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'Independence' Is The Scariest Word: My Life With Learning Disabilities

Posted: 06/06/2012 7:34 am

Bullying. It's getting a lot of attention. We hear almost daily of another story where someone who is considered "different" is laughed at, teased, pushed around -- or worse. And where teasing and bullying can lead to sad consequences.

Young adults with learning disabilities understand how hard it is to be "different." I am no stranger to these difficulties because I have learning disabilities, or as I like to call them, learning differences.

People like me have challenges with relationships and with school as a result of our differences. And these difficulties don't go away when we "leave the nest." Entering the "real world" only presents new challenges: dating, employment, managing finances, and more.

To me, independence is the scariest word in the English language. It's like sex, in a way. You're very curious about it. And you don't really know what it is until you experience it.

The truth is that I'm not really prepared to be fully independent. For one, my financial skills, on a scale from 1 to 10, are at about a 1. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to balance a checkbook. My sense of direction is pretty screwed up, too -- I get lost really easily, just kind of turned around. Even though I have a navigation system in the car.

And I don't just get lost, I lose things, too. Whether it's my keys or my medicine, I'm always having trouble finding something or other.

But you do the best you can with the hand you're dealt. And hopefully you don't go it alone. It's really hard sometimes, and I've wanted to throw in the towel. But it helps to know that there are people who believe in me.

And that's part of the reason I started FriendsOfQuinn.com, the only social website out there for people with LD -- so that everyone who feels just a little bit different or left out can meet others who understand, and know that it's okay. We're all in this together, and we can succeed.

"Friends of Quinn" was born and lived on Health Central, a health-related site, for several years. Recently I decided to branch out on my own, and today I'm launching a more social version of the site, with lots of new features:

  • It's the first website to use the "dyslexie" font, a new font that was created to help people with dyslexia read and write better. The font's designer, Christian Boer, has dyslexia. Christian is a great example of "owning it." Rather than letting dyselxie get the better of him, he turned it into a strength.
  • It's more visual. People with learning differences learn differently. So we're using lots of videos and photos to tell stories on the site. I'm posting a video series where I interview adults with LDs who have succeeded in life. I found a way to combine my interest in film and in journalism!
  • Most importantly, it's more social. If you are a friend, a parent or somebody "living with it," you can use the Friend Finder feature to find other people with similar interests -- whether it is in knowing more about dyslexia or being a big fan of science fiction movies. This site feature helps bring people who live with LDs together. You can even find people who live near you.

I want to help make people feel comfortable that it's okay to be learning-disabled. It's not just kids. There are grown-ups who are diagnosed with LD as adults. People are still finding out that they have learning disabilities, even into middle age.

Ever since I was diagnosed with LDs, a lot of people told me and my parents that I'd never do a lot of the things that I've done. One of my favorite things in life is proving those people wrong.

So many folks with LD are too afraid to tell their story. I'm willing to tell mine. It's not the world's most exciting roller-coaster ride or anything, but it's what happened to me. Maybe if I open up about my problems, no matter how embarrassing they might be, other people with learning disabilities might feel free to open up about theirs. I hope the website can be a forum for that.

Whenever I've been willing to tell my story, people usually respond. I've seen firsthand that it helps. On a sailing trip once with a group called Action Quest, I told the other kids that I was dyslexic. At the end of the trip, we all had to write letters to each other, saying what we learned from each other. One of the other kids wrote to me and told me that he was dyslexic, too, and that I was the first person he had ever told. And he never would have told me if I hadn't told him first.

This website fills a real need. There's nothing quite like it out there. In my biggest dream, the site can be a call to action for the whole LD community, to get people involved and connected. We are different. We've been bullied. And we've felt left out. But FriendsOfQuinn is a place where we can embrace our differences, laugh at our mistakes and celebrate our triumphs.

We have a motto at Friends Of Quinn: OWN IT!

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