By Adele Saccarelli, Founder of Teamwork Wins Ltd.
I struggled at a young age with several Invisible Challenges™ , but I don’t remember exactly when I developed my unique coping skills, the skills that would get me through each grade. Hyperactivity, dyslexia and auditory processing difficulties are not conducive to traditional methods of teaching or learning.
It was difficult to stay focused with hyperactivity in school, except on the soccer field, basketball or volleyball courts, where I was able to move. No matter how hard I tried, I annoyed every classroom teacher I met. Because I could not focus like the average child, I was unable to learn at a similar pace as other kids and fell behind in my academic studies.
School subjects were as interesting to me as to any of my classmates. I was intelligent, but because I could not meet educational standards in an accepted way, people perceived that something was wrong with me. I was inappropriately judged for poor grades. The system was not working for me, but everyone insisted that I had to make it work without teaching me any tools with which to do it. There was no consideration given to my unique needs to achieve the same understanding as everyone else.
So I discovered a useful coping skill to get by. Not necessarily a healthy skill, but it was a functional skill. I developed a connection with all my teachers. I knew everything about them: what made them tick, how they wanted things to look in their mind or in their issues, their weaknesses and strengths, what type of people they liked or disliked, and what made them comfortable.
If I got all this right, maybe, just maybe, they would give me a break on keeping up with the others academically and getting good grades. If you asked them today what they remember about me, they would probably say “She's a great girl, inquisitive, with such perseverance. She was enthusiastic about learning, but always struggled with the testing.” I attempted to express myself in regards to my needs, but I was not very smooth in my communication, so I made up for it in my personality.
It didn’t take me long to realize that the method that I was using in grade school and high school, no longer would worked in college. The professors were more removed from individual students and felt distant. “Here’s the work, here’s the deadline” was drastically different than the style of schooling I knew, and was not conducive to my previous coping skills. Receiving a failing grade of 42 on my first western civilization test confirmed this. I had already slid in to East Stroudsburg University’s June/January program where you could attend college in June immediately following senior year of high school. Passing with three Bs meant eligibility to return in the fall; any lower grades delayed return until January.
Starting classes in the fall did not look possible.
When my western civilization professor, Dr. Muncie, handed back our first tests that dayin June, 1983, he expressed that he was disappointed and couldn’t believe that everyone in the class had failed the test. Obviously, he never taught in the June/January program before. Didn’t he understand that these students had Invisible Challenges™? I studied the professor more closely, with sharply honed skills, and I realized that he didn’t get it. That was it, I decided, I have had enough. I would tell him the truth.
After class I went to his office and explained to him about these types of students. I had been observing students for years, and I knew the different types. I explained how most of them weren’t following him because he was going too fast. He needed to write some kind of outline on the board. But most importantly, he needed to slow down. I finished my monologue, with an attitude of “You gotta get this, it’s important and I know what I am observing and saying is correct.” This was not my usual method of using my bubbly personality to connect to a teacher in a school setting. I looked at this gray-haired man sitting in his office chair, with a blank look on his face, and he said, “I will make a note of it.” I nodded, said thanks, quietly walked out of his office.
What did I just do?
I shuffled into class the following Monday, after Dr. Muncie had plenty of time over the weekend to laugh over beers with his fellow professors at the freshman who told him how to teach.
What would he do? Would he make it even more difficult for us? Did he listen? Did he even understand? Would he completely ignore me?
My life would change at this moment. I waited in anticipation, a little embarrassed, a little excited. Had I developed a new coping skill or was my college life over before it began?
Dr. Muncie walked in the room, picked up a piece of chalk. “A little bird told me,” he said as he winked at me, “that I was going too fast and that I need to slow down and write an outline on the board, so here goes.” He turned his back towards the board, with chalk in hand, and started to teach. I received an 88 on the second test.
Before the third test I went to his office before class. As soon as he saw me, he said with a chuckle, “What did I do now, am I teaching okay?” I said, “No, you are teaching fine. I just want to know if I could take that test in a quiet room. To eliminate distractions and all.” He said yes and I received a 92 on that test.
What Dr. Muncie did may not seem profound to the average person, to a person who has typical learning patterns, but to me it meant everything. His words tickled my heart, bringing a smile to my face, heart and head. At that moment, I knew that I could do this college thing, that
I could do anything. This moment revealed that being honest, speaking your truth, and asking for what you need is how you can not only get by, but create what you want here on earth. Because he listened to me and really heard me, it showed that I could make a difference in the world, in my world, with my creations. Dr. Muncie provided me with the bridge that was necessary for me to connect to the next part of my life.
Thank you, Professor Muncie. This small, kind act by one professor opened me to other ideas about learning. For the next four years, I worked at catching up with my peers.
I graduated in 1989, majoring in elementary education with a concentration in speech pathology and audiology. Before me, there wasn’t a concentration in speech pathology and audiology. There was only an option for a concentration in math, english, social studies, and other standardized subjects – I questioned why this concentration didn't exist. I knew what I wanted to study. By creating what I needed to facilitate my education, I gained the confidence to forge an entire career path.”
I also joined a mid-career study group, comprised of older women who were local residents of East Stroudsburg. They assisted me in learning the information that I sometimes would miss in class. I hooked them up with some of my college friends to babysit while we worked and they let me participate.
When I started Teamwork Wins Ltd., a nonprofit that provides answers for children with Invisible Challenges™ in 2000, I never imagined that it would be life changing for all involved. Then again, I never knew that I could finish high school, college and teach in the public school system.
As I watch each one of our programs grow within this organization, I remember my struggles with Invisible Challenges™. I remember how I got by managing these challenges and learning how to influence my teachers. My Vision is for Teamwork Wins to provide an opportunity for future generations to not have to go through the struggles that I endured. To bring about awareness of Invisible Challenges to the public, parents, teachers and children who have them. And to let them know that they are not alone and there is an Answer.
Adele Saccarelli is founder and director of Teamwork Wins, an organization that teaches children with Invisible Challenges skills to operate effectively in the world. For more information on programs for children and their parents, visit TeamworkWins.org.