Experience

Obstacles lead her to career path

Veronica Zesati, vzesati@lmcexperience.com

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As a counselor for Los Medanos College’s Disabled Student Programs and Services, Haydee Lindgren helps students walk the straight and narrow path of academics. You’d never be able to tell that, as a child, she said she was considered one of the “naughty” kids.

As early as elementary school, Lindgren was told she was “stupid” for not being able to pay attention in class, for talking instead of working, and for being too hyperactive. Symptoms of her Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder flew under the radar, dismissed as simply childish misbehavior.

Her parents, who were immigrants from the Philippines, had little understanding of learning disabilities. In addition, they had a low-functioning autistic son who needed supervision at all times which left them with little time to spare for Lindgren between work and keeping the family together.

As the oldest child and only daughter, Lindgren felt responsible for her brother, and to help protect him from her parent’s tumultuous relationship.

This situation would lead to her future interest in social work, wanting to rescue kids who had witnessed similar domestic turmoil. Yet, growing up, she had no idea of what her future held.

“I was first generation, I didn’t know anything about college. It wasn’t even something I thought of as part of my future,” she said. “I was focused on surviving, just getting through to adulthood, just managing to live in my family.”

With no specific plans of her own, she followed her high school friends to Diablo Valley College. She worked hard and tried her best to study and succeed in classes, yet found herself failing most of them. She was placed on academic dismissal after being on academic probation for two semesters in a row and had to see a counselor.

“I remember crying with this counselor saying, ‘I’m too stupid, I don’t belong here’ and the counselor said, ‘Have you ever thought that maybe you just learn differently?’”

At first Lindgren was insulted, thinking this was just another person in her life telling her she was stupid. However, after more explanation, the counselor convinced her to take a learning disability test and she was finally diagnosed with ADHD. She received necessary accommodations in her classes and that helped her get back on track with her academics.

After three years there, Lindgren transferred to California State University Fullerton, where she also received accommodations to help her succeed. She completed her undergraduate studies, majoring in sociology.

“I knew I wanted to work with people,” she said. “I wanted to do some sort of helping profession, whether it related to my brother’s disability, or domestic violence.”

Unable to find a job after graduating, she left Fullerton to move back to the East Bay while she searched. She volunteered at various facilities, including an independent living center in Concord. When they had an open position for case manager, she scheduled an interview and was quickly hired.

There, she assisted people with intellectual disabilities, teaching them to live independently. She helped them manage their budgets, make appointments, live healthy lifestyles, maintain hygiene and also encouraged them to take part in recreational activities.

Eventually, in her mid-20s, she landed a job working for Child Protective Services (CPS), a career she had envisioned when she was young. But the nature of the job took a heavy mental toll. She was assigned horrific cases of severe abuse and child molestation, and she felt anxiety about the power she held over the families she reviewed. After nine months, she decided to get her master’s degree and pursue a different career path.

The moment of change for her came Sept. 11, 2001. She remembers driving to work and hearing about the tragedy on the radio.

“I think it kind of shook me up and made me realize I just wasn’t happy there,” she said. “I wanted to make a change in my life.”

She began asking those close to her, friends and family, to suggest career paths that might fit. Her boyfriend at the time suggested college counseling, which prompted her to see a school counselor herself. That’s where she learned about disability counseling, which she hadn’t realized was an option she could specialize in.

San Francisco State had the counseling program she needed, so she applied and was accepted. She got her master’s degree in rehabilitation with an emphasis in college and that, combined with her work experience as a case manager and in CPS, landed her a job as UC Berkeley’s Disability Specialist before she even graduated. She spent almost 10 years there, mostly assigned to chronic illness cases, which was different from her previous experience with developmental disabilities.

Later, she was assigned to help students with autism and began a social coaching program to help them learn and practice social skills. She did almost no academic advising at this job; instead mostly handling other issues such as negotiating reduced course loads with professors and assessing necessary accommodations for students.

With such a huge, ever-growing population of students, the work at Berkeley was rigorous and non-stop. As a new mother to a baby girl, Lindgren decided she wanted a more balanced and less hectic lifestyle, and she found it at LMC.

Since Spring 2015, Lindgren has been working in LMC’s more quiet and personal environment. Students come to her, not just to discuss what accommodations they can receive with the paperwork they have, but with their lives, goals, concerns, and ambitions.

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