How My Learning Disability Has Shaped How I View Writing

Gemma Tendrich
Guest Blogger

I love writing, the way you can use a few well placed words to describe the indescribable, how you can light up someone's imagination or move emotions with a few lines of ink on a page. But before that, my love lay with storytelling. Because for me, while storytelling came naturally, writing did not.

It was third grade when I was diagnosed with a learning disability that affected the way I processed reading and writing compared to other kids. It was strange for me to learn at the time. I had always loved books, I still begged my mom to read to me every night and she would write out the elaborate tales I would dictate to her and staple them together into makeshift books. It had never occurred to me that I was behind my peers when it came to reading and writing, or that loving either meant being able to read by myself or get the words down on paper with my own hands.

After I was moved into Special Education class for language arts, it became clear that others didn’t see my love for storytelling the same way I did. Other teachers would be angry that I couldn’t keep up with the group when writing journals, or for paraphrasing the notes in a group project to keep up with my partners. Kids who I had previously called friends teased me for having my mom still read to me, saying it made me a baby. It was almost like I wasn’t allowed to love reading and writing because of my learning disability.

The strange part about it was that the assumptions that others had of the kids in the special education rarely fit with the reality of what I saw. Sure, the other kids and I had trouble reading by ourselves, we would misspell words often and get frustrated at times that what we wanted to write was slow to translate from mind to paper. But all of us loved reading and telling stories. We were excited whenever our teacher would read us the next chapter of The Phantom Tollbooth, or when we got to make our own fictional diaries in the style of the Dear America books. None of us hated language arts like everyone else thought we did, we just needed help to catch up with the rest of our grade.
It was the encouragement of my Special Education teacher that started me on the path towards becoming a writer. But I would be lying if I said it wasn’t a frustrating path at times. While my love of writing and reading never wavered, through elementary, and even high school and college, I faced people who thought that me having a learning disability meant I could never be a writer, and that my passion was misplaced.

In December I will be graduating with bachelors degree in Writing Arts and Literature. My learning disability does not determine my interests, skills, or talents, but it has taught me to view reading and writing differently than some. I still see people roll their eyes at those who stumble over pronunciations when they read out loud, those who don’t understand how someone who wants to be a writer still struggles to spell “simple” words. To me, there is never a need to put someone down who is trying to read or write because it isn’t “correct” or they way you do it. I do not write despite my disability. It is a part of how I write, and it will never stop me from loving what I do.

Gemma Tendrich is currently a student and SUNY Plattsburgh where she studies Writing Arts and Literature. Originally from New Jersey, Gemma now calls Plattsburgh New York home. She has experience living with depression and anxiety as well as a learning disability and tries to incorporate aspects of these experiences into what she writes.


This is part of a monthly series of guest blogs. Each month NCCI will choose up to 2 submitted blog posts from North Country writers on disability-related topics. This is a paid opportunity. Click here for more information.