Disability Awareness Spotlight On Inclusion With Maryanne Ax

MaryAnne Ax
RAISE Program Coordinator

Unofficially diagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder.  I say unofficially diagnosed because when I was a student there were no disability laws or educational supports.  The first incarnation of the Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA) was passed in 1975.  I graduated from high school in 1973.

A Misconception Related to ADD:
Children with ADD or as it is referred to now; Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder are the class clowns; students who act out and don’t do well academically.  I was a quiet student with a family that had academic expectations.  My second grade teacher wrote in my report card:  MaryAnne could be a good student if she was not always daydreaming.  I could just as easily bury myself in a book as stare at the reflection of the sunshine on my ring as I sat near the window in class.  I was often in my own little world.  Still I managed to be a B/C student. 

Personal Experience Living with ADD:
So many.  I often felt stupid because I would miss large segments of instruction and have to look at what my peers were doing and try to figure it out.  My love of reading probably saved me academically.  I loved to read and to read aloud in class even though I was basically shy.  If I knew I might be called on to read aloud, I was excited and able to focus my attention. 

As I moved from elementary school to middle school and high school, I was very fortunate to find a nerdy group of friends who embraced me, supported me and encouraged me.  But I had to find my own ways to compensate for my difficulties focusing.  I wanted to succeed like my friends and I wanted to attend college.  Still, I suffered from a crushing lack of self-confidence because I just could not learn as easily as others. 

I had a lot of difficulty with my very first job which was at a department store for the Christmas holiday.  While I learned to count back change like a pro, my distraction and lack of focus made it a disaster for me to learn and remember other aspects of the job.  I was not kept on after the holidays while my peers were.  It crushed me. 

When I graduated I was in good academic standing and enrolled at Rock Valley College.  I had amazing instructors and did fairly well for a year, but the stress of keeping up became too much and I quit.  After having no success finding full-time work, I reluctantly enrolled at Northern Illinois University.  Again, it was friends who supported, encouraged and even tutored me.  Still I faltered.  I was a mediocre student mainly due to my tendency to forget details of assignments and to be distracted by the social aspects of campus life. 

I graduated in 1978 and vowed never to go back to school.  I was fortunate and found a job in my field of communications working for a small radio station.  I really loved it and because it was a small, family owned station, I gained self-confidence and felt very good about working in my chosen vocation.  In fact, I did so well that I was recruited by WROK/WZOK.  During my tenure there from 1981 to 1986, I really thrived in a stimulating and fun environment.  I continued my radio career in Madison until our first child was born. 

Eventually I felt the desire to go back and earn a Master’s Degree in Special Education. This decision was partly the result of my deep empathy for students with various learning impairments and partly to advocate for my own 3 children.  Graduating with a 4.0 was a significant turning point.  Over the years I had taught myself a variety of ways to study and learn and focus.  I was determined to be a role model for my children and to make my family proud.  I knew that it was much more work for me to prepare for a test than it was for my fellow students, but because I had always been a lover of words, the reading and the writing of research papers became the bedrock of my success. 

Now, after retiring from teaching, I am extremely pleased to coordinate the RAISE program for intellectually disabled students here at RVC.  I feel students can sense my empathy and understanding. I stress to them that if I could make it, they can too. 

How We Can Support Those with Disabilities:
Look for and highlight the abilities, not the disabilities!  Everyone has strengths.