That day suddenly and vividly appeared in my memory. I stood in front of the blackboard and carefully wrote the words that my first-grade teacher asked me to write in print. I walked back after I finished writing, and the laughter of my classmates told me that I had made a serious mistake. What’s so ridiculous? I am puzzled. The teacher warned: “Fred, you have written all e upside down!”
My father Joseph graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and is a famous neurologist. My mother Lilian is a psychiatric social worker and has a master’s degree. My elder brother Simon has no problems studying. My brother Abram is also destined to be an outstanding student.
But I was struggling, and I was just able to keep up. In order to avoid going to school, I often pretend to be sick. By the fifth grade, I began to reluctantly succumb to the idea: maybe I can’t keep up with the course at all. However, my teacher Herbert Murphy changed my mind. One day after class, he called me aside and showed me the exam papers I had handed in. I hung my head, ashamed-I got every question wrong.
He told me: “I know you understand these questions, shall we review them again?” He let me sit down and ask me the questions on the scroll. I gave him verbal answers one question after another.
”That’s right!” He said every time he answered a question. His smile illuminates the world.
After the fifth grade, I transferred to a local public school. There, my new teacher, Miss Xiao, also saw that I was working hard to make progress and tried to help me. After a long period of hard work to practice calligraphy, she suggested that I show the principal (the principal has always despised me) how much improvement my writing ability has made, and I was trembling with excitement.
However, the principal misunderstood the reason why Miss Xiao sent me. For half an hour, she was criticizing my calligraphy. She concluded: “Your problem is that you don’t have any motivation. You don’t care at all.”
Back in the classroom, I shuddered. I never told Miss Xiao what happened. I felt so embarrassed and utterly embarrassed.
However, I saw hope at home. This comes from an unusual skill that I am very passionate about: super memory. I can clearly recall the lunch I ate three or four weeks ago or the weather conditions at that time. I always wonder, why am I good at one thing but not good at another?
My parents were puzzled and gave me a psychological test to test my intelligence. The results surprised them, and I was equally surprised-my score was quite high.
Later, I got help from my mother’s sister, Aunt Lottie. She is a gentle, kind woman and an excellent teacher who often helps children with reading difficulties.
As long as I write an essay, I will always confuse the words in the end. Therefore, Aunt Lottie reads my composition every week. Even if she didn’t praise my font, she would praise the thoughtfulness in it.
Slowly, I achieved some small results. My voice was loud and I started to participate in theatrical performances at school. Because of my good memory, I can easily remember the lines. I also performed well in science studies, which encouraged me to set up a bigger dream-I want to study medicine and become a neurologist, just like my father did. I know that for someone like me who has learning difficulties, it is an impossible dream.
”We want you to go to Halstead School.” My father told me during the summer vacation before the tenth grade.
Halstead School is a small private school in Yonkers City that specializes in training children with severe liberal arts disabilities. There, I became the best student for the first time in my life.
That year, the headmistress of Halstead recommended me as a special student to the head of enrollment of Broades University in Waltham, Massachusetts. In the end, it was a miracle that I received the admission notice. However, Broades University does not pay much attention to the longevity of science. My score and confidence plummeted. I barely made do with two years, and finally decided to transfer to New York University to continue studying.
After an important organic chemistry exam, I felt like I was on death row. On the day the score was announced, I went to the chemistry building. I looked at the score sheet carefully, and I fell frustrated–I failed. I found a tutor and tried to keep the grades of each subject at the upper-middle level until I graduated from university.
I know that if you want to enter the medical school, you will face many difficulties. Sure enough, I was rejected by one college after another. “You don’t belong here.” The dean of a famous local medical school told me. “Your score in science shows that you are emotionally unstable.” But I know I am not unstable, I just have great difficulties in mastering certain subjects. With the help of my father, I managed to enter the New York Medical School. My dad said: “The difficulty is great, but I know you can overcome it.”
I like to study medicine. When I was in the third grade, I took care of patients and was on duty in neurosurgery. Almost every day, I can see that under the skilled treatment and care of the surgeons, patients with vascular malformations or tumors turn into peace. Especially those children whose fear, vulnerability, innocence, and desire touched me. At the end of my internship, I chose pediatric neurosurgery. This is not only the area where I display my talents, but also makes me face even more significant challenges.
At the graduation ceremony, when I stepped onto the podium to receive a medical degree, I saw the tears on the faces of my mother and Aunt Lottie, and the proud smile of my father. I hugged them one by one. With their support, I realized my dream. But why I have to endure so much hardship, I can’t even tell myself.
Twenty years later, my wife Case and I were sitting in a psychologist’s office and discussing our daughter Elena, a ten-year-old fifth-grade student. The psychologist affirmed her high IQ, and Jelena had to work harder to keep up with her classmates—just like I had encountered before. When Jelena’s test results came out, the psychologist told us that she was suffering from severe learning disabilities—suddenly, I was introduced into a new world of understanding.
I found that 10% of school-age children in the United States are tested each year and are found to have learning disabilities. These children have higher than average IQs, but in the four learning processes, either in one item or in comprehensive ability, there are difficulties. The four processes are: recording process, processing process, memory process, oral expression or oral information process. Learning difficulties are often overlooked or difficult to diagnose. Many children are accused of laziness, emotional instability, and even dullness.
These conditions are like a beacon, illuminating the dark corners of my childhood. I told Case: “Because of the trouble Irina had, I understood why I was struggling when I was in school.”
After many years of research, today’s educators can more accurately test for learning disabilities and teach them how to make adjustments. Today, Jelena is a third-year student at Syracuse University and is about to begin her medical career.
Over the years, I have lost contact with many teachers and friends who have helped me. With the publication of my book “The Gift of Time”, I decided to give a copy to the now retired Herbert Murphy. I wrote in it: “To Mr. Murphy-you are a teacher I have always remembered, and I will always remember the kindness you showed when I was a struggling fifth-grade student at Riverdale School. I will always remember you.”