Navigating Life with Learning Disabilities
I remember hating sitting still…
My name is Tayla Schaffer and I share my story hoping that you, as a parent, will seek professional help should your child have, what is called, a learning disability – and that you, as a learner, will know that you are not stupid – you are different.
I went most of my school days undiagnosed, which resulted in me facing many issues with my self confidence. I was diagnosed with dyslexia in Grade 6, and then attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) when I was in Grade 11. School and learning became enjoyable after I received the support I desperately needed – and navigating life with learning disabilities was no longer a challenge.
In Grade R, I remember hating sitting still. Everything about school was overwhelming.
There were too many people, the lighting did not feel right, I hated the smell of the glue sticks,
and the constant chattering bothered me to the point of daily temper tantrums. I felt weak. I did not understand how everyone else in my class could do the things I found confusing.
In Grade 1, I started to believe that I was stupid. My teacher separated the class into three groups. Lions, Cheetahs and Tigers. I was put into Cheetahs, which was the group of children who could not read. Every week we had to read aloud. I would stutter and have to stop after every two words to ask for help. My peers made fun of me for not being as literate as everyone else. These experiences increased as I got older.
Naturally, I grew to hate school and I would refuse to get out of bed. My parents took me to countless doctors in an attempt to find out what was ‘wrong with me’. This was when I was diagnosed with dyslexia. I became extremely depressed and insecure because I thought no one around me understood.
Life went on in this vein until high school when we were able to choose our subjects. I loved the subjects I chose. My teachers immediately noticed that I learnt differently from most other learners, and they provided for that. Also, because I was older, I could advocate for myself. I was able to explain to teachers that I found certain aspects of learning challenging. I got a reader and writer for exams. I was also given permission to take breaks whenever I needed them, and I received extra time. These tools helped me feel supported.
Around this stage, I started going to behavioural therapy. We worked on my self-esteem issues, and I started to believe in myself more. This was when I was diagnosed with ADHD. Through counselling I found tools that helped me cope. My therapist assisted me with time management, taught me what to do when I got burnt out, and essentially helped me navigate school.
Looking back on my schooling, the one aspect I regret is not receiving the remedial help I needed without delay. It was not an option for me at the time, due to my late diagnosis. People around me who received help at an early age had a completely different school experience. I blame neither my parents nor my teachers – they, in the main, were unfamiliar with the conditions I presented and try as they may they didn’t have the expertise to help me. I, however, hope the education system starts to focus on those of us who don’t slot into the mainstream but who could be academic achievers given the correct tools and guidance.
Subsequently, I have the choice of several universities and I have chosen to study art, media and design at one of the institutions where I have been accepted.
Everyone with a child who is dyslexic should read Ask Richard: How can parents help their dyslexic children thrive, and how can schools better support dyslexic students?