03/05/2015 12:09 am ET Updated May 04, 2015

Intelligence and Learning Disorders Aren't Mutually Exclusive

While I was in high school, I had a lot of assistance in order to do well academically: I had an IEP (Individualized Education Program) that ensured I had an extra set of books to keep at home, modified exams in my classes, and extra time on standardized tests (both times I took the ACT took almost the whole school day).

Here's the twist; I was actually one of the smartest kids in my grade. I even graduated 19th out of 190 students.

How does a smart kid get an IEP? To start, you have to have a learning disability.

I have Nonverbal Learning Disorder, which means that I have a hard time visualizing things in my head. It also means I have spatial intelligence problems which made driving tricky (I no longer drive due to it triggering my anxiety, though I have practiced with others a couple of times to try and get back into it). Math was also tough to get a quick grasp of, though I could usually pull through with a B if I put in enough effort.

Especially during my senior year, I got nervous about how I would adjust to college life, and if I would even be able to adjust at all. I knew I wasn't going to be afforded the assistance that was given to me in high school, and couldn't shake the feeling that the math I would encounter there would be even tougher for me than it was in high school.

When I started school here in the fall of 2013, I got quite a surprise.

I came to realize that a lot of my fears over whether or not I would be able to survive academically on a college level were unfounded. While I have struggled in some classes even with a great deal of studying, I managed to pull through with the best grades I could get. Math isn't even as tricky as I expected; I've been able to do well on the homework assignments, and I even fared somewhat better on my first exam than I had anticipated. It wasn't an ideal grade, but I still showed that I was capable of handling the course; I just need to add a bit more effort.

I had a math assignment last Friday night that was really getting to me towards the end; I had three more answers to put in and I just could not figure out how to work the problem. I ended up texting my mom to tell her that I was giving up for the night and that I felt like (as is usually the case with math) a failure. She then responded with this: "You are not a failure. Just because it doesn't come easy for you doesn't define you. We all have our weak areas." After that, I made a last-ditch effort to get the problem done and they all turned out to be correct. Having a learning disorder can be tough, but it in no way means you can't academically succeed.