Natalie Nelson Overcomes Learning Disabilities

By Frank Canales

Natalie Nelson, College of Southern Nevada communications coordinator, was diagnosed with learning disabilities in elementary school. She’s spent her life managing her struggles with reading comprehension and numbers to ultimately inspire students to pursue education regardless of their challenges.

In third grade, teachers started to notice that Nelson was falling behind. Her mother asked the school to run some tests. They soon discovered that she had learning disabilities. She had a hard time reading paragraphs and often she had to memorize the words instead of reading phonetically. Additionally she found math confusing as she would mix up numbers, which made doing multiplication and long division difficult.

Nelson stated, “I was too young to understand or expect the disabilities. That was the biggest thing I struggled with, learning how to accept it and deal with it. I do not know how a third grader has the capacity to do that.”

While going to school she dealt with other students teasing her due to her disabilities. It was hard for her to overcome; however, she had great support from her teachers through elementary to high school. She had accommodations that allowed her to have extra time on exams and assignments.

With help of Nelson’s special-education teacher Cindy Plackemeier, Nelson was the first in her family to graduate high school. She later enrolled at CSN and worked with the Disability Resource Center to gain accommodations to help with her schooling. After six years of hard work, she graduated from CSN with an Associate of Arts in Journalism and Media Studies.

According to Joan Rachmel, disability specialist at CSN’s DRC, approximately 1,285 students registered and use the DRC throughout the course of a year. The DRC helps students with learning disabilities have access to accommodations such as more time on tests or assignments, a reader or quiet testing place.

After Nelson graduated from CSN, she earned her bachelor’s and master’s in communication at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Nelson came back to her alma mater and now works for CSN’s Office of Vice President Student Affairs.

She also speaks on panels for the Nevada Department of Education on topics of disabilities. She does keynote addresses at UNLV and University of Reno, Las Vegas. She also speaks to high-school students and shares her experience going through school and sets an example for everyone. At the end of events she speaks at, she sings a song called “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera to encourage students with learning disabilities to love themselves no matter what others say.

Mark Hinson, who worked with Nelson at the Nevada Department of Education, said, “Since the college workshop experience over six years ago, she has always been available to speak and share her story at many similar events. I think Natalie is a very self-evolved person for her young age. She understands her strengths and limitations as a person living with a disability. She is very personable and always wants to move forward in life in a very positive manner. ”

Jennifer Kane, programs professional for the Office of Special Education for Nevada Department of Education, stated, “Natalie is absolutely a role model for all students, both with and without disabilities. Everyone can learn from her time management and organizational skills how to successfully balance personal and school life, how to remain positive and how to access resources.”

Nelson explains why she would not change anything about her disabilities. She stated, “I think you learn from your experience and you should learn so you’re able to do better. I would not even change the fact that I have a learning disability. It is nothing to be ashamed of. I think it is more common than we think. If we speak out about it, it can help people deal with their disabilities.”

Nelson imparts her experience and wisdom to many students as she teaches part-time for CSN. “I think higher education is important,” Nelson said. “It’s a feeling so amazing that you have done so much work and later on you have so much to show for it. That piece of paper means so much. It is a symbol of hard work. Earning a degree is something no one will regret, disability or not.”

%d bloggers like this: