Navigating a Learning Disability in a Pandemic
By Sophie Kellam
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, I was finishing my senior year of college and had to switch to remote classes. I have a Non-verbal Learning Disability (NVLD) which means that sometimes I have trouble reading social cues or finishing in-class activities that are time sensitive. I also have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). I experience social anxiety because my brain works a bit differently than my peers. Understanding how my brain works helped me to navigate the expectations of college, and when things started to grow uncertain, I was able to adapt quickly.
Online learning worked for me because of the strong support system I cultivated at the University of New Hampshire (UNH). I was also lucky to have the support of friends and family. I created a foundation for myself at college by translating my 504 Plan into my new academic setting using the UNH Student Accessibility Services. I also utilized programs to support my writing like those offered at the Connors Writing Center. However, the greatest support during this difficult time came from my teachers. They sparked the passion in me to finish my degree. They motivated me when I felt scared and uncertain. Out of respect for the time they put into a new online learning format, I wanted to participate to the best of my ability. They, too, were working with a lot of uncertainty, but still showed up for students and brought a sense of normalcy.
Strategies That Helped Me Cope
• Checking in frequently with my support system both at school and at home
• Changing my environment by going outside or being in a different room
• Being up front about my struggles and open to working in a different way
• Checking in with my teachers when I was confused or needed the assignment explained a different way
• Focusing on short-term goals instead of things that I could not control, like the pandemic
• Focusing on my strengths and capabilities rather than any perceived limitations
I was fortunate to live close enough to my college to go home when I felt overwhelmed or needed to talk something through. My parents encouraged me whenever I felt as though it would be better to just take the semester off and start over after the pandemic. While not attending a graduation was disappointing, I was able to adapt despite the struggles because I had people
in my life who understood me and celebrated my accomplishments.
Thoughts That Got in My Way and the Logic I Used to Battle Them
• I do not know if I am talking too much. The teacher is the mediator and will let me know. I am good at taking feedback.
• Am I straying from the topic or adding to the conversation? Being mindful and engaging with the class adds to the conversation. The teacher can guide the conversation back through mediation.
• Should I cut my losses and try again in the fall? I want this degree, I have a great support system, and I am a smart person who is capable of doing this.
• I seem much slower than my classmates. I do not know what my classmates are going through. What is best for the class is that I am present and contribute to
the discussion. If that doesn’t fit into the time constraint, I can find a way to work around it.
• What am I missing out on for my graduation? I am keeping people safe by not having an in-person graduation. My teachers are proud of me and my support system is celebrating me.
Although I had to take a class over the summer, I graduated Magna Cum Laude with a B.A. in Communication. My advice for students with learning or other disabilities who are in college during this time, or during other stressful events in the world, is to follow your own path and do your work in your own time.
My Advice for Learning During an Uncertain Time
• Have confidence in your education.
• Enjoy the successes – even the small ones.
• It is okay to be overwhelmed and to take a minute when you need it.
• You do not have to do it on your own. There is nothing that you have to prove. Use the supports available to you.
• Do not feel bad for taking accommodations or clarifying information and expectations.
It is your work, your education, and your experience. The way you learn may be different, but the experience is still yours. Give yourself some slack during hard times. Your own path is fine. Take the time to learn how your brain works and work with it.
Sophie Kellam is an intern at Disability Rights Center-NH.