isabellefinalBy Isabelle Varga

Isabelle is a freshman at Bentley University in Massachusetts. She was crowned Miss Teen NJ 2014 and wrote this blog while competing for Miss NJ Teen USA 2016 where she placed 2nd runner up.

I met Isabelle through her mom, who signed her up for the Mindprint assessment. Isabelle is a kind, articulate and beautiful person. I would have never guessed how much she had struggled with learning and social issues. I was thrilled when she agreed to share her story. Isabelle is a great inspiration for all students to learn to accept themselves for who they are, develop self-confidence, and discover their own strengths. Please consider sharing Isabelle’s story of kindness.

“Don’t let anyone or anything define you.”  That’s the real message I want other teens to take away from my story. It was a long, painful journey to gain my self-confidence. And I don’t want it to be that hard for others, whether they have dyslexia, another learning disability, or feel different or insecure for any other reason.

As far as my dyslexia goes, my story probably isn’t that different from other kids with a learning disability.  I really struggled when I was in kindergarten and first grade. The teacher would pull me out to try to teach me and it just didn’t click. I remember sitting in the back of the room with my head down trying to be invisible so the teacher wouldn’t ask me to read in front of the class. When my mother had me tested in 2nd grade I wasn’t surprised to be told that I learned differently.  It was a relief to go to the tutors who understood that I just needed a different approach. It was hard work but they actually made learning fun. Not like in school.

In school I never felt good enough. I did well but everything took me so much longer. And even though I learned to read well, I was still shy and feared getting called on in class, because I knew I couldn’t process and respond like everyone else. The other girls noticed, and they were just mean. They wouldn’t sit with me and they would laugh at me behind my back.

When I reflect, I think the only thing that helped me make it through that time was my family. They were so patient with me. They would explain things over and over until I understood. They always believed I could learn. They encouraged me into theater to overcome my shyness which then led me into modeling and pageants which I love. Finding something that I could be really good at helped me build my self-confidence overall, in school and out.

I didn’t tell anyone outside of my family that I had dyslexia until I was in 11th grade. I was speaking to a girl after a pageant. I had already been crowned Miss TEEN NJ 2014. She confided in me that she had dyslexia. I told her I had dyslexia too. I couldn’t believe how relieved she looked, that I could have such an impact on her. I told her that she shouldn’t be ashamed. And that’s when I started to speak openly about my dyslexia.

I decided to run for Miss New Jersey Teen USA 2016 with two main messages: “you can overcome obstacles” and “kindness matters”. In my case the obstacle was dyslexia but it could be anything. The other girls didn’t need to pick on me because I was shy. They had no idea why I was quiet. You never know what someone is feeling inside. Just be kind.

Here’s my advice for all kids: Don’t let anyone else define you. There’s something amazing and different about you, and you just need to find it. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. And if you’re one of those kids for whom everything seems to come easily, be kind to everyone. You have no idea what others may be experiencing.

My special advice for kids who have dyslexia like me:  You can do it. I’m an honors student. I worked really hard, but it was worth it. Don’t be afraid to self-advocate and get what you need so you can be successful. Use audio books if you can; it made an enormous difference for me. And take the extra time on tests too if your school will let you. It’s a relief to understand yourself as a learner and get those extra supports. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to use them.

To parents and teachers: Adults need to change how they talk about learning disabilities. If adults changed the perception, maybe I would have told people earlier and life would have been so much easier. Don’t wait to find out if a child has a learning disability. Don’t just pass over them because they are struggling. Test everyone. It is so easy and can make such an enormous difference. I took a one hour test online and it told me exactly the same thing as my psychologist’s evaluation which took six hours. I believe everyone should be tested. Everyone has strengths and needs, not just kids with dyslexia.

If you are concerned that your child might have dyslexia or other learning disability learn more about the potential signs.

If your school has not screened your child, consider Mindprint’s differential cognitive screener at home.