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A Test I Never Studied for — Parenting a Child With a Disability

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You walk into your math classroom with sweaty palms, your heart is racing and you start fiddling through your pencil case for all of your tools. Looking around the room, you see others are all doing the same. It’s natural to be nervous but “just breathe” you tell yourself quietly, “it will be just fine.” After all, you have been preparing for this test for quite some time.

Laid out in front of you, you have your mechanical pencil, backup pencil, eraser and calculator. You start to calm down as this reminds you of how ready for this you really are. You smile at your friends across the class and they return the reassuring grin and nod.

When the test is placed in front of you, you realize that it’s geometry and not algebra. Geometry isn’t a bad subject, but it’s so completely different than what you thought was coming to you. You stayed up late for nights on end studying for algebra and have all the tools and formulas down. You’ve heard limited things about geometry and you did not see this coming. The sweaty palms return. Heart begins to race again. The overall feeling of readiness turns to anxiety and uncertainty. Your teacher tells you all that it’s time to begin and you no longer may no longer ask questions — it’s time. You have to try your best to complete this test even though you do not know much about geometry. It doesn’t matter what the reason is that you received that test instead. You have no choice but to try.

Looking around the room, everyone has begun answering the test questions without a hint of worry. The sound of the pencils scratching paper accelerates around you and you look down at the complex shapes before you. Quite nervous still, you do your best to make sense of what’s been placed before you: the different angles, the formulas that are so much more complicated than what you studied for.

You realize that your calculator will be of no use and that you are missing vital tools that are needed to solve these equations.

Other students around you begin handing in their tests when you’ve only just begun making a little bit of sense of what you’re doing. You’re trying to stay positive but you know that since you were not prepared and the questions are more complex, it’s only natural that you most likely will have many answers wrong.

The time to hand in your test has come whether finished or unfinished. You sigh, bring your test to the teacher and walk out of the classroom feeling like a failure. As hard as you tried, you just don’t know that much about geometry. The rest of the class seemed to have the test that they prepared for. The algebraic formulas that you all read about and practiced.

You feel alone, overwhelmed and very scared to learn your test results.

Your teacher catches a glimpse of you, sitting on a hallway bench with tears rolling down your cheeks and says,

“Don’t cry. It’s OK. I realize that geometry is not what you were expecting. I know you feel like you’re failing but you just have to keep studying. Everyone else handed in their tests earlier because it was exactly what they studied for.

They may have a higher mark than you this time but your questions were different and had many steps to them, that of which takes much time to learn.

You are not failing, you are just beginning to study a diverse unit of math filled with many complex questions, I have even yet to learn.

It feels lonely right now because not as many people are working with geometry but you are not alone. You need to find the right tools and seek out others that are having the same challenges in math that you are. Pay no mind to criticism from those who are studying only algebra and especially those who aren’t studying math at all.

You were given this test instead because I know you can handle it. Geometry is not worse or better than algebra, it’s different. As any unit of math, it’s not easy but you can do it.”

Your teacher then walks away down the long white hall.

The tears start to dry up. You rub your eyes wake up and find yourself far away from any type of student life. Back to reality. Your teacher is life. Geometry is autism. There is no perfect metaphor for the challenges before you but hopefully you get the concept.

There also is no perfect formula to “decode” the everyday obstacles you face as a parent of a child with a disability, but you have to keep going. You have to give yourself credit for the fact that you are constantly learning how to do things differently than you originally “studied” when you were a “soon-to-be” parent.

You have to let go of certain timelines you may have had in mind and not let anyone else’s parenting expectations make you feel inadequate.

You have to see the beauty and positive points through the challenges that you are facing.

You have to be easier on yourself throughout this journey and give yourself some of the love and understanding that you do your children.

Keep studying. Keep loving. Keep understanding. Keep being the resilient person you are.

It’s not an easy area of study but the payoff is love and a great life for the most important subject of all.

A mother has her eyes closed as she hugs her son.

Photo submitted by contributor.

Originally published: April 10, 2020
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