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Mom’s Special Little Butterfly

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By Ashley Pell

I can’t really remember when my mother
first told me I was special. It was
probably when I was still too young
to remember anything. My mom wasn’t
the only one to call me special, my three
older brothers always joked about me being
a different kind of special and called me
stupid. That’s what older brothers do though,
they pick on their little sister, but only they
get to. It never bothered me until I had to go
into speech class in the first grade. I couldn’t
pronounce the letter ‘r’ properly, and all
three of my brothers have an r in their name
somewhere. They stopped making fun of my
speech once they learned I was getting help
for it. The letter ‘r’ wasn’t my only problem
in first grade. I couldn’t read sight words: as,
a, an, I, am, was, and, us, all. Those weren’t
the only things I couldn’t read either.

My second and third grade teacher
observed me throughout every class and
noticed something was different about
me. One day when all the other kids
were reading their book assignments, she
called me up to her desk. My heart started
pounding. Had I done something wrong?
No, it was nothing that I had done. She
wanted me to read a couple of words that
any third grader should know, and it was
then that I knew I was caught. I stared at
the paper and felt my face getting hot with
embarrassment. I looked back at her with
tears in my eyes, and she told me it was okay.
She wrote a note for me to give to my parents
which I gave them once I got home. My
mother read the note, looked at my father,
and back at me. She smiled at me and told
me that I was her special little butterfly.

How had an 8-year-old gone through
four years of school and no teacher realized
she couldn’t read? I had my ways. I was very
observant in class and did what the other
kids were doing. I also had great listening
skills and paid close attention to every word
that came out of my teachers’ mouths.

I was put in what my elementary school
called the “reading room.” It was there that
I learned how to read. I was in that room
every day throughout the rest of third grade
and all through fourth grade. The teachers
in the reading room made fun games that
would get us to learn how to read. I swear I
did 60,000 worksheets in that room in one
and a half years. Once fifth grade came up, I
thought I was in the clear. Sure, I could read,
but could I comprehend? The beginning of
fifth grade was a whole new ball game than
what I had previously been playing. Since
second grade, I hadn’t taken language arts
because I was in the reading room during
that time. It was a much faster pace being
in the regular class and it showed that I was
struggling.

My fifth-grade teacher set up a time for
me and another student to get together once
every week with a mom to help us with
reading. We would go somewhere private in
the school and do reading activities. Once
the mother realized that I and the other girl
needed constant help, a meeting was set up
with parents, teachers and the principal.
I had an Individualized Educational Plan
(IEP) made to fit my needs, which were extra
time on tests and working on my reading,
fluency, and word recognition. In other
words, I was put into the special education
program. Once I was placed in there, I beat
myself up, saying I truly was special.

When I knew deep down that I needed
more help than I was getting, I picked up a
book. I finished my first ever book in sixth
grade, even though it took a year to read
those 309 pages. I kept finding books to read
to try and better my reading skills, which
slightly worked. There was still something
wrong though. It wasn’t that I still couldn’t
read fast, or that I was actually reading for
fun. My attitude changed to an insecure
comedian.

In seventh grade, I was the class clown. I
started to make fun of my disability to make
people laugh. It made me feel better about
myself, knowing that what was wrong with
me made others laugh. They got so used
to me joking about not being able to read
properly, they joined in. Once the other kids
started to joke, I would be hurt, but at least
they laughed at what I said. I still joke about
my disability with people today so that they don’t see what I think is wrong with me.
It’s turned into a security blanket, laughing
about myself.

According to a few tests that I had taken,
I was no longer eligible to be in the special
education program in eighth grade. I had
answered comprehension questions with 100
percent accuracy and my Lexile level was
937. Just by doing that, I was booted from
the special education program.

Once high school came, things were
different. It was easier for me to hide behind
the other students and not get the help that
I needed. I asked my teachers if I could leave
the class to take tests, as I was struggling
with them because I couldn’t understand what I was reading. All the teachers were
fine with it, until one wasn’t. She suggested
that I get a 504 plan, which would ensure
that I get certain accommodations to be
successful throughout my academic life. My
mom and counselor got together and made a 504-plan stating that I had an anxiety and
comprehension problem while taking tests.
This allowed me to get extra time on tests,
even state-issued ones.

Now that I am in college, I have to learn
how to be my own advocate. My mom
cannot call my counselor or email a teacher
and let them know about my history. I need
to let the professor know that I struggle
with reading and testing by myself. Being in
college, I have to study more than I did in
high school. It is much harder to study for
classes when it takes me longer than others
to read a chapter, or to read through my
notes. Having a disability through college
is going to be difficult, but I know I can
make it if I apply myself and always study.
When letting my professors know about my
struggles through high school, they agreed
to help me and make sure that I get through
the course.

There are several options
for those with disabilities
on campus. Contact GRCC
Disability Support Services.
disability@grcc.edu
(616) 234-4140