My Educational Experience – Q&A with an adult adoptee

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what kinds of learning challenges you had.

Growing up, I had lots of concentration issues. The subjects that were hardest for me were reading and comprehension. I was on many different types of ADHD medications. All of these challenges spanned from elementary school all the way to college.

I’m now 23 and live and work in Santa Cruz at a rehab center as a cook, while training to become a substance abuse counselor!

What interventions/help do you recall getting? What worked best for you?

I got tutoring everyday over the summer, starting in second grade. I also did interactive metronome, neurofeedback and going to a separate individualized high school program, which based the curriculum around my interests. I also went to teachers during college for help.

I liked neurofeedback the most because it taught me how to focus without medication. The real hard work was finding something interesting to keep focused on, particularly during boring topics at school. Looking back at the tutoring, I still think of the tools they taught me, even though it wasn’t clicking in the moment as a kid.

How did you feel in elementary school?

I felt like the help I needed only made me feel more isolated from my class since I was always in the special ed classes. When I had speech therapy, I had the best time with my therapist and we played games, while improving my speech.

I remember struggling in timed tests for math. I was so embarrassed to have to take a 4-minute timed test versus a one minute test like my classmates. I still remember the day that I came into class ready to take the 1-minute test and aced it! All of the resource classes paid off.

I knew what hard work felt like, but I was so lost trying to get there. I was bullied in elementary school, so the days I skipped school I missed out on important things like reading a ruler or reading a clock. That was a huge reason for my loss in confidence. I couldn’t feel like myself in an environment where I was supposed to learn.

…in middle school?

The special ed classes in middle school didn’t feel as isolating, since there was a mix of seventh and eight graders. I didn’t feel different in middle school, probably because it was only two years.

…in high school?

I remember being in the mainstream history class and it was insanely hard to keep up and learn. I was then placed in World History 3 and that was way easier and doable. In high school I couldn’t relate at all to my friends since they were in mainstream classes. I don’t recall once participating in a book or homework talk with them.

I definitely had a lot of self image issues, which led to me acting out a lot. I was in the marching band all four years, but to be completely honest, I couldn’t read music. I could tell the notes apart, but not read rhythm. I just pretended to play.

I did math up till sophomore year and when I got an A in my final I felt so light headed. I was in shock that I had passed! Like for most teenagers, high school felt more like a social environment. I didn’t care about learning. The only place I had100% focus was the art department.

…in college?

College definitely measured up to the teachers sayings of “no one will hold your hand in college.” I had to study all day; my parents helped by quizzing me. The final quarter of my college career involved math. I was super nervous about it. Instead of doubting myself and letting myself fail or take the easy way out, I actually used the tools provided by the class and spent hours studying until I got it right. My garage where I studied was flooded with scratch paper filled with notes. I’d come home by 12:30 in the afternoon and I would study until 11 at night. I loved the rush of the hard work.

In college when I had to teach myself for hours, the biggest payoff was finally understanding a formula. I would run out of the garage and through the house screaming “I’M SMART!!! I’M A GENIUS!”

Then my parents would ask what I just learned and I’d say “I DON’T KNOW, BUT I NAILED IT!”

They would always be so confused as to why I couldn’t right then and there explain what I understood. But my brain gets too excited and can’t explain back what I just understood. That was my issue obviously with understanding throughout school.

How do you feel now?

I’ve been through a lot which led me to where I am now. I have learned lots of tools. The biggest one has been radical acceptance and mindfulness. Radical acceptance helps in acknowledging the learning obstacles in front of me, and mindfulness helps in overcoming it. Through being attentive and intentional with each action, I can do anything by breaking it down into little steps.

At work, I have to self advocate. This is a skill I developed a little later than I would have liked. Being able to speak up for myself has shifted my self esteem. I feel a lot more confident and in control.

What would you have liked your parents to have done differently?

My parents did everything right. I just was a kid – how was I supposed to know that being a kid meant you were scatterbrained and unfocused. But that lasted way longer than expected in my case.

I can confidently say they raised a fun, smart daughter. I know it must have been hard for them to see me struggle but a message for the parents out there: whether adopted or not, being a kid and growing up is tough.Your child’s experience will be different from your upbringing.

I’d say teach your kids how to accept issues head on and be involved in their life. You are the people who shouldn’t give up on them ever.

I put my parents through hell. Just ask them. I know they’re proud of me now. I faced all my issues and broke my bad habits. Now I work in health care full time and have an awesome house I rent with coworkers.

What message do you have for other kids with learning challenges?

When I was going through all the intensive tutoring in elementary school, I only felt embarrassment and just tried to rush through and fake my way through it. I realize now how much time I wasted running from help that was right in front of me.

Don’t trip over what other kids will think of you – only think of yourself. Keep in mind that everyone learns differently and that’s what will make you most unique. If you like something, explore it.

Not everything school teaches you will apply, but keep an open mind when learning because you may find the thing most useless is something you use every day. I am a cook and knowing measurements for food is super important!

I’d also advise kids to talk honestly to adults about their experience with learning (if they remember).

I wanted to share all this with you because while growing up, I was always told to stick with it, focus, and be patient. But I never understood why till I was 23 years old.

Ask for help from your teachers too! Be bold kids!!!!! Be confident!!!! Speak up for yourselves and you’ll go so far!!!

(See companion article Learning Challenges – there’s light at the end of the tunnel)

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Tami Hansen
Tami Hansen
2 years ago

What a beautiful story from one of the best students I ever had the pleasure of working with. Keep up the great work. I love how you are helping others. You always told me you wanted to work in a helping field and I am glad you are following your dream.