10:10 AM

My Development Disabilities Give Me Courage

My Development Disabilities Give Me Courage

Jenny SharpJen, a leader in the talent and organizational development space, has multiple developmental disabilities, including ADHD, dyslexia, a reading processing and comprehension difficulty; dysnomia, which affects short-term memory retrieval; and dyscalculia, a learning challenge that impacts numerical patterning and processing.

In her childhood, little was known, explored, or understood about learning disabilities, and Jen went undiagnosed until her adult life. Thinking back, Jen reflects on her experiences as a young student, where she was educationally shamed due to her learning challenges. She notes, "Very specifically in my earliest educational years, I was labeled as 'incapable,' 'lacking,' 'distracted,' 'a lazy learner,' or as one teacher put it, 'one who would not succeed in later life.'" 

Those early life experiences created a fear of not being equal or smart enough. For the majority of her life, Jen never said anything about her developmental disabilities – especially in the workplace -- for fear of being judged. "I didn't ever want people thinking that I was incapable – I still don't want that. As someone who daily overcomes these challenges, I don't want pity or people to feel bad that my brain processes differently. Throughout my life, I've learned how to work with the diverse way my brain takes in and sorts out information. I have also developed mechanisms to navigate the unique struggles these learning disabilities have created," says Jen.

The courage to speak about her learning challenges hasn't come easy for Jen. "As I was not clinically diagnosed until adulthood, I went throughout my educational years and into my professional career coping on my own – fearing judgment or assumptions people might make, so I kept these challenges toJenny Sharp + husband myself," says Jen.

By sharing her story, she hopes it will help spur open conversations and curiosity. "I hope that this inspires people to see that learning challenges don't need to define or box people in. Also, I don't want people to go through years of thinking there is something wrong with them or of being afraid to show up as their whole, genuine selves. I want people in these spaces to feel brave and not to see themselves as 'less than,' 'compared to,' or to allow any learning diversity to define their capability to shine.

Jenny offers three pieces of advice from her own experiences:

1. Get Insights. Work with people who can help you get personalized insights and who can advise on learning strategies that allow you to genuinely show and contribute your most authentic way.

2. Engage in open conversations. Don't hide it; don't let struggles limit or define you. Seek the support you might need.

3. Own it and show up proud. You have a unique lens to offer – leverage it and help create open space for others to do the same.

Today, Jen sees her learning disabilities as a way to ally, encourage, support, and advocate by asking, "How do we help make the world an equal space for all to engage and contribute, bringing their most genuine selves to the table?"