Andrew Parsons is a 20-year-old student with a severe learning disability that was not diagnosed until Grade 12. His listening comprehension is above average, and he always knew he had the ability to do the work in school. However, his reading comprehension is severely below average and he could never do well on tests when he had to read and express himself on paper. He described being criticized by his teachers for being lazy and stupid and for not trying, which led to a lot of frustration and upset.
Parsons credited his parents for advocating for the expensive and difficult testing that led to his diagnosis. Following the diagnosis, special accommodations were recommended, however, these were not always followed by his teachers. He said he felt that it was mainly due to their not being properly informed on how to deal with students with learning disabilities.
Parsons received a second chance to succeed in May 2002, with his acceptance into the Discovery Centre. The Discovery Centre program began in 2001, and is unique in that it was designed by a learning disabilities specialist who himself has a severe learning disability. Parsons is being taught different learning strategies specific to his disability, to read and write at a level he can achieve on his own. A specialist ensures that all his accommodations are in place. Parsons, who is maintaining an A average, said he is proof that anyone can do it if given the chance. This program should be in all public high schools across Canada, he said. Instead of moving more and more students into special education programs, it would be better to allow these students to stay in the regular program while adding a session with a learning disabilities specialist to their daily schedule.
Parsons is planning to enrol in a college program in petroleum engineering in September 2003. His learning disabilities specialist is helping him plan ahead for the transition, including analyzing course content to decide which courses would best match his strengths, needs, and interests; determining the accommodations he will need; and arranging meetings with college officials, which both will attend.
Parsons concluded by noting that he hoped the student delegates realize that they are not alone, and that many students with learning disabilities have succeeded.