Unseen Struggles: Life With a Hidden Disability



Many learning disabilities bring struggles that can go unseen.

Madeline Nohrnberg, Managing Editor

“In most cases, learning disabilities are invisible,” Zoey Johnson ’25 told the Register Forum. “When my peers see me getting accommodations, it might seem unfair, but it’s just because I am different.” 

Learning disabilities include a variety of disorders that may impact one’s speech or writing, as well as one’s math abilities, or capacity to pay attention. This can affect any area of life, from school to extracurricular activities. 

Johnson is one of as many as 45 million people in the United States who lives with dyslexia. In fact, a study conducted by Yale University found that the most common learning disability is dyslexia, affecting up to 80 or 90% of those with learning disorders.

An overall lack of understanding about learning disabilities has led to these students feeling othered by both educators and peers.

This stigma seems to be prevalent throughout Cambridge Public Schools.

 “Back in elementary school, they used to pull me out of math class, and I thought it was so embarrassing. I’m the one who gets pulled out, so everyone knows I’m the one who has trouble.” 

This stigma seems to be prevalent throughout Cambridge Public Schools. A survey conducted by the Register Forum found that nearly 90% of 120 students surveyed believe there are misconceptions and a stigma around learning disabilities. Max Leisserson 26 described, “I’ve overheard people calling me and other people stupid or simple in the head because we need learning accommodations.” 

In order to support students with learning disabilities, CPS offers 504 plans and Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). These accommodations are designed to give students with disabilities equitable access to a supportive learning environment. 

Christine DeAmbrose, the teacher in charge of 504’s, told the Register Forum, “504s are an anti-discrimination document. A 504 is really only for access, not to provide any additional benefit.” Rather than giving disabled students an advantage, accommodations provided by 504 plans and IEPs simply level the playing field.

However, Flynn LeFebvre 23 has experienced barriers in receiving support for his ADHD at school. “I didn’t even know what my diagnosis was until seventh grade. There’s a mentality I’ve felt that fewer accommodations are better,” he described to the Register Forum. “A lot of teachers are completely unaware of what my accommodations are, and last semester all my teachers thought I didn’t need them.”

The struggle to access support has proven to be difficult for many other students. Leisserson is in the process of completing their 504 plan. “It took my parents months to get me my 504 because my grades were too high to have them recognize that I needed one,” Leisserson stated. “But I can’t keep high grades without my mental health declining severely unless I have a 504.” 

Ultimately, those interviewed by the Register Forum felt that students need better education. Over 65% of 120 CRLS students surveyed have not been educated about learning disabilities in CPS. Johnson concluded, “There’s often the stigma that people who have a disability don’t do well in school. In order to overcome that, we just need to teach them.” She continued, “Educating more is always the solution.”