Wednesday, October 19, 2005

School's in!

I came across an interesting article here:

I didn't like the way it was written, but I really liked the points it made. My school experience, like many other people with disabilities, was different from my able-bodies peers. I started school in a school for people with disabilities. Actually, at the time part of the title was "for deaf and crippled children" . Luckily, the name has been modified since then and that part was taken out. The school was designed for people with physical, cognitive, and learning disabilities. There were "normal, able-bodied" children in the school as well. They were called "intergrated" kids. I can only suppose it was designed so that people with and without disabilities could intermingle and become better people as a result. A noble notion. However, there was a major flaw in their plan. The intergrated kids were only allowed to go to this school for one year. Now, because it was a specialized school, you had kids from all over the city there, not just your neighbourhood. I stayed at that school for 3 years before I was deemed "capable" of going to "normal" school. During those 3 years, I made a lot of friends, both disabled and non-disabled. However, only the disabled friends remained for any duration. Once an able-bodied kid was back in their regular school, I never saw them. One of the main factors of this was distance. When you're growing up, you tend to have friends who live in your area. When you live far from your friends, it takes a lot of planning and it is just harder. We kept in phone contact for a while, but I never really saw them after they left. So from the very start, there was this notion of being different and separated from non-disabled people.

After I left that school, I went to another school that was one of the few schools people with disability went. This school had more non-disabled kids than disabled. It was further from my home. All the non-disabled kids lived in the area. I lived about half an hour away. I did make a couple friends at this school, and actually kept in touch with one for some time, but we rarely saw each other. It was odd going from a majority to a minority though. At the first school, the focus was disability, at this one it was much less so. The first school had all my needs met. I had to be more responsible and independent at the second. I really found this hard. It was the first time I really noticed being different. I couldn't run and play with the other kids at recess and lunch, so I just sat on the sidelines and watched. I had been a pretty bubbly, outgoing, smartaleck kinda kid up until now. This school brought out a new, quiet me. Looking back, I actually have fond memories of this school. Fonder than the first. I believe things might have been different if I had gone to this school from the beginning, but who's to say.

That second school only went up to grade 6, so I had to change schools again after that. In grade 7 I went to yet another school, this time much further from my home. Many more disabled kids at this school, but it was a huge school of about 1,500 students, so the smattering of disabled kids hardly made a difference. I really didn't fit into this school at all. I was the only disabled kid in most of my classes. One thing that I thought was really awful about this school was that all disabled kids, whether they had learning disabilities or only physical disabilities, were taken out of certain classes (for me it was religion and geography) to be put into a "special education" class. This class was where a group of disabled kids got to be in the same room while we did our homework and got extra help with things if we needed it. I didn't need it. Yet, I was still put into this class.. for a year and a half. I finally spoke to my dad about this and asked him why I was in this class. He said "I don't know!". He then spoke to the school and I was taken out of this class and put into grade 7 and 8 religion at the same time. It was very odd. I had a friend who liked to push me around on my back wheels. I thought this was fun, but one of the special ed teachers told me that I couldn't do that unless I wore a helmet coz it was too dangerous. A helmet!! I, with only lack of use of my legs.. none to my arms or mental capacity... a helmet!! Unfreakingbelievable!!! Luckily, I was only at this school for 2 years before I moved to my final high school; a private school.

Private school isn't all it's cracked up to be. Looking back, it's so easy to figure out what you should have done or what they should have done, but at the time you don't know. You don't want to be treated differently, you don't want to admit you can't do what others can do, you can't admit your life experiences have been so completely alien to your peers. I had a lot of problems in high school, and they continued in this private school. I had always been a good student in elementary school, I excelled at most subjects except science. That was not the case in high school. My marks plummeted, I failed courses, I stopped trying, didn't do homework. It wasn't a rebellious stage really, it was more like a paralyzed clueless stage. I was so lost by this time that I had no idea how to get out. My personal life or lack thereof was the main focus and anything else paled in comparison and was just not worth focussing on. I really began to feel like I was a misfit, flawed, broken, unlikeable. I should mention at this point too that I missed a lot of school. I was in the hospital so often, mostly for surgeries. I missed half the school year twice in high school, and periods of a month or so at other times. This certainly didn't help me to fit in. When other people were off on their first sleepovers and dates, I was in the hospital. When classmates went off for a Coke after school, I had to catch the 1 1/2 hour bus ride home. I didn't know how I was supposed to act, coz I couldn't relate to what my peers were going through, as they couldn't relate to me. I didn't have their adolescent experience and they didn't have mine. We were like two foreign alien species. Things they took for granted, I never experienced at all.

After high school things got better. I did manage to keep one friend from my last high school, who I still have today. We seem to get closer every year. She's a wonderful person. And I have other friends I've made along the way. My record of keeping friends for a long time is less than stellar though. We end up drifting apart. And that is especially true for men. The great majority of my friends have been women, with a handful of men scattered in along the way. And I never trust that a friend is a true friend. I always worry about our friendship. If I say the wrong thing they'll go away, if they find out the real me, they'll run. So, I'm still learning about that.

My parents brought me up to be as independent as I could be. That is a good thing, but sometimes it goes too far. The fact is I am disabled, and some things I cannot do, and that is okay. I shouldn't be ashamed that parts of me may look different, or that I need help sometimes, or that I am physically and emotionally different from others. I think addressing this as early as possible in a child's life is crucial. A child with a disability needs as much opportunity as possible to be with other children, both disabled AND non-disabled. And sometimes that means that other people have to do things differently to include you. It is not the disabled person's sole responsibility to find where they can fit in the system the way it's already built. Nor should everything adapt to the disabled person. It's give and take. Sometimes it's your turn, sometimes it's not. If it's always your turn, or never your turn, that just can't work.

Special ed. needs to die. It's old, archaic, and doesn't work for anyone but the people teaching it, as it's much easier to lump people together as you see fit and deal with them as one entity. We need more focus on staying in the classroom with your peers. Classrooms need to adapt to all the changing needs of students. It doesn't make economic or social sense to have a different classroom for able-bodied, disabled, learning disabled, ADHD, blind, deaf, behaviour challenged kids. We all have to live in this same world together once the schoolbell rings anyway.

No comments: