April 20, 2009
The following story was written by Ray Gentry, from Cowansville, Quebec. Ray is enrolled in literacy classes at the Yamaska Literacy Council.
My name is Ray. I am 35 years old. I was born in Montreal. As far back as I can remember I have had many problems right from the start with reading and writing. As a kid I spent a lot of time in and out of hospitals because I was a very out of control child. At that time the doctors did not know what was wrong with me. They did many tests on me and said that I had Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), so they put me on a medication called Ritalin. In the 1970’s Ritalin was a big thing. Back then a lot of children were taking it so some parents could control their children at home.
As I started my first school year in grade one things did not go too well. I could not understand what the teacher was saying to me. I could hear everything around me but nothing made sense when the teacher would talk. So a lot of times I would just sit there and look into space not knowing what to do with myself. After some time they thought I was playing a game with them, pretending I was dumb so I did not have to do any schoolwork.
I spent a lot of time in the principle’s office, and they would call my father at work to come and get me when I had done something really bad like throw a rock through a window and other things. By this time I was seeing special doctors and other experts to find out why I was not learning like other children. They said that my mind was all over the place and that was why I could not remember more than two things at once. So they put my in a special school with other children with the same problems.
As I got older impulsive behaviour became more of a problem for teachers who were trying to help me with my academics. Sometimes other children would make fun of me when I could not spell a word. I would get very upset and start to cry because I felt bad inside all the time. I found it very hard to make friends with the kids at school because I was not cool enough to hang with. Spending a lot of time by myself did not help my social life very much. Because I was the tallest kid on the block some parents thought I was too old for their kids to play with, but I was the same age they were. I started psychological counseling at school to find better ways to improve my education, but things got much worse for me. I started fighting with other kids when they would laugh at me. I would try so hard to learn that I would forget what I had learned before.
I found things to be too hard so I would just quit and walk away, never trying to learn them again. I got a lot of low grades as a kid. My parents were not too happy. They tried very hard to make me understand that I had to do much better. I felt different from other people because I was learning much slower than most or the people around me. Maybe if I had not got into trouble so much as a kid I could have done better in school – you never know. I went to many different schools in Montreal until I found the right one to help me out. This school was for people who had all kinds of different learning handicaps, the Miriam School. In a couple of months my life changed for the better. I made new friends more than ever before. The teachers were a lot more understanding and helped us when we could not do something for ourselves. I went there from 1978 to 1980, and by the end of that time I could pick up a book and read it – not like before when I would run away from books. My education was going much better and my father was happier with me because of it. But the school board closed the place down because there was not enough money to keep it open, and I was shipped off to another school, Iona.
Back at public school they had a special classroom for people like me. There were about 25 people in the class and one teacher. All my problems started up again, like my getting angry over little things like not knowing how to spell easy words or how to solve math problems. Sometimes I could not take it anymore, so I would skip school and run around all day long getting into trouble; and of course when the school called my father he would yell at me or just send me to my room. I started fooling around, acting like the class clown, getting into fights, smoking in the bathroom and not listening to the teacher. This gives you some idea of what I was like in school, and even at home or on the streets. I would act out all the time because nobody could understand what I was going through. I tried so hard all the time to be good but it was easier to get into trouble than to learn something new.
[This story was taken with permission, from the Yamaska Literacy Council website, under Student Stories.]