It’s almost back to school time, so I think now would be a great time for me to offer some unsolicited words of wisdom and advice to students with disabilities. Trust me, I know what I’m talking about. I may be 47 years old and I haven’t been a student for over 20 years, but I am disabled, and have been all my life. Besides, I really only feel about 17, so the “youths” will definitely want to listen to me, right?
Okay, here we go.
- One in awhile, think seriously about what you are doing in school. I’m not talking about taking your assignments, tests, or homework seriously. I’m talking about taking time out to consider what you are going to do with your life when school is finished. What do you want to do? What can you picture yourself doing? Is school sending you in that direction? Do you have a serious say in how your education is planned out? Or, is it just your parents, counselors, and teachers who decide what’s happening?
- Find and make friends with other students with disabilities. Make other friends, too, but other disabled friends can play a different, important role in your life. Students with other things in common hang out together in school, and some even advocate for each other in an organized way. Why not disabled students?
- Don’t lock yourself in your room until Spring, but at the same time, don’t feel pressured to socialize the way others think you should. You should feel totally free and welcomed to go to school events and parties, or not, if you don’t want to. There is no “correct” or “normal” way to “do” social life.
- Don’t try to reduce the stigma of your disability by calling it something different and making fine distinctions between “your” type of disability and “those other peoples” disabilities. "I’m differently abled not disabled." "I’m only physically disabled, there’s nothing wrong with my brain!" "My disabilities are actually very mild, so I don’t need any help." This kind of thinking is problematic, a waste of energy, and it doesn’t work.
- It’s understandable sometimes to hate your disability. Just remember that when you hate your disability … your body, or your mind … in a way you are just hating yourself. Don’t do that.
- Learn to tell the difference between the pain of your disability, and pain caused by how other people treat you because of your disability. They are different things. They have different sources, and different remedies.
- If you are going to work on reducing your disability … like walking more smoothly or speaking more clearly ... do it because you feel it will make your life easier, not so you will “fit in” better with everyone else.
- If the other students don’t know much about your disability, consider explaining it to them. People can be meaner and less sensitive to disabilities when they seem like secrets. You don’t owe anyone an explanation, but removing some of the mystery about your disability can help people get to know you better.
- Make the most of your years in school. Not because education is so important, though it can be. Make the most of school because it is the last time when your well-being and handling your disabilities will be other peoples’ responsibility. This is the best time to explore, try things out, experience both failure and success. Don’t just count the days and try to get school over with … use the time to the fullest.
So now I ask others with disabilities … What advice would you give to disabled students heading back to school?