I had the pleasure of interviewing Ronnie Sidney II, author, entrepreneur, mobile app creator, and former special needs student. When I read his news story online, I was so impressed by his story and his journey, especially having a son who is special needs. I wanted something to inspire other families dealing with this challenge so imagine how excited I was when I contacted Ronnie on social media and he agreed to do this interview. See his interview below:
1) So, when I was reading your news story online, it says you have a learning disability and ADHD, what is your learning disability?
My old Individualized Education Plan’s (IEP) from school only stated that I was “Learning Disabled”. The symptoms and behaviors presented on my old evaluations led me to believe my diagnosis was ADHD and Dysgraphia. I presented as hyperactive, impulsive, fidgety, talkative and had difficulty concentrating. My handwriting was always compared to “chicken scratch”. I struggled forming letters and communicating my ideas on paper.
2) Did you have to be in a separate setting? If so, what was it like being in a separate classroom from your peers? How were you able to cope?
During middle school, I attended resource classes. In 7th grade, I started to feel stigmatized and was embarrassed about going to my special education class. I would either go to class late or early. When I went to eighth grade, which was in the high school, I was placed in a self-contained special education classroom. I remember feeling angry about the placement and my father said I came home crying. I asked him to take me out of the special education program because they weren’t providing me a path to enroll in college.
3) What negative messages did you receive as a result of being learning disabled? What barriers did you encounter growing up?
The messages I received about being learning disabled is that you could be discarded, forgotten and written off. I saw it as a dumping ground for minority students who they couldn’t control or couldn’t educate. When I was placed in special education, they wouldn’t allow me to take foreign language classes. In Virginia, you can’t enroll into college with passing 3 years of one foreign language or 2 years of two foreign languages. I remember the disappointment I felt in middle school because I had to take a resource class instead of a foreign language class. I was unable to graduate from Old Dominion University until I took two years of foreign language in college. I was angry because I could have met the requirement if they offered me three years of foreign language classes in middle and high school.
4) It seems like you have a strong support system. How did that help that you back then to succeed? How are they supporting you even now?
My mother was my biggest cheerleader and advocate in school. She always had my back when I complained that teachers were treating me unfairly. My mother always reminded me I was smart, and I believe that helped me cope with being placed in special education.
5) I see that you went on to get your bachelor’s degree in Human Services and Master’s in Social Work, was that a challenge for you? What made you feel confident that you could do this? What caused you to be in this line of study? How has your experience being a special needs student impactful in your work as a therapist?
I feel like each degree challenged me in different ways. I graduated high school with a 1.8 GPA, so my college choices were limited. Enrolling in Reynolds Community College in 2001 was the best decision I’ve ever made. The pace and level of support from educators and administrators made me feel comfortable. I made the Dean’s List during my first year and transferred to Old Dominion University (ODU) the next year. My time at ODU were the most memorable years of my life. I joined an amazing student organization and found out my passion was working with kids. After graduating from ODU with a bachelor’s degree in Human Services, I started working with youth at a community mental health center. I worked for five years and felt like I hit a ceiling. I decided to apply in Virginia Commonwealth University’s (VCU) Master of Social Work program. I was shocked I got into the program because it was ranked 10th in the nation. During the time I had a newborn daughter and relocated back to my hometown. During the last two years of my degree I held a full-time job and somehow completed the program with a 3.5 GPA. I surprised myself. My educational experience inspired me to write my first book “Nelson Beats the Odds”. I wanted to inspire special education students to overcome their challenges and beat the odds.
6) I see that you are also a business owner as well and founded Creative Medicine: Healing through Words, LLC, which facilitates therapeutic writing for offenders. What inspired to do this great work?
My business was developed as an intern at local jail. I developed a therapeutic writing program called Creative Medicine: Healing Through Words and held sessions every Sunday. I have always found writing to be therapeutic and felt like it could be used as a tool to help incarcerated men and women cope with stress. The therapeutic writing program was an empowering experience and I sought to bring the idea to the community. I incorporated my business in 2015 and currently use it to publish my books.
7) So, I know you penned three books. What inspired you to get into writing? How are you hoping that your books will inspire others?
Nelson Beats the Odds was inspired by my experience in special education. I wanted to write the book I wish I had while I was in school. Tameka’s New Dress was inspired by the youth I worked with as a mental health therapist. Rest in Peace RaShawn was inspired by Tamir Rice and all the young African American boys victimized by police brutality.
8) I also see that you are developer of the Nelson Beats the Odds Comic Creator mobile app. How did you come up the idea to create an app and what does this app contain that could be useful to kids with special needs?
Nelson Beats the Odds Comic Creator app was an idea pitched to me by a woman that I met at an event. She told I should have a section in the book where a kid could cut out their picture and place it on Nelson’s body with their name followed by Beat the Odds. I decided to add that feature to the app along with other features that help kids and adults build their self-esteem. I had low self-esteem as a kid and I believe when kids can see themselves in a positive light, it encourages them to work harder.
9) What lessons would you share with other families who struggle with having a child with a learning disability?
I would encourage parents to continue to encourage their children and advocate for them when it’s necessary. I would advise against coddling your children too much. Give them opportunities to succeed and fall short. Life after school is hard, so prepare them the best you can for it.
10) Where can we find you online?
My website is www.creative-medicine.com. My handle on twitter and Instagram is @ronniesidneyii. On Facebook I can be found at Ronnie Sidney, II, LCSW. My books are available on Amazon.com.
I hope you found this feature to be as insightful as I did as a parent of a special needs child. I was also told that my son would likely not be able to attend college because of his IQ and gap in his achievement in reading comprehension compared to his neurotypical peers. However, I will hold onto faith and let God be the one to decide what my son can and cannot do. I have seen him achieve things that a lot of people said he wouldn’t so I won’t let that deter me or him for the future God has in store for him. I implore you as parents or caregivers to have high standards for your special needs children and don’t let the outside world put limits on them. Encourage them to pursue their passions and whether that leads to a collegiate education or not, they will be successful in ways that make them happy.
Please continue to be safe and know that all of you are in my thoughts.
Love and light,