Maxx Nelson

My senior speech is a story of growing up with learning differences.

First grade was the worst year of my life. It was the year that I noticed my challenges, and I began pulling back in school; I realized at an early age that my brain worked differently, and that I wasn’t like everyone else in my class. School was easy for my classmates.  When they were called on to read a page in Junie B. Jones, there was no hesitation; the words didn’t float along the page; their speech was fluid. 

When it was my turn to answer a question, I became paralyzed.  I knew the answers but they were trapped. I imagined a locked box in my brain holding all of the information that I knew, but there was no way to access the words. To escape my humiliation, I would rush to the bathroom and stay there until the recess bell rang. Eventually, my teachers stopped calling on me. Even though I was relieved, I was ashamed and terrified my classmates and friends would catch on. In second grade, I was diagnosed with an auditory processing disorder, expressive language challenges and dyscalculia. The specialists who tested me referred it to as a “triple whammy.” 

Although I was able to understand most of the subject matter I was learning in school, it was extremely hard for me to verbalize my thoughts; all of my ideas were stuck in my head. Reading was difficult because the words would flip. But once we knew where the issues were, the real work began. My auditory processing problems made me aware at a young age that the only way I could retain information was through repetition. Over the summers, while my friends went off to sleepaway camp or played at the beach, I spent hours working with tutors, educational therapists, and a speech pathologist. 

Although elementary and middle school were excruciating at times, I discovered one of my greatest strengths: I am a hard worker. My determination to acquire the same knowledge as my peers -- even if I  used different methods -- I was able to overcome my roadblocks. Learning how I learn best has been a valuable tool. By freshman year, I was no longer that little girl who hid from the answers; I became the student who raised her hand with confidence. 

My learning challenges are part of who I am. I am not ashamed or embarrassed of them.   Self-Advocacy has helped me navigate my educational journey. The tools I have acquired throughout my years of managing my learning issues serves me extremely well. I have spent many years feeling insecure about my learning differences, but I now know my learning difference do not define me but are a part of who I am. These are skills that have given me great compassion for others who struggle in many areas of life and will be essential as I move on to college.