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What a Little Girl's Kindness Showed Me About Working With a Disability

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A couple of weeks ago, I had two very strong reminders that I am working exactly where I am supposed to be. First, I received very good feedback from my supervisor. I was appreciative of this, and it led to me reflecting back on all the difficult times, and doubts I had regarding whether or not I would become a good occupational therapist working in the schools. These memories ranged from my obvious physical challenges, bad grades in college, being sent home on medical leave by human resources “until my health condition improved” when I worked at another location, and other misunderstandings with co-workers and supervisors regarding my cerebral palsy.

I will always be disabled, regardless of how well I modify my environment or make accommodations for myself or ignore it. I view my cerebral palsy as this pesky, annoying imperfection that will always be around to sometimes make other people uncomfortable and my interactions with them a challenge. I am no different than any other person in a minority group, and how I choose to handle it is up to me.

I have major self-esteem issues; I have been told I couldn’t make it or succeed, and I feel like I will always face discrimination. I don’t have the option of being naive or not learning the laws that protect me in the workplace environment. So it means a lot to me to know I’m valued by the administration where I work. This compliment and conversation made my day — and it was about to get even better.

I work mainly with preschool to second graders. Almost daily, I get asked “What is wrong with you? Why are you walking and/or talking that way?” Since it happens so often, sometimes I give a short response, or ignore the question and just keep walking. The halls are crowded with lots of little people, snow pants, boots, coats and I am often on a mission and preoccupied. I am not walking around thinking about my CP; how many adults wander around thinking about their annoying, pesky, imperfections when they are at work? So when the students confront me, many times I am caught off-guard. I do try to give an explanation that is age-appropriate and also appropriate for the time and place. Most of the time I answer, “I was born this way and my muscles work slower in my mouth and legs but that’s OK, because we’re all different, right?” I usually get a nod and a smile.

On this particular day, I was walking with one of my students I see for therapy and the halls were practically empty. A girl walked up beside us and asked what was wrong with me. I could tell she was being sincere and curious, so I gave her my explanation. She responded by saying, “Well, that’s OK, because you are really beautiful.”

My heart lit up with joy, and I had to quickly decide how to respond. I told her thank you, and that was very kind of her. She said “Thanks, I like being kind to people.” Man, I love working with little ones! This little girl made all the Medicaid billing and paperwork I deal with worth it. I wouldn’t request a different job or placement for anything.

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Originally published: November 30, 2016
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