When Eileen Gold Kushner began working at a McDonald’s 37 years ago, she was told she would never progress past making french fries and milkshakes. She always had trouble processing what she was learning, but never knew why until she was an adult.
Eventually, she took on the challenge of taking customers’ orders.
With the help of her husband, Larry, Gold Kushner practiced at home with empty burger boxes and cups, adding up orders and giving change before the advent of computerized registers.
Diagnosed with a learning disability, she worked hard to overcome it, and 10 years after starting at McDonald’s, the now 68-year-old moved from Detroit to Illinois and bought her own franchise.
“It took a lot of energy, a lot of time and a lot of pushing myself,” Gold Kushner said.
Now the life story of the woman who lives in the Buffalo Grove area is the subject of a book. “Smart on the Inside” is co-written by a former special-education teacher and Cary resident Kathy Young.
Gold Kushner has severe processing disorder, which makes it difficult for her to process and retain what she is reading or learning. She said she still has to overcome it every day because reading, spelling and math are hard for her.
“Slowly I started to learn it,” Gold Kushner said. “I took baby steps because baby steps become giant steps. That’s how I learned.”
Gold Kushner now owns three McDonald’s franchises, one in Buffalo Grove, and two in Palatine.
Young, who is retired from District 300 and District 102, worked as a special-education teacher for fifth and sixth grade.
After reading a newspaper article about Gold Kushner, one of Young’s students invited her to speak to the class.
Young and Gold Kushner have been friends ever since, and Gold Kushner was a regular speaker to Young’s students.
For 16 years, Young’s students created displays for bulletin boards that were displayed at one of Gold Kushner’s restaurants. The displays discussed famous people who overcame learning disabilities: Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Woodrow Wilson and John F. Kennedy. They also covered strategies students can use for reading and writing to overcome their disabilities and process information better.
Young’s students were in mainstream education classes, but needed extra help. “They could learn, they just needed to learn in different ways,” Young said.
She and Gold Kushner began working on the book five years ago as a short story, which expanded into a chapter book. In the past year, they finished it. The book was printed in July.
Gold Kushner had to remember the tough things about her childhood growing up with the undiagnosed learning disability, such as how she was told she couldn’t use a finger to help guide her when reading.
“The only reason why I allowed the book to be written was to make sure we were going to be able to help parents, children and especially students, that they know it’s OK to be L.D.,” Gold Kushner said.
The book is about 50 pages, with large type and short chapters. It’s meant for the fifth-grade level.
“She wouldn’t let me make it long,” Young said.
The book includes Gold Kushner’s list of skills to be successful: initiative, problem-solving, patience, flexibility, curiosity, friendship, compassion, responsibility, organization, effort, pursuing a passion, perseverance and self-acceptance.
“We are all smart on the inside, we could do anything that we want,” Gold Kushner said. “We have to be taught different techniques, strategies on how to learn, on how to get the message, but we can do it.”