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Archive for January 2014

My previous article referenced the song “Defying Gravity” and the lines “I’m through accepting limits, ‘cause someone said they’re so. Some things I cannot change, but till I try, I’ll never know.”  This song can be a powerful anthem to anyone living with a disability determined to make the most of their situation and prove to the world that they are so much more than a diagnosis. In the first of this two-part series, I gave several examples of times in my own life when I overcame obstacles and proved that I am capable of succeeding despite my differences.

 
However, there are some times when, no matter how hard we try; we discover that there are some things that we just aren’t capable of doing. My ADHD is not going to magically go away someday, and there will always be limitations on the things that I can do. 
 
For instance, learning to drive was a struggle for me. As a teenager, the regular driver’s education program offered at my school wasn’t enough to prepare me for my license, and had to take several additional lessons with a special alternative driving school. Although many people with ADHD are able to learn to drive without any problem, it wasn’t the case for me as I also have other sensory and processing issues, including NLD (non-verbal learning disability). When I am focused on looking straight ahead, my brain turns off the signals from my peripheral vision in order to prevent constant sensory overload, a common condition in people with ADHD. I also lack the ability to perceive distance and depth; and to process spatial directions. As a result, driving on the highways and on city streets was impossible for me. I managed to pass my driver’s test and get my license, but I only felt comfortable driving on the suburban streets of the quiet New England town where I lived.
 
When I moved to an urban neighborhood as an adult, I had to learn to drive all over again. I took lessons with the same alternative driving school I had as a teenager, but this time, I was unable to progress. The combination of my ADHD and other learning disabilities just made it too difficult to process all of the necessary cues on the road to drive safely. I made the decision to stop driving altogether. I am fortunate that Boston has such an excellent public transportation system and that my family and friends are willing to drive me places.
 
At first, I was ashamed and felt like a quitter. I kept thinking of all my mentors who gave me advice such as, “If you try hard enough, you can succeed at anything,” and felt that the reason why I failed to learn to drive was because I hadn’t tried hard enough. Even worse, I felt that I had let my mentors down by giving up. 
 
Then I remembered “Defying Gravity” again. I took another look at the lyrics of the song, “Some things I cannot change, but till I try I’ll never know.”  Driving was an instance where I had certainly tried my best; and I discovered that this was something that I could not change, nor would I ever be able to change. Now, it was time for me to accept limits- not because “someone said they’re so” like in the song; but because I had tried my best and came to realize that some things are beyond my control. I realized that it wasn’t worth the possibility of getting in an accident where I could injure myself or someone else just to prove something. This wasn’t like learning to dance on pointe or auditioning for a play, because safety was a real issue.
 
Once, when I was out with my friend Lorie and she was driving us on the highway, I sighed and said, “I wish I that I could drive, too, so that I wouldn’t always have to rely on you.” Lorie just laughed and said, “Becky, I’ve told you a billion times, I don’t mind driving you!” I said, “I know you don’t, but sometimes I wish I could be normal like you and be able to do all the things you can do.”
 
Lorie then said, “Okay, first of all, none of us are normal. Normal is just a setting on the washing machine. And secondly, there are so many things that you can do that I can’t. You can sing, and play guitar and piano, and you’re such a good writer, and you’re so creative with words. I can’t do any of those things, and sometimes I wish I could. And just because you can’t drive a car doesn’t mean that you’re not in control of your life in other ways.”
 
I took a minute to muse on Lorie’s words, and I then I said, “So I guess what you’re saying is, even though I’m physically in the passenger seat of your car, I’m still in the driver’s seat when it comes to the road of life!” Lorie laughed again, and said, “See, that’s what I mean about you being creative with words. I never could have come up with something like that!”
 
I realize that although I have a disability, I am not without ability. All of us have limitations, even people without diagnosed disabilities. There’s a reason why they are called disabilities and not inabilities. There are some things that I am not capable of doing, but that doesn’t mean that I am helpless or a failure. As many have said, the only real failure is the failure to try.
 
Once you have tried your best, accepting that you can’t do something is not a sign of weakness or defeat; but rather a sign of strength and maturity. It takes a certain amount of strength to be realistic and acknowledge your shortcomings; especially if you’ve been told your whole life, “there’s nothing you can’t do if you try.” Humility is not easy.
 
So, when is it appropriate to keep trying your best until you get it right, and when is it appropriate to accept limits? When you are unable to progress any further and the life, health, or safety of yourself or someone else is at risk; that is when it is time to stop trying.
 
It’s also important to accept limits when looking for jobs and choosing a career. As I discovered as a teenager, it can be fun and exciting to challenge yourself to rise above your limitations by taking a class or starting a hobby that requires skills or abilities that you don’t currently have. However, it is not a good idea to use this same philosophy when applying for jobs. For instance, if you are not good at math, do not take a job at a bank because you want to use it as an opportunity to improve your math skills. Or, if you are deathly afraid of snakes and rodents and want to get over your phobia; it would be unwise to take a job at a pet store. You would be putting yourself in a situation where you would have to deal with a serious anxiety trigger every day, and you would be unable to effectively perform your job. In the real world, people will be negatively impacted if you make too many mistakes or cannot perform the basic duties of your job.  So do not apply for a job unless you possess the necessary skills or are confident that you can learn them without too much effort. For instance, I’ve only used PowerPoint a few times, but I would not be put off by a job description that required “proficiency in PowerPoint” because I am confident that I could easily master the intricacies of PowerPoint if given the opportunity. However, I have tried to learn to sew several times and discovered that my poor fine motor skills made it nearly impossible. Therefore, it would not be wise for me to take a job as a tailor or a seamstress.  
 
Above all; try not to be disheartened over the skills that you’ve attempted to learn and discovered that you weren’t able to master. Instead, focus on the things that you can do and the skills that you have, and you will be “flying so high, defying gravity!”
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This article previously appeared in  Perspectives: the blog of the Federation for Children With Special Needs.

One of my favorite songs is “Defying Gravity” from the musical Wicked. It contains the lyrics, “I’m through accepting limits, ‘cause someone said they’re so. Some things I cannot change, but till I try, I’ll never know.” To me, this song, performed by Idina Menzel, expresses the determination that I have always had to strive for success despite my ADHD, and my desire to challenge myself in new ways rather than defining myself by a label or a disability. I was fortunate to have parents and mentors who emphasized the importance of focusing on what I can do rather than what I can’t. I carried that philosophy with me throughout my life, and I am proud to say that it has led me to success.

 
In middle school and high school, I took a number of honors and Advanced Placement classes. I was the one of the first students on an IEP to take some of these classes. Some of my teachers were hesitant to make accommodations to classes that they had been teaching for years; arguing that since I was smart enough to be in an advanced class, I was “too smart” to need accommodations. After these teachers were informed that my disability was related to attention and processing rather than intelligence, and that they were required by state and Federal law to follow the guidelines in my IEP; I was able to do very well in their classes. I even got an A+ on my final project from the teacher considered to be the hardest and most critical grader in the entire school.  My success in these classes inspired other students on IEP’s to sign up for the classes in the years that followed; and they found that the teachers had become much more flexible about making accommodations.
 
 
 
My determination to rise above obstacles was not limited to academics; but extended to extracurricular activities as well. When I was five, my parents were advised by professionals to sign me up for ballet classes; in the hopes that they would improve my poor coordination and gross motor delays that resulted from my sensory integration disability. I enjoyed my dance lessons and also found a new mentor in my dance instructor; and continued to study with her throughout the years. Like all young ballerinas, I was eager to progress to the advanced level of ballet known as “pointe,” where the dancer performs on her toes, rather than the balls of her feet as beginning ballet students do.  Pointe requires the dancer to have significant muscle strength in her quadriceps (upper thigh muscles) after taking several years of ballet classes, and she wears special toe shoes instead of regular soft ballet shoes. Because of my delays, I was still dancing in soft shoes at the age of 14, while the other dancers my age had been on pointe for several years.  I was aware that pointe would be more of a challenge for me than for others and that I might not ever acquire the muscular strength necessary for pointe. However, I was determined to dance on pointe and I wanted to at least give it a try. My dance teacher allowed me to train for pointe, and by the end of my freshman year in high school; she told me I was ready. I got my first pair of toe shoes, and the following year, I performed a solo on pointe in the dance recital.
 
 
In addition to my attention and motor issues, I also had a speech disorder as a teenager. I spoke unintelligibly and often stuttered. Nevertheless, I did not let it prevent me from auditioning for my high school’s theater productions. I spent a lot of time practicing my monologue for auditions; and discovered that when I was reciting from a script I had memorized, I was able to speak completely fluently as I was putting all of my focus on how I was speaking rather than what I was saying. I introduced myself to the theater teacher; who later told me that he initially was hesitant to cast me in a speaking part because of my speech disorder; but then when he heard me read from the script at auditions, he was so impressed that he gave me a significant speaking part.
I was quite nervous at first; but he worked with me to make me feel at ease and perform my role with an acting ability that I hadn’t even known I possessed before. On the opening night of the play, the audience was fascinated by my performance. People couldn’t believe that this was the same girl who used to stutter every time she opened her mouth; and I was showered with praises and admiration when I walked out into the lobby after the show. I felt like a Hollywood star, and it was the highlight of my high school experience. Today, I no longer have a speech impediment, and I believe that acting played a role (excuse the pun) in making my speech fluent.
 
 
 
Throughout my college and into my adult life; I have approached each new situation with the same determination and confidence that I had in high school when taking an advanced placement class, learning to dance on pointe, and acting in plays. I attended a highly selective college and graduated in four years with a GPA of 3.16.  I wrote for the college newspaper, led a student retreat where I gave a talk, participated in an outreach trip to the Bronx over spring break, took voice lessons, sang in the college chorus, performed in a musical theater production, was on the dance team, served on a committee to educate students about violence prevention and safety issues, and still managed to find plenty of time to socialize and make many wonderful friends that would last a lifetime.
 
 
Today, I am married, have been employed at the Federation for Children for Special Needs in a variety of roles for over a decade, and own a home. I also have written a book , Distracted Girl, about my experiences growing up with ADHD, and have started writing a fictional novel. In addition, I sing in my church’s choir every Sunday, have taught myself to play guitar, and have written some original songs. I am also very passionate about politics and this past fall I volunteered on a campaign to get a candidate elected.
 
 
 I didn’t get this far by playing it safe. Had I not taken the risks; I never would have been able to achieve all that I have. It certainly hasn’t been easy for me, but the results were well worth it. I hope that you can be inspired by my story and learn that you, too, are more than just a disability or a diagnosis. Don’t be discouraged just because you have a specific condition that presents challenges. Just like the song says, some things you cannot change, but until you try you’ll never know!
 
 
 
This is not to say that I have succeeded at everything I tried, or that I have completely surpassed all the limitations that my specific condition presents. In fact, you may be wondering, what happens when you try your best at something and discover that you aren’t able to overcome obstacles or master the skill? And are there times or situations when it’s best not to try something new or to give up at attempting? I will address these questions in the second part of this series. Stay tuned!

Hello friends and followers!

I haven’t written anything on my blog in a very long time, because, well, I’ve been writing something else…..

distracted girl

That’s right! My book, DISTRACTED GIRL, is now complete and available for purchase! Order your copy today at Amazon!