If you appreciate the covers and beauty of design throughout our magazine, you must meet the designer who lends elegance and artistry to every issue. A quiet young woman, she approached me with tears in her eyes after our Sodalitas conference sessions on struggling learners one year. Assigned to photograph our sessions, she had also been listening. She sensed the depth of love from our homeschooling mothers toward their children with special needs. She heard the common mixture of worry, celebration, concern, sadness, determination, and perplexity about the future. After a childhood fraught with difficulties in both spoken and written language, including auditory processing disorder, she thought our Simply Classical parents should know her story. She said, “I think my story will encourage these mothers. They need to know that it will be okay.”
Thank you, Aileen, for sharing your story with us. What was the hardest subject for you in school?
It was English, because of my problems understanding language. It affected the way I expressed myself verbally and in writing, and it took me a long time to understand what I read.
Did you wonder if your parents were frustrated with you or worried about you? If yes, what does that feel like as a child?
Yes they were sometimes frustrated and worried. I saw it at times when they would help me with homework. As a child I didn’t understand the frustrations they had, I only knew that I kept failing. They tried to help me and they made me feel loved, but I still sometimes felt like I was wrong, a problem, weak, lost, and useless. Both my parents worked, so they had to put me in a day care center at a young age. There was a particular caretaker there who was dismissive of my struggles, and who made me feel like I was the problem. This external voice reinforced my internal doubts and self-criticisms, and for many years I felt like I could not speak up about what I was feeling or experiencing. My parents became frustrated with my lack of communication, and our relationship became strained. Not until I became an adult and learned to better express myself did more understanding come for both my parents and myself, and we have a better relationship now.
What do you wish other parents would remember about their struggling children?
I didn’t want to be born with this learning disability, and children born with a learning disability don’t want it either; nor do any parents want that for their child. For the child with special needs to overcome her struggles, it will take the support and understanding of parents, teachers, and friends, and it will take time. Children with special needs may need more time to understand what they are learning. I needed that slow process. I want parents to be okay with their children going at a slower pace, to accept that some children need more time than others. Be patient. Your patience, especially in the midst of frustration, is a comfort and reassurance beyond words. It says, “I see you. I see your struggle and your effort. You can do this.”
Clearly today you are gifted in art and design. We know that children with language processing disorders often have talents in areas related to creativity or working with elements apart from language. How did you come to realize that art and design are your talents?
I realized in elementary school. We were learning about the medieval period, and we had a project to create an illuminated letter. I was really interested with the lettering of that time and with calligraphy. I was so interested that I took classes in calligraphy. Around the same time, I developed an interest in painting from watching Bob Ross on The Joy of Painting on PBS during Saturday mornings at my house. At a craft store near us they had workshops where you could paint like Bob Ross. My mother and I went to those workshops. It was there that I saw I loved creating art and that I had a gift for it.
Who helped you the most to develop these talents?
Both of my parents helped me to develop these talents in different ways. It was my mother who took me to my drawing classes. She was there when I cried that I wasn’t good at drawing, and she always reminded me that I could do it. Whenever I showed my father what I drew, he would tell me how good I was and would tell me to keep it up. He encouraged me and let me know which of my drawings he liked more, so I could see where I was succeeding. I am grateful to both of them for supporting me in the arts.
What would you tell your little-girl self if you could go back to those early days with words of encouragement?
I would say, “You are going to overcome many obstacles due to the love of your parents and their belief that you can do anything. All the hard work and the struggles that you will go through are going to pay off and you will be amazed at what you can overcome and accomplish. You can do it. You will be fine.”