Advisor Shows how to cope with disabilities over the long run By Philip Watness Peninsula Daily News
January 2000 Port Townsend
Letters have a life of their own when Shelley Wolff looks at them. "P's become q's because Wollf has dyslexia. Shana Cannavaro learns from images rather than words on a page. Both women have learning disabilities and both of them somehow got through Port Townsend High School.
They have since learned that they can compensate for their learning limitations. Wolff, Cannavaro and two other individuals will share their experience as part of "Success Stories: Living with Learning Disabilities<' from 3:30 - 5 pm at The Upstage Restaurant, 903 Washington St.
The two women and John Vass of Port Angeles and Melody Haugen of Chimacum are clients of SISIUTL: New Paradigms in Learning, operated by Melinda Pongrey of Port Townsend, who counsels people with learning disabilities.
Wolff, 25, said she felt depressed a year ago because her dyslexia barred her from studying to be a veterinarian. She sought out Pongrey and discovered that she could overcome the disability. She also had to overcome self-esteem issues after years in a school system which failed to help her, even after the dyslexia was discovered.
"I told one teacher the letters were switching back and forth and she just told me to make them turn back," Wolff said. "It wasn't until my sophomore year that I was tested and they figured out I had dyslexia, but the problem was they had no clue how to deal with it. Nobody taught me how to go through the problem."
Cannavaro, 22, also experienced learning problems throughout high school, though she got into the Mar Vista Alternative High School as a junior where she received more individualized attention. But she still needed effective learning tools when she began attending Peninsula College.
"I learn in a totally different way than most people," Cannavaro said. "I learn really well doing hand's on work. I also have to put things in my own words to really understand something."
Pongrey said many people have similar experiences as Wolff and Cannavaro but won't seek help because they either don't know help is available or they have been shamed into not revealing their disability.
"I talked with a lady who had taught herself to read in her 20's" Pongrey said. "When I told her she was working 100 times more than others (to learn to read) she said thank you and began crying. She had been told she was lazy or not trying hard enough. I've never worked that hard at anything!"
Wolff begins study at Peninsula College this week and she feels confident she will earn an associate in arts degree. She hopes to go on to Washington State University and enter its veterinarian technician program.
Cannavaro said she hopes people who come to the talk Saturday will come away with a better understanding of learning disabilities and the reassurance that they're not alone.
"There are tons of kids I'm sure who have learning disabilities and the school district isn't taking the time and taking the care of their needs," Cannavaro said. "It's going to create a problem for them later in their life."
Wolff also hoped people would learn about the tools available to them to overcome learning disabilities.
The talk at the Upstage is free. For more information about Pongrey and SISIUTL, call her at 379-1223.