MOUNT AIRY — Bonny Karp had problems in school at an early age, but it wasn't until she was in college that she learned why.
"When I was in the second grade in the early 1960s, I remember having a horrible time with writing," the 36-year-old Mount Airy resident said.
"I also had a hard time with short-term memory, distinguishing the vowel sounds and with my reading. When you have a hard time with reading, you have a hard time writing.
"I spent the next two years getting further behind in school because teachers didn't know I had a disability."
It wasn't until her first year of college that a testpinpointed her problem: dyslexia, an impairment or loss of reading ability.
Now in her second year as president of the Learning Disabilities Association of Carroll County, Karp is determined to help parents and educators understand the importance of identifying learning disabilities early.
Karp also is vice president of the Learning Disabilities Association of Maryland.
Her 12-year-old son has been diagnosed as dyslexic, and her daughter, 7, is showing signs of learning problems, she said.
Karp, who works as a cake decorator at Weis Markets in Mount Airy, spends much of her free time working to help her children receive a good education. She also has a 9-year-old son.
"One of our goals is to make sure that a learning disabled child'sself-esteem is not damaged," she said.
"By picking up the disability early, like kindergarten or first grade, the child has a better chance of being able to compensate by being educated in special ways."
As early as second grade, Karp said she knew something was awry with her progress when her teacher began sending notes home saying Karp was not applying herself.
"I knew I had the intelligence, I justdidn't have the mechanics. It started to affect my self-esteem; I was frustrated.
"The other kids began to tease me and call me retardand stupid."
In the fourth grade, she was tested by a psychologist and labeled "a slow learner," she said.
"Because they didn't have a label back them, I was considered a slow learner," she said.
She spent fifth and sixth grade in the Dennis Avenue Special EducationSchool in Wheaton, Montgomery County. After that, she was in public schools, but in special education classes. She graduated from Northwood High School in Silver Spring in 1973.
Even though she earned a high-school diploma, Karp knew the system had not met her needs.
"I have been through the system, and I can tell you that I didn't get a good education," she said.
"I cannot write efficiently as an adult, and I am not very good at math. I feel that I was pushed through the system. I don't feel that my teachers taught me."
It wasn't until 1978, when Karp was in her first year at Montgomery Junior College in Rockville, that she was diagnosed as dyslexic.
"When I was atMontgomery, I was taking an English 102 course, where we were given an hour to write a paper," she said.
"I had the creative thought process, but I needed a lot more time than the one hour. I just couldn't get my thoughts down on paper."
She went to a college counselor, who suggested she be tested. The results showed her problems with mechanics were a result of dyslexia.
Not deterred by the disability, Karp continued in school because of an interest in psychology.
Her college days were short-lived, however, because she quit after thefirst semester when she became pregnant.
"I was really interestedin psychology, but Howard (her 37-year-old husband) and I decided tostart our family, and I did not go back to school," Karp said.
"Iplan on returning someday to get my degree in special education so that I can teach kids who have different learning styles at the elementary level."
Before going to work at Weis two years ago, Karp spent 10 years at home raising her family and eight years running a licensed day-care center in her Walston Road home.
In addition to running her children to basketball and bowling games, Karp enjoys cooking,quilting and cross-stitching.
Her son was more fortunate than Karp because his dyslexia was discovered earlier. He was diagnosed in the fourth grade, three years ago.
Karp's involvement with the association taught her there was a process to helping a learning disabled child, and that once she understood the process, she could make a difference in her child's education.
"I went through the denial and the anger with school officials and finally accepted the fact that there was a disability," she said.
"I finally joined the LDA because they were people like me. They understood what I was feeling, and they taught me how to be a part of the decision-making in regards to my child's special educational needs."
The most critical aspect necessary to make the process successful is to have teachers trained to not only identify, but instruct learning disabled students with hands-on techniques.
"I feel that the schools are disabled because they do not know how to teach learning disabled students," Karp said.