To the 'Weird Kid' With a Disability Going Back to School
To the “weird kid” with a disability going back to school,
Chances are you’re not sure how to feel as the end of summer comes upon you. Chances are you’re not sure if you’re excited or scared that it’s back to school time. If, like me, you’ve got a disability but are also pretty bright, you love to learn new things about the world around you. You’re half-excited at the crisp smell of new notebooks, but you’re also half-terrified of who’s going to pick on you this year, or who’s going to make you feel like an outsider looking in on the laughing world of “the regular kids.” Who’s not going to invite you to a party or a sleepover or even just to sit with them at lunch. You’re probably afraid of being alone.
I just want to tell you that it’s all worth it, every moment of self-doubt or fear, pain and isolation. The secret is owning your “weirdness.” Learning to be you outside of that label, outside of any labels, and simply learning to tune out those who don’t have the emotional capacity to understand you. I’m writing this because I want you to discover that before I did, before you become full of self-hatred like I did.
I know you remember every sideways look as you get taken out of class for occupational or physical therapy, every rude comment about your eye patch or your leg braces, your wheelchair or your walker, the “funny” way you talk, or walk or simply go up stairs. Even every time your sense of childhood is rattled by a backpack dumped out in the snow, or purposeful exclusion. They stick with you, but they don’t have to define you.
They are all things, my fellow “weird kid,” that will later fade like scars, if you just summon up the courage to love yourself the way you want so badly for others to do.
I wrote this little letter to do my part, as a 30 year old man living with ataxic cerebral palsy, who underwent relentless teasing and bullying not only for my disability, but also for being gay, and even as an adult for being HIV positive. For those of you who may be wondering if there is a tomorrow for those of us all too familiar with the cool feeling of leg braces, the tension of a tonic leg muscle and the sheer sci-fi feeling you get as they strap electrodes to you for your gait test, I have a message:
I stand, today, as the owner of my own consulting firm, as the agent of my own destiny and as an advocate for those who may not have the courage to take a stand. I’m taking a stand for you as I’ve done for myself and am here to tell you, my fellow weird kid, that being this weird is what has enabled me to be successful as an adult.
Being a weird kid means having the courage to be who you are, proudly, before others even know who they are (some adults still don’t know, I promise). Being a weird kid means that inside you burns a special flame that cannot and should not ever be blown out. It is going to be the secret of your future success, even in the smallest of ways. Never forget that in the cold wind of judgment, you can keep yourself warm.
Being a weird kid means you already possess all you need to overcome whatever disability has been made a part of your life. I find that usually, we have a better sense of humor than those boring “normal” folks anyway. Use this to your advantage.
This year, I want you to be weird. I want you to love every moment of this precious life that has been given to you, because whether you hear it now, later, or never… you are someone’s hero in the making. You are already mine, because every weird kid who’s ever ridden a short bus like me, every one of us who has been scared to walk home because of a bully, like me… is an everyday hero.
Stay weird, stay you, and stay in school.
P.S. Oh, and one more thing; to our parents: thank you, because in the end, it is your tireless advocacy on our behalf that ends up moving mountains. I know for me, my mother sat through so many PPT meetings and fought for reasonable accommodations for years to ensure I got my fair shake at educational equity. Kids may not always be kind, but teachers are called to ensure every child is able to excel and be empowered.