Nancie Payne, Ph.D.
President, Learning Disabilities Association of America Board of Directors

The heart of influence begins after a realization of how having learning disabilities can shape one’s future. I have had a diverse and experiential life. Yes, the word experiential is a critical word because for me, the “light bulb” flickers and blinks until I have had enough of the “experience.” Typically, at certain points in time, occurrences and understanding line up to make meaning, sometimes many years later. My life is diverse, filled with too much to share in this brief story. Thus, I have chosen a few significant events highlighting some of my hidden strengths.  

Throughout the formative years, my mother tried to impart various lessons. She said if I didn’t eat vegetables, I’d never grow up. I tried eating as many vegetables as I could because I really wanted to grow up. Somehow I thought growing up would make things easier. 

At 10-months-old I was adopted, malnourished and more than a handful. I had a phenomenal “remembery” in elementary school, so it was easy to act as if I could read, even though I had significant difficulty. Understanding the inner meaning of language is difficult. How could oak trees and acorns be related? It wasn’t until adulthood I realized that the United States was named because it was “united” by common beliefs and values. Math isn’t fun either; it took three statistics classes before getting into graduate school. 

SEE MORE: Shaping the Future: A Vision for Students with Disabilities

Because of my LD, many masks emerged including boredom, exaggerating (sometimes referred to as lying), choosing to misbehave (hiding low self-esteem) and other oppositional behaviors. Throughout my life, I have had difficulty controlling stress. In middle school and high school, I covered fear and trepidation with the phrase “I don’t care.”

"My talents are abundant. I like thinking about the future, especially work opportunities for those with learning disabilities."

My life evolved to three high schools and one juvenile youth center. I have lived on the street and in a group home. One night in the pouring rain, wet and tired, I found myself in the parking lot of a nightclub. Desperate for warmth, I began checking doors of cars in the lot until I found one open. I crawled into the back seat to get just a few minutes of respite from the rain and cold. I fell asleep, waking only as the owner was driving down the road. Imagine his shock when I sat up and asked him to please stop and let me out.

By 19-years-old I was welfare-dependent with two babies. I eventually managed to get a high school diploma and years later enrolled in college. My first job involved working with children with reading difficulties. Today I run a learning center for individuals with non-apparent disabilities and provide professional development throughout the United States and Canada.

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My talents are abundant. I am a musician and singer, I enjoy my children and grandchildren, I have a strong spiritual grounding and I like thinking about the future, especially work opportunities for those with learning disabilities. 

The importance of my story is the varied influential people and factors throughout my life. I am an adopted child, daughter, runaway, juvenile delinquent, incarcerated youth, mother, grandmother, small business owner, explorer, quantum leaper, future thinker, musician, learner, volunteer and friend. It is important to stress, while the influences of learning disabilities have frequently bent and shaped my pathways, they have not been forefront to who I am, or what I believed I could accomplish. Yes, they have been barriers, but less invasive than my inner sense of strengths and attributes.