Not until adulthood did I know I had ADHD and dyslexia. Discovering my life's work helped me turn those challenges into assets.
by Janet George
This month’s guest blogger is Janet George, M.S., the co-founder of Fortune Academy in Indianapolis, Indiana. Having struggled with ADHD and dyslexia since childhood, Janet has made it her life mission to help students with learning disabilities realize their full potential by harnessing their learning differences as strengths.
My father called me a Chatty Cathy, even though my name is Janet. I guess I talked a lot when I was little. I had a lot to say and wanted to be heard.
As I grew up, I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I thought that I wasn’t smart. I struggled to figure out what teachers were lecturing about. I didn’t get it. It was as if I spent my school years wearing earmuffs, always missing out on important information.
My earliest recollection of school challenges came in the first grade, when my teacher moved my desk away from my friends and the classroom windows. Those “windows to the world” called to me often. I stared and daydreamed. It was easier than getting in trouble.
This pattern continued through high school. I studied, but remembered nothing. Teachers talked, but I comprehended little. Distractions filled my mind. I cried a lot and developed severe stomachaches.
College was wonderfully awful. The professor’s words did not stick. The material went over my head. It was then that I realized that if I were going to succeed, I would need to study differently.
I planted myself in the farthest corner of the school library in a study carrel. There were no visual distractions. Instead of just reading and highlighting the material, I memorized the book. I read a few pages of the chapter, closed the book, and tried to rewrite the pages, word for word. I checked my work against what was written in the text, closed the book, and rewrote it again until I got it all down.
I continued these memorization drills until I could rewrite the chapter almost word for word. This is how I learned. This is how I got through college and earned two masters’ degrees, along with my Fellow-level membership in the Academy of Orton-GIllingham Practitioners and Educators (AOGPE). I was motivated to prove to myself, and to others, that I was smart.
It wasn’t until I was in my 40s that I learned that my difficulties were due to ADHD and dyslexia. The two conditions have not gone away, but I view them differently now. My ADHD fuels my determination and resourcefulness. I enjoy finding solutions to things that people think can’t work.
When I worked as a reading instructor in a private school, an idea came to me. I thought, It shouldn’t be like this for these kids. There is a better way. I would start a school for them. Why not me? I could do it. I could see it in my mind, and I knew I’d found my passion. Fortune Academy — a school that helps kids with language learning differences and dyslexia succeed — was born.
Finding a passion is critical for those with ADHD. Without it, we feel trapped, bored, and restless at the same time. We zone out, and we feel underutilized, like a cog in a wheel. When ADHDers tap into their passion, they are unstoppable.
These days I see my learning differences as strengths. I can hold many tasks in my brain at once and visualize their completion. I love to problem-solve, and the freedom to try new things without the red tape. I especially love seeing children experience a new way of “doing school.”