University of Georgia freshman, Charlie Robertson, stands out among his peers because he works hard and it pays off. He did not always want this attention and says that, “When my parents first informed me about my learning disability and the necessary measures I would need to take in working around it, standing out from my peers terrified me.” After letting go of this mindset, he now advises kids with learning differences “to take pride in it, and embrace the uniqueness surrounding the way you learn.”
Kids Enabled interviewed this 2012 recipient of the RiSE Scholarship and this is what he had to say:
Kids Enabled: What were your biggest struggles growing up? What were your toughest challenges in the classroom?
Charlie Robertson: Growing up I had a much bigger temper and would allow the smallest problems to frustrate me a lot. I was also pretty sensitive and took things very personally, so even the smallest criticism or mistake would affect me for a long period of time. My biggest academic struggles were focusing for long periods of time and not allowing my mind to wander, and get anything meaningful from classroom lectures. I was also very stubborn in regards to asking for help if I didn’t understand material because I thought it would make me look stupid.
KE: How old were you when you were diagnosed with a learning difference? What is your earliest memory of struggling in school?
CR: I was 6 years old when I was first diagnosed with a learning disability. Even around first grade I remember struggling with any type of multiple direction-based assignments. A lot of my problems stemmed more from not knowing what certain assignments were asking of me more so than struggling with actually performing them. However, I do distinctly remembering getting my first C in 4th grade science, which was the first time I began to realize how much I struggle with non visual concepts and subject material.
KE: How did your challenges change as you progressed through elementary, middle school and high school?
CR: I think in elementary school my biggest challenges were learning to control my frustrations over not understanding how to perform tasks and assignments at first that would come naturally to everyone around me. As well as learning to be proactive and understand the importance of things that don’t excite me. When I got to middle school most of my challenges were definitely socially, and getting over my awkwardness and learning to talk to girls. Middle school was probably the only time in my life I was a relatively shy person. I just wasn’t very comfortable with myself and was terrified of looking different in social settings without a lot of friends, so I would just keep to myself. A lot of these insecurities definitely came through my learning disabilities and often times standing out in school, sports, or anywhere for not understanding basic instructions and how to do certain tasks right away. After overcoming and learning to adapt to a lot of the difficulties related to my learning disability, the biggest challenge for me in high school was time management. I’ve also been a pretty good studier but have never enjoyed doing homework or small tasks, so I would always put them off till the last minute and often times not do very well on them. So it dealt a lot with more of motivating myself to put time in to things that don’t excite me or I don’t enjoy.
KE: Were there any particular interventions or teaching methods that helped you make gains academically?
CR: With studying I had a lot of success with writing down information several times as well as using visual aids. I also always try to make word associations, or come up with phrases to help me with memorizing test materials.
KE: Did your struggles ever cause your self-esteem to suffer?
CR: It would hurt my self-esteem periodically through about middle school. Then I was able to embrace my auditory processing disorder as a kind of quirky part of my personality that makes me unique and my friends and I can laugh about.
KE: Did you feel prepared to go to college after graduating from high school?
CR: I felt very prepared for college going from high school. From a social standpoint I went on two different month long camps in high school where I didn’t know many people going in, so that helped prepare me for meeting new people and being on my own. Academically, I feel like in my last couple years in high school I really developed a strong work ethic and more of an interest for learning that has carried over into college. The biggest thing was realizing how most teachers really want you to do well so forming relationships with them and asking for extra help is the best way to succeed.
KE: What advice would you give to parents of children who struggle with learning challenges?
CR: I’d really stress the importance of the parents researching and getting to know a lot about their child’s particular learning disability. Then rather than talking about their learning disability with them as something negative, start by telling them the strengths that correlate to their disability. Because every learning (difference) has positives and areas where those particular people have an intuitive advantage in, and its just as important for kids to know their strengths as it is for them to know their weaknesses and how they should address them.
KE: What advice would you give a child who is struggling in school?
CR: Asking for help does not make you stupid, and don’t be afraid to try new studying and learning techniques that may seem weird but are associated to certain strengths your learning style allows you.
KE: How do you define success at this point in your life?
CR: I define success by never allowing yourself to get too comfortable and always being up for new opportunities or challenges. I also feel strongly that if you’re not willingly to put a full effort into something to make it a success, you shouldn’t do it all.
Charlie tells kids that are facing learning challenges that, “It takes a willingness to open up to learning something new about oneself each day being prideful, proactive and persistent in regards to the adversities that come our way.” Great advice for us all!
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