Sunday, April 14, 2013

What I Want the World to Know

Some people say that first impressions are everything. Well, I wish they weren't. I've spent my life in classrooms where I often felt pressure to prove myself to teachers who could not look past my disability, teachers who were preoccupied by the "cerebral palsy" label on my file; these teachers saw this label and assumed that I was cognitively inferior to my peers.

            In one of the readings for my classes, I came across a quotation by Yvonne Divans Hutchinson that sent chills down my spine: "We get so busy looking at children in terms of labels that we fail to look for the potential."

            I could relate. I was one of those labeled children, one of those children whose potential was underestimated time and time again.

            When I was six years old, my teacher suggested to my mother that perhaps I wasn't ready to attend the first grade. She made this judgment because I had fallen and scraped my elbows after one of my classmates pushed me, and because I had difficulty using scissors on the first day of school. A few days later, she retracted her statement, commenting, "Wow! She's such a great reader and writer!"

            Then there was the time in sixth grade when I arrived home nearly in tears. I had spent hours perfecting my first book report and it was returned with a "70" scrawled messily over the rubric. I flipped through the pages of my report, searching for a single red mark, a comment, anything that could explain why I had received this grade. Nothing.

            I showed my mom my essay and she met my eyes. "Don't you remember?" she said. "This has happened to you before. It takes some of your teachers a little while to realize that you're intelligent. They see the way you walk, and they make assumptions about you. Your teacher probably didn't even read what you wrote. Just wait - watch what you get on the next book report."

            My mom's prediction came true: sure enough, on my next paper a few weeks later, I received an "A," and as my teacher passed it back to me, she commented that my intelligence surprised her.

            Instead of feeling gratified, I was upset. This was one lesson that I didn't want to learn, not yet, not as an eleven-year-old; this lesson hurt. This lesson taught me that people were going to judge me for circumstances beyond my control. This lesson taught me that some adults, people who should know better, were going to penalize me because of a diagnosis that was both my greatest teacher and my greatest challenge.

            I needed my teachers to believe in me. My own experiences of being underestimated because of my disability lead me to wonder: how many others have been the victims of first impressions? How many others have been judged because of an unusual name, an older sibling, or their physical appearance? Are these judgments made at a conscious level? Can they be stopped?

            I understand that we all judge people to some degree, and it's unrealistic to expect us to completely disregard first impressions, but I can't help but wonder how this world would be different if we gave everyone a chance. The special needs community understands all too well that a disability doesn't prevent an individual from making a difference in the world; I wish the rest of the world realized this too.

            Sometimes the people who can't physically speak are the ones who communicate the most important messages, the messages that can't be put into words. Sometimes those with vision impairments are the ones who see the most because they are unencumbered by physical appearances. If there's one fundamental lesson I am learning from my cerebral palsy, it is that the word 'disability' is misleading . . . My 'disability' has brought challenges to my life, yes, but in many ways, I consider it to be an 'ability' too because it has brought so much understanding to my life. I'm tired of being underestimated. I'm tired of being the victim of first impressions. People with disabilities might need help accomplishing some tasks, but then again, don't we all need help every now and then? Disability or not, we're more alike than different. We all live on this crazy, beautiful planet called Earth.  

We're all in this together. 

22 comments:

  1. Ok, every time you post I feel like you're taking words right out of my mouth-- only saying it far more eloquently than I could have! I love this. And I'm with you 100%.

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  2. Kerri, I am so sorry that indeed you learnt that lesson at such a young age.your words make me cry every single time I read them as it rings so true for my Cooper except that his response always involves a pistol finger or some sort of swearing ;) you are amazing xx

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  3. I'm sharing this one with anyone that will listen. I hate that you had - and continue to have - that experience, and I have to admit it is one of my fears for Owen. As always, thank you for the honesty.

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  4. I am a new follower to your blog (via Tatum's post on Facebook). I am sorry you've had to experience this, but grateful you are sharing. My son is only 14 months old and I worry about this very same thing for when he starts school. Thank you for your honesty.

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  5. BTW - you're getting lots of love on ANRC's FB page if you like to read people saying good things about you.

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  6. Jacquelyn: I feel like we really "get" each other. :) I always look forward to your posts for the exact same reason!

    Bron: Thank you, as always, for the comment! :) Cooper has such an awesome personality! He is hilarious.

    Tatum: Thank you for sharing my post! I would love to help as many people as possible with my blog, so I really appreciate that. As always, I love reading your words as well! Owen is amazing.

    Anonymous: Thank you so much for the comment, and I wish all the best for you and your son. I have had plenty of amazing, unprejudiced teachers as well, so try not to worry too much! Hugs!

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    1. Oops, didn't mean to post anonymously!
      Thank you! The part you included about those with vision impairments hit home for me too, as my son is also visually impaired.

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  7. Once again, you nailed it. Every single thing that everybody in or surrounding the special needs community wants the whole world to know, you said here. And said it beautifully. It both saddens me for you and worries me for my son that your teachers reacted this way to you. I suppose it's a wake-up call for me as my little boy is still at the age when his teachers understand that there are depths to him that most people don't see. That this should ever change is just wrong.

    I'm sharing your beautiful words on my Facebook page. Thank you.
    https://www.facebook.com/FindingNinee

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  8. PS I hope it's ok that I shared this there. If it's not, please let me know and I will delete it.

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    1. Kristi, thank you so much for the heartfelt comment, and I really appreciate you sharing it on your Facebook page. Hugs!

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  9. Oh good, I'm relieved that you wanted it shared. Not everybody is a Facebook fan. Even I try to keep my "real" Facebook profile a bit separated from my blog FB page - I do NOT need my boss reading my blog, for example.
    By the way, your post today (was better written of course) but made me think of 2 of my recent posts that I thought you might enjoy, because they both talk about worlds where the awesomeness inside is so much more important than anything else.
    I hope I'm not being a jerk by sharing them (as in "hi read my stuff") but I do think you might relate.
    Here they are. And huge hugs back, my friend.
    http://www.findingninee.com/empathy-and-wonder-not-autism/
    http://www.findingninee.com/what-being-a-special-needs-mom-feels-like/

    Also, do you have a Facebook page? I'd like to "like" you there, too, if you do.

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  10. Ok one more thing (sorry). Would you like to write a guest post on my blog? Something along the lines of this one - where you just want the world to see YOU and not CP or a stumble, focusing on the larger world of special needs in general? I don't have a ton of followers, but I do have some and know they would really enjoy hearing your voice. Plus, I know they would come here, as well. Let me know what you think. You can email me privately from my "Contact" page on Finding Ninee if you want to chat over email.

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    1. Kristi: I know what you mean - I try to keep my Facebook separate from my blog too! Again, I really do appreciate you sharing my post though because I'd like to reach as many people as possible. :) I don't have a Facebook page for my blog; that's a good idea though!

      Thank you so much for the links to your posts! I will check them out as soon as I'm done with this comment! Confession: I actually go back and read a lot of your posts...your blog is one of those blogs I can spend hours reading!

      And yes, I would be honored to write a guest post on your blog! I will definitely send you an email.

      Thank you so much again for your kind words...I really appreciate the encouragement. :)

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    2. I came back because of the awesome success you had. Did your page get good hits?

      Also? yeah. Thank you friend.

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    3. YES I got a lot of new visitors!! :) & OMG thank you so much again!! I am at a loss for words...I feel so honored to have guest posted on your blog! xoxoxo

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  11. You consistently amaze me, not inspite of your "disability" but because my first impression of you was not a girl transcending CP but of an amazing writer. It is only through your prose that I realize you have been transcending since birth, not since your blogs birth.

    I pity those who underestimate you. They have no freaking idea what they are missing.

    This is just my opinion, but I believe it is not you that has to transcend CP. It is the fools who judge the book by its cover rather than reading the first page.

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    1. PS as a mom I tend to focus on Boo's needs from my point of view. She cannot tell me her thoughts, fears or dreams. I hope in the future she can express herself as eloquently as you.

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  12. Kerri: Thank you so much for your kind words! They mean so much to me. Hugs to you and Boo!

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  13. I feel ridiculous because every time I comment I say something along the lines of "you're so wise". But honestly, you really are!

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  14. Such an amazing post - I am deeply moved! As the mother of an almost 18 year old girl with severe autistic spectrum disorder and severe cognitive impairments along with a seizure disorder and scoliosis I wish the world were FILLED with hearts like yours :)

    You are amazing, and I hope you know that every day :)

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  15. This kind of thing just frustrates me to no end. In what world is it okay for teachers to make these kinds of snap judgments based on ableist assumptions? How I wish, instead of talking to you about why your teacher did what she did, your parents had gone in and had a meeting with that teacher and demanded fair treatment for you. That kind of thing (that your teacher did) can't be legal.

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