The protagonist of my second book, tentatively called THE SCIENCE PROJECT, has ADHD and Dyslexia, and so do approximately 15 to 35 million Americans, including Andy Kropp. Andy’s is a success story, and I am delighted to share it with you here.
Andy’s learning difficulties began surfacing in second grade when he found it increasingly hard to complete his work on time or to keep up with the rest of the class. “I started realizing I was the only one in the class who never got recess, because I had to stay in and finish the math.” But it wasn’t just math as Andy exclaims, “Reading was the worst.” Thanks to the encouragement and observations of one very caring teacher, Karol Matthews, Andy’s parents took him for testing. The tests showed that he has an attention percentage of 4%, along with dyspraxia (impairment or immaturity of the organization of movement) and dysphasia (language disorder).
Things went from bad to worse in the third grade, where his teacher actually called him stupid. Andy felt that she purposefully targeted him with difficult words in the classroom spelling bee, which he remembers as one of the most torturous events of his schooling. He chuckles as he recalls saying to himself, “why is this old hag bothering me about this?” But at the time, he often went home in tears, asking his mother why he was so stupid. At that point, Andy’s parents pulled him out of school and began homeschooling where he remained, along with his brother who also has ADHD, all the way through high school.
Andy credits Dr. Carolyn Hart of Mecklenburg Neurological for changing his life forever. She told him “you will succeed but you may have to do it differently and with a good secretary, but you will succeed.” Andy hung onto those words throughout his schooling. Another positive experience happened at Creating Avenues for Learning where he went every day for an intensive four months of reading retraining to make new pathways in his brain.
Andy is a classic example of one who has learned to compensate for the hand that he has been dealt. He knew early on that he would never “get over” his learning differences and as he says even now, “It’s a struggle with me every day.” When I asked him to talk about some of the quirks or pitfalls of his circumstances, he eagerly listed them off: he didn’t tie his shows or button his shirt until he was 10; he has a penchant for cracking knuckles, whistling, snapping fingers, sitting on his hands, breaking pencils, and stretching his hands and fingers repeatedly. He says his girlfriend and her parents are working on understanding why he doesn’t look them in the eye when he’s speaking to them. “It’s simple,” he says. “Looking at them totally absorbs me, to the point that I don’t listen and I lose the train of thought. I tell myself to look at her when my girlfriend is talking. And when she thinks I’m staring at someone, I assure her that I’m looking off into space the better to listen to her.”
Academically Andy has nailed it. A recent graduate of East Carolina University with a Bachelors in Music Performance on the Saxophone (remember his diagnosis of dyspraxia?), he is headed for the University of Northern Colorado with the long range goal of a Doctor of Music so that he can teach at the collegiate level.
How did he get this far? These are some of his tricks: loads and loads of flashcards for hard words to spell; breaking up 8 hours of practice with Netflix going on in the background (go figure); wearing a bracelet on the left wrist as a reminder of left and right; tying a string on left foot to know which foot steps off in marching band; drinking lots of caffeine before a performance; sticky notes everywhere; audible reminders on phone; developing a folder on his computer for files he needs to access; asking his girlfriend to read text to him; using a hand held recorder for note-taking; and relying on an almost perfect photographic memory.
When I asked Andy if he had advice for anyone facing similar learning differences he said, “find what works for you and don’t stop doing it.” It’s obvious that Andy was blessed with a strong support network of family and friends. But equally as obvious is the downright hard work that he has put in himself to get where he is today.
Kudos to you, Andy, and to all those like you who get around learning issues a “different” way until they achieve success.