[SENIA Youth] Turning Difficulties into Possibilities

Clara Peterson

Clara Pettersen, The Philippine Star Beauty Columnist

The SENIA Manila Youth Chapter aims to advocate and inspire teachers and the community about the gifts and abilities of students with special education needs.

Clara Pettersen, one of the advocates of SENIA Manila Youth Chapter shares her personal experience as a student with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Dyslexia. Read about her experiences in her own words.

As my teacher asked me to read the first page of the book aloud, I stared at each word carefully; I pronounced every single sound of every single word in my head. However, the words slowly turned into waves. This led me to wonder about pirates, mermaids, and a new world where the sea was black!

Before I knew it, my teacher asked me, “So Clara, what did you just read?”

I replied, “I have no idea.”

At the age of five, my whole family moved from Hong Kong to Manila after realizing I had late speech development. I guess staying in a country, where English, Filipino, Chinese and Norwegian were all spoken, confused my infant brain. In Manila, I still wasn’t able to speak and my parents noticed I was markedly different from all the other kids in my family; I would communicate through sounds, drawings and actions—but never in words. This was the time my parents took me to a doctor who thought that I had autism.  My mom refused to believe this, so we went to America and there, I was diagnosed with severe speech developmental delay. After I learned how to talk, I couldn’t shut up. We discovered that I had ADHD.  At the age of eight, I was diagnosed with dyslexia.

Growing up, I always felt like an outcast. I would be so angry and frustrated, wondering why things that I had found difficult to do were so easy for everybody else. I felt so stupid, especially when people would bully me when I would make a mistake in reading or writing, or in anything I did in general. I hated feeling this way, and I think deep down, I really believed that I was stupid.

It wasn’t until I met my teacher, Kristine Goco-Pabalan, that I learned to believe in myself. From the ages of eight to fifteen, every single school day, she would tutor me in reading comprehension; she taught me how to rewire my brain into decoding words so the letters wouldn’t distort themselves. She stayed by me when I would have my fits and rampages, and never once did she give up on me. She was one of the only people who saw what I could achieve, and believed I could do anything. Through her support, I learned to not give up on myself, and, I learned to love writing.

Our brain has this amazing capability of balancing itself out. When we aren’t good at one thing, it adjusts by making us amazing in something else. It is our job to nurture that talent and to truly make it our own genius. Ever since I was young, I would always make things; I would paint, and draw, and basically do anything to create. I loved art, but I also loved people. I loved talking to people, and empowering someone to be the best version of themselves. Being a part of the experience of allowing someone to see their inner beauty gave me the most joy. It was something close to my heart because I knew exactly what it felt like, and the best way I was able to achieve this was through make up.

After graduating high school, I knew I wanted to become a makeup artist, so I made the big decision to not go to college and go straight to work. Boy, was it a challenge! For the next two years, I worked in all the realms of makeup; I worked on shoots, on televison shows, on print media, on fashion shows, on weddings, prenups, proms. Basically, everything you can possibly think of doing I did.

One thing that stuck by me no matter how difficult work became was to never be afraid to say what I truly thought. I have a hard time communicating sometimes, but if you get me talking, I could talk to you for hours. Through this, I built a lot of relationships in the industry, and people started to value my opinion. This eventually led to my job as a beauty columnist for The Philippine Star newspaper. My column is called CLARITY.

Ironic, isn’t it? I’m dyslexic, but I now write for one of the biggest news-broadcasting agents in the country. I also contribute to multiple fashion magazines and am launching my own blog soon.

Looking back, I can honestly say I’m proud of being dyslexic, and I’m okay with having ADHD. I know sometimes it has its frustrating moments, but I wouldn’t be who I am today without it. I wouldn’t be courageous. I wouldn’t have my easy to read writing style. I wouldn’t be afraid of failure and most importantly, I wouldn’t have the passion to change lives.

If you know who you are and believe in what you can do, you liberate yourself and you can go on to achieve absolutely anything in this world.  Your disability, whatever it may be, will then become your greatest weapon. Trust me, I know from first hand experience.

“So Clara, what do you see when you read?”

Honestly, I still see waves, pirates and mermaids. I still wonder about that new world with a black ocean, but now instead of drowning, I swim.

I calmly pause, and then reply, “Instead of seeing what the words are, I see what they could be.”

Do you have other inspiring stories about special education? Share your story through the SENIA Submit a Story Form


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