diagnosis: it’s not a label, it’s a bridge

Seven-plus months ago, I started what was an arduous journey. I’d known in myself that something was off for a long time with how I performed educationally. Until university, I didn’t have any exceptional struggles [unless we count that I could never master the multiplication tables, or that even being tutored through grade 9 math I still came out of there with a C]. Then university came. I’m sure I’ve probably dropped nearly as many classes as I’ve taken–I couldn’t get through the readings for the most part [and, let’s be honest, that C in intro psych could have probably been at least a B had I read any of the textbook!]. When anatomy came, I shrugged off the first F–especially after I found out how many people in med school fail anatomy. The second one? I’d put so many hours in. I’d spent countless hours with a tutor, I’d made a stack of flash cards, I’d coloured the colouring book, I wasn’t leaving labs early. I’d failed or near-failed tons of tests, yet by balancing them with papers, I was mostly rolling out C’s and B’s, with a few A’s thrown in in the classes that really gelled with my learning style, my interests, my quirks, and my academic gifts.

When I went through the educational assessment process last Winter, of course there’s all that associated doubt: I’ve gotten this far in school, why am I bothering with this now? They probably won’t even find anything helpful. But, the what-if’s kept me there.  While they were unable to diagnose or exclude ADHD in me, they did nail down a bunch of things: a bunch of things that had lead me to question my abilities at just about everything.

For me, a lot of it lies in my processing speed and working memory. I can’t say I believe in “normal” too much, but in psychology, everything is about deviations from the norm. My processing speed is definitely one of those–it’s only higher than 2% of females in my age group. It also means I’m probably more inattentive and distractible. My working memory deficits makes it more difficult for me to manipulate information in my head. And you know what? That’s nothing that I didn’t already know. It just gave me more knowledge about myself and how to work with what I have.

In the last several years though, I’ve worked with a lot of kids. I’ve worked with a lot of kids whose parents knew something was different and acted on it to help their kids be the best they can be. And I’ve known some kids whose parents chose the other route.  Are their children struggling more than they need to? Are they being denied access to proper supports, both socially and educationally? Is the fear of a diagnosis hindering the child when having more knowledge could be helping?

Diagnosis: it’s not a label, it’s a bridge. Learning about how I learn, about how I have what might be called a learning disability? It’s made all of my struggles make so much more sense. It didn’t start anything new, it just underscored what we know I’ve always excelled in or struggled with. It’s help me maximize on the things I’m good at. It let me know that I’ve struggled for legitimate reasons with a lot of things . . . and I’m not dumb and it’s not my fault.

I have new plans. I have support at school. I have resources that can help me with my outside-of-school life–because that requires a lot of organization that I don’t rock with, too. I have new determination that I can do this.

But I can only imagine how much more settled I would be, how much more successful I’d have been at certain things, if I’d had this knowledge earlier.

My perspective, and this goes especially to parents: if you suspect you or your child may be experiencing specific struggles involving learning, attention, development or socialization. . . do something. Diagnosis of a learning disability, ADHD or a developmental problem is NOT a bad thing. It doesn’t change who you are, it doesn’t change who your child is. It just helps in acquiring the right resources to maximize success, not only academically, but in creating friendships, cultivating creativity, and reducing stress or anxiety.

It doesn’t define me–it helps explain me.