Samantha Abeel has authored two books and is also a public speaker. She is a young woman who grew up with dyscalculia, a learning disability related with math. In her memoir ‘My Thirteenth Winter’ she narrates about important events from when she was a child right through the years she was a young adult and how this disability compelled her to search for inner strength and find courage in the face of all the challenges. In this book, she profusely narrates how this disability has greatly impacted her life. She says she is old enough, but she is unable to tell time, struggles with dialing telephone numbers, can’t count money successfully. Moreover, this disability affects her ability to follow directions, understand distances, essentially to apply basic math to her everyday life. Additionally, she struggles with spelling words and grammar, has a problem recollecting pattern of movements in dance. The disability had shattered her life completely, but she had to conquer the resulting shortcomings courageously.
My response is positive; I can relate Samantha’s story to my own life. After reading this memoir, I am feeling encouraged, inspired. Here is a hopeful story that will be an inspiration to all who have ever had to conquer obstacles in their lives. This is a story of strength and persistence. Samantha provides a chronicle of her struggles, frustration, and depression but in this entire storm she paints a bubbly picture of hope. She accepts who she is and seeks help from her teachers. The book evokes feelings of hope, encouragement and inspiration because here is a bright child handicapped in mathematics due to a learning disability but gifted in language. With the help of teachers, she focuses fully to developing this gift and grows into an excellent writer and fascinating poet. Consequently, her weaknesses are compensated positively and in a constructive way, therefore, enabling her take control of her earlier miserable life.
I have learned several things about the disability featured in this book. One is that dyscalculia is nothing but a condition that hampers the ability of people to acquire and assimilate arithmetic skills. The other one is that dyscalculia is currently thought to be a congenital condition occurring due to abnormal functioning of a specific part of the human brain. People having this condition will have difficulties understanding the simplest of number concepts, have great problems learning about factual things about numbers, and having a commanding grasp of numerical stuff is rare in them. Some aspects of this disability surprised me to the core. These aspects are; there is very little information about its prevalence, its causes are not established and its treatment has not been envisaged. Another aspect is that people living with the condition will have intense difficulties internalizing the various concepts to do with time like seasons, months, weeks, days and years.
This book ultimately deepens my understanding of the political, social, and economic concepts of disability in relation to the medical model of disability. Medically, Samantha’s disability was seen as a functional limitation due to her inability to comprehend mathematical concepts like other students. His disability was medically seen to result from her mental limitation, and there was absolutely no link to social and geographical environments. Since Samantha’s disability could not be cured, she had to accept her condition and be helped in discovering her other gifts in language and poetry.
The social concept view is that the disability originates from social, attitudinal, and environmental barriers that hinder people with disabilities from maximum participation in societal functions. This model did not apply to Samantha at all. Majoring on her gift of language and poetry, she had all the opportunities to participate in normal lives of the community she resided in. She did this in equal levels like those of others. She grew into a poet, writer, and public speaker despite having dyscalculia. Moreover, she has been able to attend school, notably a prestigious college in Massachusetts, pursue a master’s degree and hold jobs.
Economically, her disability did not hinder her from holding jobs and being a productive member of society. She has indulged herself fully in writing with two books to her name. This book, therefore, opens my eyes and indulges me even more to the various models associated with disability.
Samantha’s culture points to speaking out and sharing with others the problem bedeviling a person. This ultimately leads to other people’s involvement in offering a helping hand to those in need. Her teachers are at the forefront of discovering her gift of language and encourage her to pursue it with an unrelenting passion. Samantha’ gender does not impact her disability in any way. She works hard in documenting the challenges emanating from her disability in the captivating book. Her book in fact, won an American Library Association Award in 2005. Her class in society has zero intersections with her disability. She pursues a degree in Social Work so that she can get a chance to work with people, and she is passionate about serving the people with learning disability professionally.
Samantha’s disability has an impact on her family unit. Its send her parents into panic mode since they are at pains on how to help their daughter. They spend large amounts of money establishing what their child is suffering from. Siblings get anxious due to this mysterious and little known disability in Samantha, which causes her lots of frustration, fear and loss of esteem. Samantha’s parents have to work hard to help their child in overcoming this disability. Since the cure of this disability is not yet there, the marriage of Samantha will be impacted greatly. The man marrying her must be ready to support Samantha in living positively with it and help her focus on her other gifts.
Her family offers her great support. They work as a group in trying to establish her condition and are determined to help her overcome it or live positively with it. Samantha dreaded school, but it was the prerogative of her teachers to encourage her give her hope in the difficult, embarrassing moments she found herself when attending class. They are also compassionate and avoid labeling her a failure. One teacher even lets her join the class in eating ice-cream that was reserved for students who finished solving math problems correctly and within time. Doctors and therapists lay bare information about her disability, and at this moment she can breathe a sigh of relief. The truth about what is troubling her is finally out. Her friends and acquaintances appreciate her as a bright person only having challenges in mastering math related information.
After Samantha knows what exactly she is dealing with, her understanding of disability shifts completely. She decides to concentrate on some things in her life that can prove to be stronger and equally important than her affliction. This disability is part of her identity. In the book, she says learning disabilities are something that you are with every minute of the day. She decides to concentrate on all her life in helping people with the disability speak and not feel ashamed of their condition.
- “We all come unique packages with strength and weakness, and somewhere there is a precious gift in all of us” (Abeel, 2013).
- “Sometimes a challenge can be an inspiration” (Abeel, 2013).
- “Through my disability I have learned the power of persistence, of not giving up in the face of pain and fear” (Abeel, 2013).
These are all inspirational that speak quote speaks directly to me. As human beings, we have all our strengths and weaknesses. Within all these that make up, there are valuable, innate abilities that we can unearth and build them to our own advantage. In addition, challenges are part of everyday but we are judged by how we rise above these challenges and use them for inspiration.
I was not troubled or confused with any aspect of the narrative. I enjoyed reading through this captivating inspiring memoir. Her focus to overcome the challenges that arise due dyscalculia is quite encouraging to all those faced with insurmountable problems in their lives.
I have learnt the essence of being patient with myself and looking beneath me to discover my gifts. The book establishes a precedence of me respecting and accommodating people with disabilities and helping them live positively with them. Their families have to be helped in finding information about the disability and how to tackle it.
My other insights are people should appreciate the amount of stress and discomfort people with disabilities go through. People should be compassionate, supportive and at no time ridicule the disabled.
Samantha Abeel’s narration about her life and how she overcame her disability is an eye-opener. The book sends a message that people with disabilities can still live happy, successful and purposeful life and that disability should not be their main undoing.
Abeel, S. (2003). My thirteenth winter: A memoir. Orchard Books.