How I Made It Through School
Everyone has their own story of the onset and progression of their disability or mental health diagnosis. For those of us whose onset was birth or early childhood, our first awareness that we are different from others may be when we go to school. I think it dawned on me when I was in preschool. I was initially placed in a preschool class with medically fragile children. My parents disputed this inappropriate placement, and I was moved to a class of children with various disabilities. The next year, I attended a regular preschool, thanks to my parents’ efforts, and I thrived. I would not be who I am without the efforts of many who encouraged me to reach my potential.
I loved school. I loved what I was learning. But, without physical help during the day I could not have succeeded. I was able to attend regular classes with accommodations and modifications. I had a one-on-one aide assigned to get books, modify assignments, do personal care, and implement the therapists’ instructions such as walking each day with a walker during recess. As you can imagine, a support team must work well together, or changes should be made.
By the time I was a junior in high school, I had moved across the country twice. The high school I graduated from had a program called “peer tutoring.” Rather than having one aide help me for the whole day, there were students in each of my classes assigned to help me with reaching materials and taking notes. What I liked about this was that I had a ready-made friend in every class. Peer tutoring worked, but if they weren’t in class, I was responsible for getting the help (or not) that I needed.
College was completely different. I was responsible for meeting with the Disability Resource Center (DRC) to talk about my needs, talking to each of my professors, making sure my note taker took notes (or getting notes from someone else), and getting the textbooks in an accessible format. I tried some assistive technology that didn’t prove as useful as we thought. It all was a trial-and-error process, and I had to be patient and persistent.
I was aware of my disability in preschool and throughout my school years. But I also had a solid support team around me of teachers, aides, therapists, and friends. I am grateful to all of them for the role they played. It took planning, follow-through, teamwork, and respect, as well as being flexible enough to adjust things that weren’t working. Feeling physically supported meant that I could focus on learning. Now, I have a college degree and a job writing these blog posts. It would have been impossible without the school accommodations I received, plus a lot of hard work by me and my support team. Looking back, the effort we put in was worth it.