Samantha Abeel begins her memoir, My Thirteenth Winter, by revealing that at age 25, she could not tell time and struggled with counting money, following directions, and understanding distances.
Abeel describes her early school experience as increasingly excruciating years of feeling she was different, of not being able to do what her classmates could do, and of retreating into self-imposed social isolation. However, in sixth grade, under the careful guidance of a thoughtful teacher, Abeel discovered her love of writing. This made all the difference. Writing flowed through her as she began to understand that the ideas would come when she focused less on the details of spelling and grammar and allowed the process to unfold.
Despite her newfound outlet, Abeel continued to experience tremendous anxiety and panic attacks, especially as she transitioned to middle school. It is during this tumultuous period, plagued by ever increasing somatic and mental health challenges, that she finally learned what was at the root of her academic struggles. She had dyscalculia, a learning disability that makes it difficult to understand math concepts. It can also affect the individual’s sequencing whether with numbers, letters, instructions, or otherwise.
Some relief came from having an explanation; yet the question of what to do remained. She was not failing academically, so the school resisted providing services; however, Abeel’s mother persisted and fought for the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that would support her placement in special education math class and provide much needed relief from her constant anxiety and panic attacks.
Toward the end of eighth grade, Abeel became a published author when her poems were paire...
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