A Challenge Becomes an Inspiration

The story of Samantha Abeel


Hello! My name is Heaven Baldassarre and I'm here in Windham New Hampshire where Samantha Abeel is about to tell me all about her life. Samantha figured out in 7th grade that she had a learning disabiliy but was able to overcome those challenges and write three books. What Once was White, Reach for the Moon, and My Thirteenth Winter.

Childhood Years

"As a child growing up, looked like any other kid in my neighborhood. I was enthusiastic, inquisitive, and interested in just about everything. I laughed easily, and was creative and eager to learn." "Even though I felt proud of my identity as one of the smart and creative kids in school, my mom says that something changed when I started kindergarten. At first, she didn't even notice it. The teachers said I was withdrawn, quiet, cautious, very reserved. I spent a lot of my free time watching everybody else in the class and was timid and slow at picking up new tasks." "Mom remembers that in first grade I would sometimes come home crying but I never had a reason. The only thing I can remember feeling bad about that year was my struggle with learning to read. I started out in one of the more advanced reading groups, but I was quickly moved to one of the slower groups after I began to flounder with mastering skills. I was mortified by this move and began to question my own confidence in my intelligence."

The Struggle

"I don't recall exactly when the big struggle began." "I remember feeling confused, uncomfortable, and not understanding any of it. It seemed like things were moving too fast and I couldn't grasp any of it." "I felt very strongly that I did not want anyone to know I didn't get it, and that I should pretend I did. However my inability to live up to my label as a smart, creative student became more and more apparent to me as time passed." "As my second-grade year progressed, my teacher became more and more concerned at how far I seemed to be slipping behind the rest of the class in math." "I began to feel less and less comfortable at school. I felt anxious that someone would find out I couldn't understand everything." "My academic struggles also affected my social life. I began to retreat,, withdrawing into myself." The next year, fifth grade, was a blur of barely passed or failed spelling tests, failed or missed math concepts, and struggles with grammar." "However, no one knew how far behind I was. I had become such a master at masking and covering for what I didn't know that my teacher had no idea I couldn't tell time."

Discovering Writting

"I continued through the highs and lows of school, and then one day something happened. That was the day Mrs. Pratt used our "English" period to have us write descriptive paragraphs, and I discovered the magic and power of writing." "I realized that what had to say and how I chose my words could be powerful." "Over the next few months my writing served as an even bigger purpose for me --- it became my emotional outlet. I had begun to experience strong surges of melancholy during the past year or so, and now I was able to channel them into form that allowed me to express them." "At the end of my seventh-grade year I was collapsing on the inside. Luckily, my seventh-grade writing class became my life preserver. It was the only thing that got me through the anxiety and fear that plagued me. No matter what I couldn't do, I could write." "As the end of the year approached, my mom was desperate to find some constructive project that would counterbalance my dismal learning experience at school. So, my mom approached Mrs. Williams and asked is she would be willing to work with me over the summer. Mrs. Williams agreed and proposed to work weekly with me to work on writing and poetry."

The Disability

"While I continued writing poetry, a second source of help arrived. My mom discovered an organization called the Learning Disabilities Association (LDA) of Michigan. We started getting their newsletter Outlook. One of the articles was entitled "Gifted but Learning Disabled: A Puzzling Paradox" written by Dr. Susan Baum." "For the first time, my mom could've my problem a name: gifted and learning disabled." "There had been something wrong with me all this time. It wasn't my fault that I didn't understand math, and now everyone knew that."

An Author

"During eighth-grade I continued to write poetry and Mrs. Williams continued to act as a mentor, encouraging me, providing feedback, and editing the pieces I produced. Our summer work together had been successful on all levels. By winter, talk of possibly grouping my poems and Charlie Murphy's images together to make a book became more and more frequent, and everyone involved was excited at the prospect. The idea of a book thrilled me. Finally, the book, titled What Once Was White, was ready to be printed. I saw the book as an opportunity to show others what was going on inside me, to show everyone that I was more than just the silent girl is class. I wanted to show them that I did have ideas." "By the end of the summer before tenth grade, three months after we had begun to sell What Once Was White, we sold out of all 3,000 copies. At that point, we decided that book publishing and marketing business was not for us."

Graduation + Jobs

"After graduation, it was time to begin looking for a summer job. A family friend for whom I had often baby-sat owned an upscale restaurant, a favorite of the wealthy summer crowd, and offered me a job as a busser. Little did I know it would be an absolute disaster." "Desperate for money to help pay for school, I was forced to take another job that wouldn't conflict with my night job and wouldn't require that I work a cash register or deal with numbers. After frantically looking, and being turned down because most places had already done their hiring for the summer, I finally got a job at the hotels in town, cleaning rooms." But, "the next week I left home for college." "I needed a summer job after freshman year, but the painful memories of work the previous summer made me leery. My mom found out through a friend that there was an opening through a local day camp. They were looking for an art instructor." "For the first time in a long while I felt strong clearheaded. I felt a new sense of self."


"During my sophomore year of high school, my mom began researching colleges and how they handle learning disabilities. For me, just getting into a college --- any college --- was going to be a challenge." "I just wanted a simple, quiet, small school where I could make a few friends and go to class. Then we found it. It was the last campus we visited, and I fell in love instantly, Mount Holyoke College." "I decided to apply early to better my chances of getting into Mount Holyoke." "Despite my anxiety after the summer, I arrived at Mount Holyoke eager and excited. Everything was new. I felt like a giant sponge soaking up a profusion of words, gestures, directions, buildings, smells, landscapes, conversations. The first two weeks of school were overwhelming academically and full of awkward moments social. However, I was determined to make this work." "I started using a special daily/weekly planner to help me work on managing and understanding my time so that I could strike a better balance between work and play." In college, "I gained a real sense of confidence in my ability to adjust and deal with whatever situations life threw my way."
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All work cited from Samantha Abeel's autobiography, My thirteenth Winter.