ST. LOUIS — Me’Kayla La’Shea Jones, 20, has graduated from St. Louis Community College (STLCC) at Forest Park and plans to major in psychology with a minor in biology at the University of Missouri St. Louis.
Her educational journey includes her overcoming a rare health disability. Jones was diagnosed with Auditory Processing Deficit (ADP) in elementary school, and rose to the challenge to graduate from Parkway West High School in 2020.
“It was a little hard since when I was in elementary school, I was just learning how to form sentences, how to spell in math, and so it took me longer to do all that than the other kids,” she said.
“Throughout elementary school, I just struggled a lot and I had to go to other types of classrooms where they teach you slower or they just give you materials to figure out how to do stuff.
Fast-forward to the present, where a confident Jones shares how she manages ADP and succeeds in the classroom.
“When I'm doing a project, or I'm in class, and the teacher says something, I can have a hard time understanding whether the teacher wants me to do it this way [or another.] Then, when I ask for clarification, sometimes I still don't understand,” Jones explains.
I have to tell them I have this disorder, so can you just slow it down for me one more time, or just show me what you want me to do with this certain project or this certain assignment.
“It just takes a longer time for me to get my stuff completed or for me to even finish one question. The other kids are on to the other questions. It gets better the more I practice with my resources.”
Jones uses a FM system which includes an earpiece that she wears. She can also lip read.
“My professor wears a microphone, and it just helps black out background noises and helps me zone in on the teacher,” she explained.
Sharon Jones, Jones’ mother, realized early in grade school that her daughter experienced difficulty with learning in her classroom. With her background in social work, she recognized her daughter needed help and advocated for her to get the resources she needed to succeed in school.
“I took upon myself to do a little research. I took her to St. John's Mercy Medical Center, and got her connected with an audiologist and found out it was a deficit,” Jones’ mom said. “It is the way they process what they hear, so or example, I may say one might say, ‘holy matrimony,’ and Me’Kayla may hear, ‘holy macaroni.’”
Sharon found herself advocating for health insurance to cover the necessary equipment her daughter needs to process the information in and outside of the classroom.
“After I found out that she needed an FM system, I did it in my research and even though she's on Medicaid, Medicaid denied us the first time,” her mom said.
“They said, ‘well, she can hear,’ but I did more research and I went back, I won the grievance because it's not about her hearing, it's about her processing.”
According to Jones’ mother, the disorder is a birth defect.
There’s no cure for it, and so I always try to encourage people, if your child has it then you’re going to start seeing them in preschool,” Sharon Jones said.
“We don't pay attention to it because they're kids, but you're going to start seeing these issues arrive in kindergarten, in first grade, second grade, third grade.”
She warned that Black kids are not diagnosed as early as other groups.
“Most children are not diagnosed early, especially when it comes to the Black community as opposed to other children. They get diagnosed early and get on the Individual Education Plan [IEP] but when it comes to the Black and brown community, of course, it's a little bit later,” she said.
“I made sure that I was on it. I made sure her IEP was designed for that to be in there and that they put the resources in there.”
MeKayla remained committed and graduated with a 3.1 GPA, was on the Dean's List at STLCC, and volunteers with St. Louis Children's Hospital - Ronald McDonald House.
“My mom’s like my biggest advocate, and helped me get all the resources I can. Especially like being on the IEP. It was very easy for me to do the work and go at a pace that I can do,” Jones said.