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News: PCC Student Overcomes Learning Disorder

PCC Student Overcomes Learning Disorder to Earn M.A. and Become a Speech-Language Pathologist

Lauren Collette wearing graduation cap and gown

When Lauren Collette’s father first told her “Your weaknesses will become your strengths,” she had little reason to believe him. For as long as Collette can remember, she has struggled with a learning disability that has made it difficult for her brain to process information, which as a child turned basic tasks such as reading and spelling into painful ordeals often accompanied by tears.

So when Collette enrolled in Pasadena City College in the fall of 2007, she wasn’t thinking about how she would develop so-called new strengths. All she knew was that she was going to have to work harder and study longer just to keep up with her classmates, and that it wasn’t going to be easy.

The dismal feeling of falling behind everyone else had become a norm for Collette since the day she first stepped into a classroom. She recalls being the only student in her class that couldn’t recite the alphabet.

“I remember asking my mom, ‘Why am I not like the other kids?’” says Collette, now 26. Her parents explained it simply: it just took her longer than everyone else to process information.

Part of the diagnosis for Collette’s learning disability, which she chooses not to reveal, includes auditory processing disorder (APD). The disorder affects how the brain processes the spoken language, making it difficult for an individual with APD to spell, read, and understand information presented verbally. According to the Auditory Processing Disorder Foundation, APD affects about 5 to 7 percent of school-aged children.

“To put it in simple terms, it takes longer for a signal to reach the part of my brain that processes language, and because it takes longer, sometimes the information gets lost,” Collette explains. “When I read things, my brain can go really fast, but the processing is slower. I have to reread lines because I skip over key word; using a dictionary is almost impossible.”

Despite the challenges, Collette graduated high school with “a lot of hard work and determination.” When she entered PCC, she knew that college classes would test her in a new, unknown way. But she also knew that she couldn’t build a long-term career at the local gym in San Marino, where she was working full-time. To Collette, the answer was simple: like her parents had repeatedly told her when she was little, she would just have to work that much harder than everyone else.    

“I used strategies that could compensate for my disability and help me get good grades,” says Collette, who maintained a “B” average at PCC. “I tape-recorded lectures; I made a buddy in every class so I could compare notes; I studied with my classmates; I made colorful outlines and flashcards; I drew pictures to help remember complex concepts and vocabulary.”

Collette even tape-recorded herself reading her notes, and replayed the tape as she fell asleep. All this was on top of attending every available tutoring session, and being an expected face at her professors’ office hours.

“All the while I was aware that most of my classmates were making better grades than me, with only putting in half the effort,” Collette says. “It didn’t matter to me—all I could think about was graduation, event though I didn’t know where it was leading.”

It was at work one day that Collette learned about the speech-language pathology assistant (SLPA) program at PCC. One of her co-workers was telling her about possibly enrolling. Collette was immediately interested, having used the services of an SLPA herself during grade school. While her co-worker didn’t end up enrolling in the program, Collette did. In 2009, two years after enrolling at PCC, she completed the SLPA program and earned an associate degree.

“Lauren's success is reflected in her attitude, not in her learning disability,” says Rosemary Scott, SLPA program coordinator and PCC associate professor in the Performing and Communication Arts division. "She has taken her strengths and made them work for her."

Immediately upon graduation, Collette started working as a SLPA while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in communications disorders at California State University, Los Angeles. She then decided to go for a master’s degree, and got accepted into the speech-language pathology graduate program at Louisiana Tech University. Collette graduated in May 2013 with three departmental awards. She was also the only graduate of her class to have completed a thesis.

Throughout her journey, never once did Collette doubt that she would finish one of her degrees.

“I learned early in my college career that if I was going to succeed, I had to become my own advocate and take responsibility for achieving my goals,” Collette says.

Collette will soon be starting her clinical fellowship year with the Monrovia Unified School District, at the end of which she will begin working as an official SLPA for the district.

“I would love to help kids with similar disabilities as mine be successful and go to college,” she says.

Collette is now well on her way to obtaining that goal, and somewhere along the journey, she also became a convert to her dad’s school of thought.

“At the time, I did not believe him when he told me that my weaknesses would become my strengths,” Collette says. “When you aren’t reading or spelling like the other kids, you’re just wondering, ‘How am I ever going to be successful?’ Now I understand what he meant.”

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Release Date: 09/05/2013
Contact: Juan F. Gutierrez , Director of Public Relations
Phone: (626) 585-7264
Email: jfgutierrez@pasadena.edu