'I have a learning disability. But now I'm a teacher and I want to help kids like me'

20th September 2016 at 20:54
learning difficulties, dyslexia, reading, special education, teachers, students
Matt Cahill feared he would never graduate high school because he found it so hard to read. Now a teacher, he is on a mission to improve the lives of children with learning disabilities.

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After yet another tutoring session, my mom decided to tell me the news. Sat outside Chuckie Cheese’s – my favorite restaurant – she put the car into park before telling something that would change my life.

“You know that you have been struggling with reading,” she said. “Well your father and I wanted to let you know that the reason is that you have a learning disability and we decided to transfer you to a school for students with learning disabilities.”

I was devastated. It was like the final nail that proclaimed to the entire word that I was different.

But finding out I had a learning disability was also the start of a new chapter in my life. It meant I got the educational help that I needed. From that I was able to excel at school and now I have become a teacher, ready to help the next generation of young people who need that extra support. And I want to tell you my story as a reminder that all children can succeed.

I had always struggled with language. I was born a healthy baby, but while other children started to talk when they were a couple of years old, I didn’t start speaking until I was 4. My parents thought I may never learn how to talk and started teaching me American Sign Language before they found a speech and language therapist who helped me utter my first words.

Those early years highlighted the importance of getting the specific attention I needed, but it was not to last. At kindergarten, my teacher told my parents that I was very talkative in class, which they knew could not be true. The public elementary school was just trying to move me along in the system instead of providing me the services that they knew I needed. I was transferred to a private school. 

 This was an improvement, but I still had a lot of trouble. By this age my classmates were already reading books without any problems. As for me, I was still stuck on Green Eggs and Ham. Since I already had so much trouble communicating, I found reading and writing near impossible. I was signed up for more tutors and reading programs.

My entire day was just dedicated to learning and struggling how to read. I would wake up, go to school where I would struggle, go to a tutor where I would struggle, do homework, where I would struggle, go to bed and repeat the next day.

To add insult to injury, my classmates knew I had difficulty and made fun of me. I remember being in the lunchroom and being interrogated by classmates to read words and do math problems. I would struggle and they would laugh.

My parent’s realized that the situation was not working. So, on that rainy Saturday afternoon outside Chuckie Cheese’s my mom told me that I had a learning disability, specifically dyslexia and auditory processing disorder.

Dyslexia is a common condition that affects the way the brain processes written and spoken language. People with dyslexia mainly have trouble reading but it can also affect their writing, spelling or speech. However, people with dyslexia have an average or above average intelligence and are often creative thinkers. 

Auditory processing disorder affects the way people processes what they hear. People with APD  find it out to understand and comprehend what someone is saying especially when background noice is present. 

I knew about my trouble with reading and writing but it was not until I attended Stratford Friends School (SFS), a Quaker school for students with learning disabilities, that I learned more about my intelligence and thinking and gained self-confidence.

From day one, I had teachers who understood how I learned and knew ways to teach me to read and write. I was welcomed and accepted by my classmates who also had a learning disability and/or ADHD and they had empathy because they had similar experiences. I did not feel that school was a place of torture. Instead, I was excited to learn.

I went on to Delaware Valley Friends School, a Quaker middle and high school for students with learning disabilities, where my love for school only grew. I fell in love with analyzing books and historic events and writing about them. I even worked with my Head of School to have the school provide an American Sign Language Program to provide a world language option that would benefit tactile learners.

I started out as a student to who hated school and became a student who not only found personal success but also worked to be a part of the community and make a difference.

When it was time to start applying for colleges, I knew I wanted to become a teacher. Having had teachers who understood my needs and were committed to supporting me to succeed, I knew I wanted to be that kind of teacher for others.

After graduating high school top of my class, I enrolled at Temple University to become a history teacher. While there, in addition to being a double major and holding a 3.91 GPA, I started an Eye to Eye chapter.

Eye to Eye is an art-based mentoring program that pairs college students with middle school who both have learning disabilities/ADHD. The school students learn how they learn best and start seeing their disability as a strength rather than a weakness. I wanted to give young people strong mentors and to build a community on Temple’s campus where students with learning disabilities knew that they are supported.



After finishing college I had the chance to intern at my old high school. And now, as of this month, I have taken up a post teaching at The Lab School of Washington DC, which is known internationally for its work with students suffering learning disabilities and ADHD.

As the school year starts, I have been reflecting on the crazy adventure that brought me here. My journey started with me hating everything about school to now being a teacher and loving it.

What helped me become successful are the mentors and teachers I had in my life. With my students this year and for years to come, no matter how small or large their support system is, I am going to be a part of it. I am going to empower them, support them, and help give them the tools to be successful.

And as a result, I hope to continue the ripple effect of positive change in the lives of students with learning disabilities. My hope is that in the near future all teachers will be excited to work with young children who are struggling and give them the attention and self-confidence they need to succeed.

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