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APRIL 2007

In Their Own Words: MMC College Students Discuss Their Learning Disabilities

by Jacqueline bonomo, Ed.D.

In my almost ten years as full time learning specialist and Assistant Director of the program for Academic Access at Marymount Manhattan College, I have felt the deep gratification of witnessing the graduation of students who, a generation or two ago, might not have even attempted college. When asked by parents of prospective applicants the ingredients that promise success in a liberal arts college, Director Ann Jablon and I mention three essential ingredients-being “otherwise qualified,” acceptance and understanding of one’s own weaknesses, and a solid work ethic. In carefully reviewing psycho-educational reports of applicants, we look for students who are intellectually qualified, who have average and above average strengths in verbal reasoning, information, and comprehension and whose grades in high school courses indicate they can meet reading and math requirements. The student’s severity or combination of weaknesses cannot be so great as to make compensation unlikely. A learning disability should not be confused with overall low intellectual functioning, which indicates college is not a good match for the individual. Those applicants who don’t score at least a 450 on the Critical Reading section of the SAT are given the opportunity to show they can read on a college level by taking the Nelson Denny, a shorter test. Finally, through personal interview and examination of recommendations and teacher comments, we attempt to select those individuals who evidence self-acceptance and a willingness to work hard to overcome weaknesses. Often these candidates are driven by a strong goal orientation. But, enough talk of the abstract, ideal learning-disabled applicant. Perhaps the writing of Access students themselves will communicate the variety of people possessing these qualifications and encourage others like them to pursue college studies.

Having Dyslexia and ADD isn’ t very different from having a disease such as diabetes. It’s just that my conditions are neurologically based. But it’s who I am and part of me.

Students’ Share Their Thoughts about ADHD
At a young age I knew some things were different about me.(One school I attended for a few months posted gold stars under names for getting 100% on spelling tests. I remember not having any stars under my name (and probably never would) and that was upsetting). From second through fourth grades I attended a school dedicated to teaching the way each student learns best. Children were assigned to classes according to level of academic functioning, not age. I learned to read using the Orton-Gillingham system, and I learned how to learn in the manner that best worked for me. One of the areas in which I flourished as a child was in theater. I made many friends there and found lots of other children that also had learning differences. This led me to my degree program in theater with a concentration in arts management.  In college, sometimes I need to hear something in a way that someone might not say at first, so I have to ask the professor to try again to explain in a way that makes sense to me. Some students may not want to do this, but I feel I have every right to learn to the best of my ability and to be given every opportunity to succeed. In the Access Program, in weekly sessions with Dr. Bonomo, I have learned invaluable study techniques, including active reading and recitation. The program gives me the skills I need to thrive at the college level and is instrumental to my success. K.H., junior

My senior year of high school, I underwent weekly visual therapy treatment at SUNY Optometric College. While the therapy did not work for me, it did help me learn more about my print reading disability. It showed me some of the problems my eyes have following the words on a page and that I have the approximate reading rate of a first or second grader. My freshman year of college I spent several hours one Sunday afternoon looking at the same page of one of my textbooks without being able to read to the end of a paragraph. For a while I was able to complete reading using audio books through Reading for the Blind and Dyslexic and with the assistance of my learning specialist at MMC. But the RFBD did not have all of the books assigned. The Access Program introduced  me to the Kurzweil 3000 program, which reads aloud word documents. If you attach your computer to a scanner you can also scan books or pages and convert them into audio files for Kurzweil to read. While the software often has trouble reading some things correctly, the program has done a very impressive job with most of the books or newspaper articles I have thrown its way. I now use Kurzweil to read everything for all of my classes and probably would not be graduating without it. N.H., Senior

I never thought I could graduate college. Since first grade I always doubted myself and worried about my grades. I have always known that I had trouble with writing and reading comprehension. The Access Program has given me encouragement to get help in the areas that I need, while giving me confidence in those areas I can do on my own.

I have had an internship at the Burberry Public Relations Department for three years, and am the President of the Communications Honors Society. I also completed my Communication degree with a Business minor within four years. B.T., Senior

Throughout school, I had always been stronger in math than in reading and writing. Testing in my senior year revealed I had very solid potential in these areas, but needed some instruction. Tutoring sessions in the Access Program helped build my vocabulary, reading, note taking, and writing skills. T.M., freshman

Overcoming Attention Deficit Disorder has been a most challenging, yet rewarding experience. I had problems concentrating and completing assignments, as well as organizing everyday aspects of my life. I let this disorder take control. I avoided medication and using the proper resources. After struggling in school and other areas, I decided to make a change for the better. Since enrolling in the Access Program, I started to take medication and receive tutoring and coaching. I learned the value of time management and designed a realistic approach to my life. I received help in creating a schedule that organized my time by setting a certain number of study hours aside for the number of credits I was taking. Another important skill I learned was recitation and visualization for test taking. Before learning these techniques I just thought I was a bad test taker. The skills that I learned could help anyone who feels trapped in that category. You don’t try to memorize the material word for word, but put it into your own words and visualize it when possible. Using this method I created mock tests beforehand and performed better on actual exams.  I would recommend tutoring and coaching for anyone who wanst to learn how to better succeed in school and in life. J.R., junior

Jacquelyn Bonomo, Ed.D., is Learning Specialist and Assistant Director of the Program for Academic Access, at Marymount Manhattan College



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