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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.