to be seen and treated “as if they were normal,” and that people need to dispose of negative stereotypes associated with learning disabilities and mental illnesses to help those with these conditions accept themselves.
Another sophomore speaker described their experience with ADHD and how people with learning disabilities should be open with their boyfriends and girlfriends about their learning differences because “it will help them understand you.”
The student added that having ADHD is not excuse but rather an explanation.
Gregory Repetti, a sophomore speaker, described his experience with dyslexia and Asperger’s syndrome and how a childhood friend of his, who also had Asperger’s, helped him understand what he was capable of.
“It set this mentality in me that I can do this,” he said. “This kind of, ‘Yeah, sure, I got my issues, but I can still move forward,' ”
Despite having multiple mentors in his life who have influenced him, Repetti said that not a lot of them have had the same experience as he with Asperger’s and dyslexia.
He said that he became an Eye to Eye mentor because he wants to be a guide for kids similar to him, be someone they can relate to and give them the same mentality that his childhood friend gave him.
Becca Bianchi, a senior speaker, described the importance of accommodations through explaining what failure is.
“Failure is a part of life, and if you disagree, you might as well leave,” she said.
She added how failure on paper is not always true in the heart, and that accommodations are important and need to be taken seriously because failure is situational for students with learning disabilities.
“If you want us to succeed, give the girl with dysgraphia a computer, give the guy with ADHD extra time, give the girl with auditory processing disorder a note-taker,” Bianchi said. “Because without accommodations, I would not be standing here about to graduate in May.”
She added that students with accommodations should not feel ashamed for their accommodations, learning differences and failing, despite all the help they receive.
The event concluded with the speakers coming together encouraging attendees to share what they heard that night to spread awareness, while saying that those with learning disabilities are strong, capable and deserve to be listened to.
Matthew Kincanon is a staff writer.