I was an intern with Eye to Eye for 4 years. When I first discovered the organization, I had just been identified with dyslexia & ADHD at 18 years old. I felt lost & defeated. I thought my learning & attention issues were a huge deficit in my life. After just a few short weeks being embraced by the Eye to Eye community, I came to realize my learning & attention issues brought me many more strengths than struggles. Eye to Eye truly changed my life. This nonprofit has changed the lives of countless amounts of students & young adults. I feel honored to be a part of this amazing community.
As a college student with ADHD, I know a lot of people understand my disorder to be embodied by that loud, impulsive class clown who probably was never on top of things academically, but that is not me; that is a stereotype based on a stigma.
Because February is #Strikeoutstigma month, I wanted to share just a little more depth about my experience with navigating life with a learning disability, and additionally featuring my take of what Eye to Eye has meant to me.
I always knew I learned differently, and at a different rate, but I had no idea how able I was! It’s been a long road of often taking a lot longer than my peers to master a skill, many repeated “could you explain that again please”s, unending grit, figuring out strategies to help myself understand things and learn, learning to not become discouraged when I ended up at the back of the pack, humbling myself enough to ask for help time and time again, and ultimately, self acceptance.
It would have been EXTREMELY easy for me to lose hope and motivation, to get lost in the shuffle, but I’ve made it further than I ever thought I possibly could, and it’s partially thanks to the support I’ve received from my family, friends, and teachers. Even before I got a diagnosis, a number of my teachers reached out to me, encouraging me to ask for help back when I wasn’t comfortable doing so, and giving me accommodations simply because they saw my potential and wanted to give me the tools I needed to succeed.
Although I had been recently diagnosed with my learning disability when I entered college, I didn't really understand what it meant and where it stood within my identity, and I felt rather alone. When I discovered that my university had a program called "Eye to Eye," which mentored younger students who have learning disabilities and did art projects with them, I was hooked! I loved art, and felt a mentoring experience would be enjoyable. I had no idea how much more than a partnership and literal art room Eye to Eye was.
Within my first semester, not only did I get to do fun art projects, but I became immersed in a community of people just like me. For the first time in my life, I met people just like me who had faced similar obstacles and continued to face similar obstacles but like me, found ways to persevere and really make it. We still to this day share our daily struggles of tackling college with learning disabilities and even exchange strategies for coping with our challenges, both socially as well as academically. These conversations are crucial to have and I have been blessed to not only share them with other mentors my age at Eye to Eye, but the mentees as well. They too are on their journey as LD students, and I have received extremely helpful tips and advice even from these kids who are nearly half my age! It has been a true breath of fresh air, and leaves me looking forward to attending art room each week.
Additionally, the mentees reminded me of a younger versions of myself and I longed to reach out to them and help them receive the community, support, and understanding that I had been lucky enough to receive in school. But even more, I wanted to be the role model for them that I had never had; proof to them that others with their diagnoses, who had faced their challenges, had truly succeeded and made it to an excellent, top ranked college.
Growing up, I often doubted my own potential because I never got to see people who I could identify with who would go on to do things like this- it seemed to me that everyone who got into top rank universities (like my life-long dream school and current school of attendance, UW-Madison) were top of their class, valedictorians who were probably involved in every student activity under the sun. It seemed so out of reach; a place not meant for people like me. Although I persevered through my challenges and made it to where I am today without such role models, I am so very proud to be a role model to offer hope and inspiration to the younger generation of brilliant students who learn differently.
So, looking back at my own journey, I am fervently passionate about striking out stigma and empowering the 1 in 5 who learn differently. It bothers me when people lament “ADHD is over diagnosed,” or “I wish I had some ADHD meds to get me through this paper.” Regardless of frequency of diagnosis, I believe it is crucial we reach out and support all those who learn differently and at different paces. Creating awareness and offering help to those who need it is a way to level the playing fields and help people like myself realize and seize their potential. I truly believe Eye to Eye is doing a tremendous job at doing all of these things. It both offers aid to people like me who have lived their lives learning differently, as well as the next generation who also lives this way, and finally, those who do not fall into these categories but need to be educated and made aware. I will forever be grateful for how Eye to Eye has offered me the opportunity to both serve others similar to me and find my identity with and among them as well (#LDProudToBe!) The more stories we share, the more we can understand and help each other and ourselves.
Eye to Eye is an amazing nonprofit. My first experience with their community was mere weeks into my freshman year of college. The bonds I made with my fellow mentors as well as my mentees helped to guide me throughout the rest of my time at the University of Pittsburgh.
Eye to Eye's program is based in the concept of leading by example. This meant that change and development was not only an outcome for mentee but mentors as well. Eye to Eye created an environment where I was not only proud to have dyslexia but I can see the strength in being a different thinker both in school and the office. Eye to Eye allowed us to create connection with middle schools in our area and start changing the conversation about what it means to have a learning disability for students, parents, and teachers. It was amazing the difference we saw in our middle school students over the course of a single year.
I am now in my sixth year as a member of the Eye to Eye community and it continues to provide support and encouragement to me as I move forward in my career. I look forward to remaining an active member of their community.
Hi Mallory, Thanks for sharing your story! We appreciate all you have done as a member of our community! We look forward to many more years ahead! -Eye to Eye