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Accepting the shortcomings around us

| Contributing Writer

I never passed the reading proficiency tests in elementary school. It wasn’t because I didn’t under- stand the passage, but because I couldn’t read it fast enough. My teachers were alarmed by this and would say over and over again to my parents, “Michaela needs to be held back a year,” to which my parent’s answer was always the same: “No, you’re wrong.”

My parents knew I was bright, but I remember feeling stupid when I took those tests. As I got older, I naturally learned how to compensate for my learning issues. I would spell-check like crazy and refuse to read out loud in class out of a fear that I would interchange words. For me, a simple quiz meant numerous hours studying.

I was never actually diagnosed with dyslexia or a processing disorder until my senior year. I wasn’t surprised when I found out about my learning issues, and I was able to accept it fairly easily, even though I felt frustrated about needing to work harder and longer at a task than some of my peers.

Then I came to Washington University. Within the first few days of classes, I felt my mind stress under the weight and realized I needed to switch up my schedule a bit. After the switch, I felt comfortable, and the weight had lifted. Then came the psychology experiment that I was asked to participate in for my class. When I got to the office, I was given my instructions from a graduate student. The experiment consisted of me hitting the left or right arrow keys on a keyboard based on the words and shapes seen on a computer monitor. The computer would count how many times I pushed an incorrect key.

During the first round, I made 22 errors. When I showed the facilitating grad student my results, he informed me that most people get below 10 errors, and I needed to try harder. I explained that I had some learning differences and making less than 10 errors would be difficult, but I would try.

In the second round, I made 27 errors. I could tell he was frustrated with me when I showed him my results. In an annoyed voice, he said that it would really help him out if I would get below 10 errors. Again, I needed to try harder. Ignorance on the subject of learning issues is a hot-button topic for me. When I did start taking advantage of extra test time, I would hear remarks like, “You don’t need extra time,” “You just want a better score” or “Your problem is that you just need to focus more.”

After two more rounds, I was told I could leave and decided that this random graduate student needed to be educated. I explained to him that the next time he was facilitating an experiment, he should specify that he didn’t want students with learning differences, or he should trade in his ignorance for compassion. I told him that we all had shortcomings, and he had made it brutally aware that he had his own. With a satisfied smile, I walked away and called over my shoulder, “Have a good weekend.”

So, why am I talking about this? Because I want more people to be aware of this issue and mindful of people’s issues in general. We are all very lucky and privileged to be at this amazing school, and we all know that we are smart.

One of the reasons I chose Wash. U. was because of Cornerstone. The counselors there have already actively tried to make my academic life as smooth and fair as possible. This leads me to believe that other students are in the same situation as I am.

I ask of you all that don’t know what it is like to struggle with a learning difference to act with kindness and understanding towards those who struggle. Like the graduate student and myself, we all have our shortcomings in some aspect of our lives, and everyone wants to be accepted and valued regardless of those short- comings. I want to make getting to that place easier for everyone, and I hope all of you do as well.