I didn’t know it growing up, but I have several learning disabilities, including ADD. I was actually diagnosed with ADD in my sixties. The medication works wonderfully but it keeps me from sleeping, so I can only take it once in a while.

I learned of my other learning disabilities when my son was diagnosed in college. I realized that I have been plagued by the same disabilities that he has. When I was young, I was just considered anxious and a slow learner.

David in college

From high school on, through college and law school, I had to put in way more time than my peers did to learn class material and do well in school. Here’s what I had to do to master the material I needed to know for exams. I had to underline the reading material when I read it for the first time. Then I had to go back and reread the underlining, highlighting the most important parts. Then I had to reread the highlighting and turn it into an extensive outline. That detailed outline then had to be condensed into a shorter outline that I would read over and over until I had it memorized.

I also had to take copious notes during classes. I filled several notebooks by the end of each semester. It puzzled me that often, when I read over my notes, it was as if I was reading the material for the first time. I often had no memory of parts of the class lectures.

Me in high school

It turns out that this is a symptom of a learning disability. I forget what it’s called. But it basically means that I can’t aurally absorb the content of the lecture while I’m physically taking notes on it. The act of note taking itself cancels out my ability to learn and retain what I am hearing. I can’t walk and chew gum at the same time – and remember what I was doing.

To study for a test, I went through a similar process with my notes than I did with the reading material. I had to read over my notes and highlight the key passages. I then had to go back and reread the highlighting and incorporate the information into my voluminous outline from the reading material. My master outlines were often 20-30 pages long.

Me in college

It turns out that there’s a physiological reason why I had to go through that laborious process just to learn what I needed to know for a test. Another learning disability involves short term and long term memory. Some people only need to hear or read something once or twice before that piece of information is transferred from the short term memory section of the brain to the long term memory section. For me and for my son, we have to be exposed to that piece of information maybe four or five times before our brains move it from short term to long term memory.

The good news for us, is that people like us are often better able to use the information and integrate it with other information in our brains. But it takes us longer to remember it in the first place.

Me in law school

My first husband, Larry, was at the opposite end of the spectrum learning wise. He had a mind like a sponge. He heard or read something once and he knew it. It was very frustrating for me to watch him study when we were in law school together.

Larry just listened in class. He took minimal notes, usually only jotting down a word or two to remind himself of the subject matter discussed that day. When he studied for a test, he just flipped through the text book, refreshing his memory of the material covered. He used to urge me to stop taking notes – to just listen and absorb in class. He didn’t understand that I couldn’t. I would never remember what had been discussed unless I wrote it all down.

Larry’s quick study abilities got him into trouble with his first year study group. Study groups are an essential part of the first year of law school. Five people get together and study for tests. Each person outlines one of the five first year classes for the other four. One person would have a hard time outlining all five classes. There was just too much material.

Larry in law school

Larry was assigned Torts as his subject to outline for his study group. When they met around exam time, everyone brought their ten or so page typed outlines. Everyone except Larry. He brought a single legal sheet of paper with, basically the chapter headings of the text book hand written on it. That was all he needed to study for the exam. He had ‘learned’ the material as he went along during the semester.

His fellow classmates were livid. Larry didn’t understand what their problem was. He didn’t even know how to write a detailed outline. The four other study group members had to divide up the Torts material between them and go home and outline the class themselves. Larry got an A in Torts. None of the others did. They were not happy with Larry!

So I have first hand experience with the wide range of learning styles that people can have. I am, unfortunately, on the slow end of the learning curve. But at least I now understand why. It’s not my ‘fault’. That’s just the way my brain works. I don’t beat myself up about it any more or feel bad because of it. I’m jealous of faster learners, but I accept that this is just who I am.

Categories: #Photography, Childhood, Education, Mother and motherhood, Parenting and parents

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14 replies

  1. I think they’ve barely scratched the surface about “learning theory”. We all have our own methods and to think that there’s only one way to do it, doesn’t make sense. We are all different and the sooner the educators acknowledge it, the better.


    • Some progressive schools let kids figure out how they learn best. Some people are visual, some are auditory, some are tactile, etc. But unfortunately, most public schools don’t have the resources to accomodate learning differences in their huge student body. I saw a Michael Moore documentary that talked about education in Finland. They are light years ahead of us. They turn out curious students who want to continue to read and learn on their own and know how to do it. They motivate and nurture their students. It’s encouraging to see that it is possible. We just have a long way to go in the States. Making education a priority would be a good start for us. But that won’t happen with Republicans in power.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I can appreciate your problem. I have difficulty remembering what’s said to me, but a half hour later most of the convo comes back, one bit at a time. It’s as if it has to trickle down a long long way. Even phone calls. I tell my husband, give it a few minutes, and I’ll remember.

    If I really want to recall something I write it down: shopping lists, directions, whatever, and most times I never need to look at the list again. and if I need to remember something, I rehearse it, out loud so i can hear ME saying it.

    And if you hand me a paper as Im leaving the room, I will discover it later in my purse and think, where did this come from? sigh.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve started writing things down immediately. I don’t trust myself to remember to write the note if I wait more than a few minutes. I will totally forget that the topic came up, until I’m faced with what I was supposed to do and didn’t.

      Liked by 1 person

      • One of the reasons I have no school photos until the 7th grade, the teacher would remind us at the end of the day ‘don’t forget your picture money tomorrow…” and we’d sail out the door. So did her comment.

        So many times leaving the doctor’s office only to find myself clutching a sheaf of papers while I sit in the car sorting them out…oh dear, this was a bill. Oh dear, what is THIS? Together we’d be a disaster, reminding each other and denying it ever happened, lol.


  3. I’m a fast learner and an even faster forgetter. I can pick up stuff instantly, remember it for a very short while, and completely, totally, and fully forget it immediately afterwards. It was a useful tool, professionally, but it’s embarrassing these days since I did a lot of stuff, but can’t remember most of it.

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    • I have the remembering problem too. There are things I know I learned and read about but I can’t for the life of me remember a thing about it. Some things just never make it into long term memory for me at all. I managed to do well on tests but I probably forgot 80% of the information within 24 hours.


      • That was useful when I was working. I could load up on the project, finish it, and forget it before the next one. These days, though, I forget EVERYTHING. I have about a 5 minute window, after which … it’s gone. Since Garry is approximately the same, we try to write everything down. I always think I will remember it, but I don’t. I’m glad I’m not alone. Sometimes, I think it must be early dementia.


  4. The fast learners are probably jealous about you too, in the way you can make interesting connections with information Slow processing doesn’t mean dumb, but yes I get you. It’s very tiring.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Being a slow learner is a problem when volumes of material is being thrown at you at warp speed, like in college and in law school. It takes much more of a committment and an affort to get to where other people get to easily, or at least quickly. I’m glad I didn’t understand until later how much more time I had to to put into studying than most other people did.

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