By Dale S. Brown
I was a child with learning disabilities. My perceptual problems
involved all of my senses. I saw double until second grade, when
I had surgery. After the operation, my eyes still did not work well
as a team, causing figure-ground and depth perception problems.
My eyes tracked improperly, and it took me a long time to learn
to discriminate visually and focus.
I had problems in auditory sequencing, memory, discrimination
and processing. My sense of touch was also poor. I had apraxia,
meaning that my brain had trouble telling where my body was in space
and I had no internal sense of direction.
Luckily, my family was wonderful. Here is a letter to my grandparents,
written when I was 11.
"Dear Grandma and Grandpa," I wrote. "I felt like
writing you, but I couldn't think of much letter-talk...I mean besides
the fact that it is snowing. School is fine. So is Girl Scouts.
And, of course, I love and miss you. But, I still want to write
you a nice long letter. So, I decided to write you about my life."
The Bad Day
I suppose this day started as usual. Barbara, our next door neighbor,
started taking me to school. I don't remember any of these walks.
Then I entered. I sat down at my desk.
I sat and sat and sat. I wiggled. I remember raising my hand.
The teacher called on me. I stood up. "I'm tired of just sitting
here," I said.
"Well," she told me. "You're a big girl now. You
have to sit and pay attention to learn." I sat down.
Came reading. I did the paper. It was especially neat. So the teacher
gave me a 100 percent. Immediately, the whole class jumped up to
tease me and gave me such comments as, "Look at this A."
The teacher quieted them down. I felt so happy and wanted it to
look pretty so I took a pair of scissors and fringed it. The class
let the teacher know. She tore it up. I wasn't happy.
The next lesson was worse. So, the teacher moved me by Robin,
the "little peanut," I called her gaily, for she was quite
small. Robin was very neat. She pulled out her workbook. The pages
were white - not like my pages. All of mine were smeared and sweated.
I had asked and asked for another workbook, but the answer was always,
One day, I had a bright idea. I traded my workbook for her workbook.
Unfortunately, she told the teacher. They were exasperated with
Soon it was lunch. We lined up. I tried to line up. I tried to
line up behind Martha. The reason was, I thought she was quite pretty.
I wish she'd pay attention to me. But then, no one else did.
At lunch, I had a bright idea. Just why not cut my peanut butter
sandwich with scissors? Nice little, bite-size pieces. Smooth edges.
Why not? I turned it over in my mind a couple of times. Then, calmly,
I took out a pair of scissors and cut my sandwich.
"Dale," came a sharp, surprised voice. It was my teacher.
"Using a germy pair of scissors to cut a sandwich!" I
was surprised. I didn't know what she was talking about. With that,
she put the sandwich in the trash can.
A bell rang signifying recess. We went outside. I just stood around.
I watched everyone else play, but I didn't. My heart wanted friendship,
but I was learning about the world. They already knew.
We came in to have art. I broke my blue crayon a second time.
I looked at everyone else's crayons. Beautiful with the paper still
on. And then at my own: each was broken at least once. None had
the paper covering on it. All were mutilated from my hot, sweaty
hand. I can still remember bringing them home on the last day of
school as one big mess.
I went home. Mommy helped me learn. We sat at the black and white
kitchen table. I read some stuff to her. She helped me with spelling.
And so ends the day.
Now I will tell of another day. It was an unusual day. We were
going on a field trip to a shopping center. Well, everything went
fine until our teacher decided to treat us to a drink. I drank.....and
when I finished everyone was gone. Well, I don't remember what happened
after that. But I got home somehow.
Well, what about second grade? I tried to sit still, but sitting
still made me tired. Another thing I remember is trying and trying
to do things in gym. I remember trying and trying to bounce a ball.
It kept flying across the room. I couldn't move my hands fast enough
to catch a ball either. They tried to teach me to skip, but I didn't
know how to hop.
I can tell you I had real social problems. I have memories of
recess. I would stay on the sidelines and watch, wanting to join
their fun, only I was no good at jump-roping and all of the swings
were snatched away from me.....People would make up little plots...I
remember when Linda and her jump-roping friends got up something.
"Hey," exclaimed Linda. "I've got real mean idea."
(She didn't know I was right across from her.) Then she leaned over
to her friend and whispered something. Then she turned towards me.
"Dale," she said in an especially warm, sweet voice.
"Wouldn't you like to jump rope with us?"
"Yes," I said. I don't know if I was scared, happy,
suspicious, or frightened. Then she added, "It's a different
rope today." I nodded. When we went outside, she had two people
stand opposite each other and pretend to turn a rope. I don't remember
what I did, but I remember later watching them jump rope as usual.
I had no sense of time. I remember coming in from recess one day.
I walked down the hall to class. I sat at my desk. Everyone looked
"This is my desk," someone said. I stared at her.
"It's my desk," I said. The other children began to
laugh. Then the teacher walked in. "Dale, you are in the wrong
class," she said. "You're in the fourth grade now."
She led me to the right classroom.
Fourth Grade...The Good Day
My teacher had black, curly hair. Her name was Miss Johnson. One
day she asked the class to write a paragraph on Thanksgiving. I
wrote a poem instead. It went like this;
God, Why Don't You Celebrate?
God, you who made the earth,
You who made the sky.
You who made the fishing sea.
Oh, you must be up so high.
And you who made me.
We thank you for the food,
for your best gift, nature,
our thanks to you.
So, dearest God, why?
Why don't you celebrate
For all the hard, hard
work you've done?
Just to make the world
You who made everyone.
When Miss Johnson read everyone's paragraph, she asked me to stay
in during recess. I stayed in, waiting to be yelled at, because
I hadn't followed directions. I had written a poem instead of a
"Dale, this is a very good poem," she said. "Do
you write poems often?"
"Sometimes," I replied.
"What do you do with them?"
"I send them to my Uncle Jack or give them to Mommy."
"Good," she said. "Well, let's do a secret project,
just you and I, OK?"
I nodded, feeling like a grown-up as she told me about the secret.
"I want you to make a poetry book. While the other students
have their handwriting period, you can write your poetry in your
"OK!" I said.
"You wrote this poem very neatly," she told me. "I
know you'll write all your poems this well, because we want people
to be able to read them. Now, let's pick out some shiny construction
paper to be the covers of your book."
I jumped up and down with excitement. I loved shiny construction
paper. We went to the closet to pick it out. I decided I wanted
red paper. I was so happy, I skipped out of the room.
"Why, Dale, I didn't know you could skip!" she said.
"That's very good!"
If she hadn't been so nice to me before, I would have thought
she was making fun of me. One of the problems with learning to skip
in fourth grade instead of first or second is that nobody says "good
girl" to you. You might feel happy as your body learns to do
new things, but everyone else has learned it already and thinks
it's babyish. So, Miss Johnson made me happy by telling me I was
This article was first published in 1980 in Academic Therapy
Reprinted 1980 Disabled USA Magazine
Dale Brown is the author of five books on disabilities and
employment including Job Hunting for the So-Called Handicapped which
she coauthored with Richard Bolles. She also authored Learning A
Living, A Guide to Planning Your Career and Finding A Job for People
with Learning Disabilities, Attention Deficit Disorder, and Dyslexia,
published by Woodbine House.