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Eye to Eye Chapter Leader Ellie Chiaradonna shares why being ND is a gift.

We recently interviewed Ellie Chiaradonna, a sophomore at Franklin and Marshall College with an intended double major in Business, Organizations and Society, and Sociology, who was a mentee and Chapter Leader at AIM Academy for all four years of her high school. Below, Ellie shares her ND journey while celebrating her accomplishments throughout her education. We’re honored to share her story and many others in our community as we celebrate Eye to Eye’s 25th anniversary.

Ellie Chiaradonna head shot

Can you share a little bit about yourself and your ND?

I was diagnosed with dyslexia in second grade and soon transferred schools to a life-changing institution that specializes in reading-based learning differences. I still struggled with spelling and reading comprehension, but I soon learned I was just as able as my classmates; I just learned differently. I arrived at school with low self-esteem as a shy eight-year-old girl, but as soon as I entered the doors of my new school, which celebrated learning differences, I never again thought twice about sharing such a big part of my identity, my LD, with a stranger.

Why are you proud to be ND?

I am so proud to be neurodiverse! It has shaped me into a determined and aware young woman and gifted me with a passion for education. From a young age, I felt unworthy in the classroom, and this false sense of stupidity and embarrassment drifted into my everyday life whenever someone asked me why I switched schools or had accommodations on assessments. I remember the reactions people often gave me whenever I said, “I have dyslexia.” I soon realized the stigma around learning differences. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become firm in the belief that interactions surrounding education as a young student shape our perception of school and ourselves as learners. I have worked tirelessly to understand myself as a learner and worked through doubt and hardship to ensure that I always have the tools necessary to support myself. In 2nd grade, I recall studying day after day for an upcoming spelling test, comparably longer than most of my peers. I turned in my test with a smile, prouder than ever, only to receive my test back with a bright red zero on it. My confidence was destroyed at that moment, and embarrassment filled my body. I did not understand myself, and I felt lost. Fast forward a few years later, and I was writing descriptive essays in honors ELA classes. My learning difference has taught me the value of resilience. I soon recognized how I worked best, of course, with the help of a curriculum designed to mold my learning style, but ultimately, because of the drive, I had to become more aware of how my brain works. Rather than locking that memory away, I share it to show how far I’ve come, how I grew through advocating, and the use of learning styles complementary to my learning difference. I am proud to be neurodiverse because I know my ability, my worth, and my success, although I never did as a young girl who got zeros on her spelling tests. I am ND proud because I want younger neurodiverse students to know how capable they are and how proud they should be to be neurodiverse.

What is something you wish people knew about you?

I wish people knew how much my learning difference has changed my scope of vision, not just of education but of every facet of the world around me. My learning difference has taught me that I learn best visually and by incorporating hands-on projects. Due to this, art has always felt like a warm hug in times of distress and my most prized tool in the classroom. My devotion to art and seeing the world with an artistic eye is because of my learning difference, which is one reason I am so thankful for my learning difference.

How did you hear about Eye to Eye and what has been your experience with the org? How has E2E helped you navigate your ND?

I heard about Eye-to-Eye through my high school, as we were the first to have a high school chapter. One of my close friends at the time was a mentor and couldn’t say enough positive things about the organization, its mission, and its impact on both mentors and mentees. I joined my first year and continued until graduation. My experience was one filled with learning, reflecting, and rewarding outcomes. I learned about myself through my mentees, as I could reflect on how I felt at their age and better understand what made me feel a certain way and what tools and strategies I used to overcome hurdles and advocate for myself. Each session was rewarding as I felt a sense of accomplishment after sitting with my mentee, knowing I was trying my best to provide them with the neurodiverse mentor I would have benefitted from at their age.

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