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What I Wish the Education System Had Understood About My Multiple Disabilities

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I am and always have been eager to learn. Before entering preschool, I spent my days learning all the names of the things that made housework doable, Bible scripture, watching Blues Clues and trying to avoid naps like the bubonic plague. So when my parents explained to me that one day I would be starting school, I was ecstatic. However, at 4 years old I wasn’t aware of how horribly things would go for me. I couldn’t predict that I’d earn my first cruel nickname, or that since I was chronically ill as a child, I’d miss more days than I’d ever attend in the educational system.

By second grade, it was evident I had issues keeping up with the work. Reading was no problem, but my handwriting wasn’t where it should be and math didn’t seem to stick. It didn’t help that I was still sick and at home more than I was in the classroom, trying to learn the things I never knew I needed.

By fourth grade, I was beginning to associate school with the things I hated – veggies, medication, and sleep. In fourth grade, I had a teacher who lacked compassion and understanding. Instead of digging deep to understand why I was struggling and why I couldn’t keep up, he blamed my mother and my behavior. He blamed everything other than the lack of responsibility our local school system had for my education.

By the time I was due to be a sophomore in high school, I was considered at-risk for dropping out. I missed almost every single day of class, and I had anxiety attacks just being inside a classroom where math lessons took place. I was already repeating my freshman year and had zero credits to my name. I was flunking out, but I wanted to learn and to succeed – so I begged to change schools. Of course, before we could do that, I had to have an Exit ARD meeting. Upon looking at my files, these educators were baffled.

“How are you a sophomore in high school with an above college reading level, excellent written word skills, and yet have the math knowledge of a–a first grader?” I couldn’t divide, multiply, or even subtract. I never did the tests I had been assigned in Algebra because I couldn’t understand the lessons I was forced to learn. It was as if I became stuck in an alternate universe and I was the alien, and I was trying to blend in and failing to do so.

When I went to the brand new charter school, I truly began to excel. I felt confident and capable for the first time in my entire education. I still had issues with math, but I was doing better than ever. But I never graduated. What was once only asthma turned into anxiety, depression, PTSD and eventually chronic pain and various illnesses that would keep me from staying for the duration of a single semester of school.

I was 20 years old and still trying to graduate. I needed 22 credits – my last “core” class was math. I had two modules left. I was so close. Of course, yet again, something got in the way.

They called this one autism. Asperger’s syndrome, a flare-up of PTSD and severe anxiety made it impossible for me to return. I didn’t want to give up – I resented the fact that I had to call my school’s principal to tell him, “I’m not coming back. I am sorry – I can’t. I can’t keep my spot in a school where someone else needs it and will be capable of graduating. I am not capable of it right now. I am so, so sorry.” They understood, and they missed me.

And yet, here I am – now 23 years old and still struggling to finish my final GED test. Can you guess which one it is? Math. Since 2014, I’ve taken it four different times. Each time I’ve failed by a two-point margin. In the time I started taking it, the official passing score changed, and yet my failing point margin remained the same. Two points. I received a 143 on my last test, and I need a 145.

What am I to do? Every time I take the test, I hear all those teachers telling me how I’m incapable and unwilling, undisciplined and a horrible student. But, the thing is – all those years I spent trying to learn like any other kid, no one knew what I needed to learn like every other kid. I had Asperger’s but didn’t get diagnosed until I was 19. I had various chronic illnesses that went unnoticed and untreated until I was 18; even to this day they are still not entirely controlled. So while I crave knowledge and love learning, it has never been fond of me.

I want to say this to all the educators, and to all the struggling students or parents who want their children to keep their love for learning in places that only teach your child how incapable they are of being taught – don’t stop. Do not kneel, bow or bend. Speak up, and force people to listen to you. Do the hard work. See an expert, get a second opinion, allow your child to learn from home until you can find something better for them. Do whatever it will take for your child to feel successful, smart, capable and worthy of an education.

While I never had the chance to graduate, and as I still struggle to complete my primary education —  it could have been a lot different if one person looked at me, looked at my mother, and heard her cry out: “Please, she needs more time.” Do not let them badger or bully you, or push your child into a place you know will harm their education and their spirits. Do what you must. Because in a world where education is a necessity and a privilege, we must be able to say: “We’ve done everything we could, and we are going to keep doing better.”

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Originally published: April 3, 2017
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