Special Educators

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    Hey Educators, Let's Stop Comparing Our Students' Disabilities

    I’ve been working in special education for almost 10 years, and one of the things that frustrate me the most is when I hear teachers compare their student’s abilities to that of other students. I was once a student with a disability in the education system. Growing up, I always had trouble in school. I had a congenital heart defect, and because my disability wasn’t visible, I was always pushed to do things my body couldn’t do. One of the areas was in P.E. I was often told I had to run a mile but I physically couldn’t do it. When I said I couldn’t, I was seen as defiant, and my dad would be in the office fighting with the administration the next day. I switched schools constantly because of teachers pushing me beyond my physical limitations, and I was soon seen as a kid who just exaggerated things and had overprotective parents. When I got into middle school my undiagnosed autism started to become more of an issue. Where I once was an A student, my grades started falling, and I was seen as a gifted student that was just “lazy.” Society has been conditioned to compare. We often hear things like, “That person has it so much worse, so why don’t you try harder.” “If they can do it, then you have no excuse.” This thinking is deeply rooted in ableist ideas and inspiration porn. One of the things I try to remind educators when they see a student who seems like they are being lazy, not doing work, or distracted, is that we aren’t in their body or their mind. We are complex creatures and disabilities present differently in everyone. Many disabled students have multiple disabilities, chronic illnesses, and/or mental illnesses. These comorbidities can dramatically affect a student’s primary disability. One person with ADHD, autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, lupus, anxiety disorder, etc. isn’t the same as another. Learning how your specific disabled student functions and thrives with their disability is the path to their success. I’ve seen a lot of educators get frustrated with a student when they compare them to someone who they deem as needing high support or who they think has it rougher than others. These assumptions are often based on the awkwardness of a student, their social interactions, how they communicate, or their physical limitations. They see these kids and determine that if they can get good grades and be a good student, then a student who might have a similar diagnosis and isn’t doing work must mean they are lazy or could do more if they only tried. For students who have an invisible illness, people might have less empathy towards them in comparison to other students who have a visible disability, or whose disability presents in a way that is more obvious. We think of those kids who are constantly going to the nurse as engaging in task avoidance instead of trying to understand how a disability might cause a child to go to the nurse’s office more frequently. Shifting our educators’ focus from comparison to acceptance, understanding, and education on how disabilities present differently in each person can really help our disabled students succeed. Just because one person can do a task a specific way does not mean another can do the same. Disabled students deserve an understanding of how their disability affects how they learn. Educators, stop comparing students’ disabilities and start educating yourself on ways to help our disabled students thrive.

    Parents, It's OK to Need In-Home Help for Your Autistic Child

    Supporting my son on the autism spectrum doesn’t stop at 3:30 in the afternoon when my workday is done.  It continues through the evening and into the morning before my workday begins. I’m setting timers, following routines, and using positive reinforcement to help him get out the door with a minimal amount of arguments. After school, I’m checking on how my son is feeling, giving him time to swing, and offering choices for when homework needs to be completed. I am always mindful and on my tippy toes. I am a social worker for students with autism, intellectual disabilities, etc.  I am also the parent of a teen on the spectrum.  My son is loving, funny, unique, and amazing.  He also absorbs a lot of my time and energy.  I need time and energy for his sibling who needs attention too, although in more subtle ways.  Add in a husband and a dog, both with their own needs, and there ends up being very little time and energy left for little old me. I have to fight for that time, and typically someone drops the ball the minute I make the effort to take care of myself.  It can all be too much. One of the greatest choices I made when my kids were young and I was adjusting to my son’s autism diagnosis was to allow therapists to come into my home and not only work with my son on skills, but give me a break.  This was different than a babysitter or a family member giving a parent a break.  What helped me was knowing that my son was learning from a professional and I did not have to feel guilty worrying that he was just zoning out on screens while I was gone. In my role as a school social worker, I implore parents to allow professionals into their homes, knowing that there will be awkward moments in which you would like to argue with your spouse without this person in your home.  It may be awkward and uncomfortable, but it’s worth it.  Raising a child with autism is a great responsibility, and without these extensive interventions, our children may not communicate or function successfully in the world. It is too much to carry without the support of others trained and willing to shoulder some of the responsibility. Unfortunately, sometimes people insist on putting their privacy above these interventions.  Sometimes it is because they do not want others to see what is happening in their homes.  Other times, parents just feel they know what to do and don’t want outside suggestions. Sometimes parents insist on being martyrs. It’s really hard to make these decisions, but I feel I have the unique perspective of a parent and professional.  I am begging you, let people help your child.

    Tammy OZ
    Tammy OZ @twhammy8
    contributor

    4 Mental Health Coping Skills for Teachers to Reduce Stress

    Other educators might agree with me when I say I surely did not learn how to teach during a pandemic when I was going to college. I teach middle school, and I have now been teaching for about 17 years. Last year and this year have been the toughest years yet — by far. There are days when I get home, and I literally throw myself on the couch, close my eyes, and release a big sigh. There are other times when I have chocolate or get fast food just to treat myself.  I know the COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for the students, but it affects teachers too. I can only speak for myself, but my brain has been quite packed during this time. The best way I can describe my brain is as a hamster wheel — I feel like I am tripping over my thoughts because sometimes, I cannot keep up! A lot has been put on my plate, and teaching middle school has its own challenges. I prepare for two subjects (health and physical education), and usually my class sizes are rather large (They can range from 30-45 students.) Here is what my typical day looks like. I start out my day with an advisory class then teach three classes of sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders. I have about a 20-minute lunch, and then depending on the day, I  either have a full planning period or a half planning period. I also have to do homework boards, lesson planning, and grading and make sure I meet my students’ accommodations. The list goes on and on. Naturally, my brain is often overloaded. At times, I find myself not being able to keep up, and I feel burnt out. Moreover, I must manage my own mental health condition (bipolar disorder) and cope with extreme stress and lack of sleep. I am not sure if any other teachers are going through this, but I feel my anxiety is at a high when it has not been like this before. I want to share some coping skills I use to help my mental health. 1. Learn how to say “no” to help your mental health as a teacher. I have always been — and most likely always will be — a “type A” person. I have high expectations of myself, and not being able to “do it all” can be hard for me. Trust me, it has been hard to make small changes, but for my own sake, I had to make some. I have always been the one to volunteer to help run an event or help someone with anything they need, but I finally have learned to say the one word that has always been the toughest for me to say: “no.” To be honest with you, having to say “no” has helped me out. I now limit myself when helping others in my professional and personal lives, so this way, I am not completely saying “no” all the time. 2. Take things off your plate to cope with mental health stress. I have coached several sports throughout my teaching career. I have coached softball at both the junior varsity and varsity levels for several years, and I’ve been an assistant coach for boys’ soccer at the middle school level. This year, I was the boys’ soccer assistant coach again, but I decided this is my last year coaching because I need more time for myself. As I get older, I realize I need time to do the things I enjoy. So I am ending my time coaching to give myself more time to live life. 3. Try not to bring grading, lesson plans, or other work home with you to improve your mental health. This one is a tough one — no matter how far ahead I think I may be on lesson plans or grading, something always must get done. I then decide if I can wait until the next day to get these tasks accomplished and do it then. If so, then I might keep my computer bag closed for that evening and do something I enjoy instead. If this is not possible, then I will set a timer for myself. I will get as much done as I can in that time slot and then allow myself some “me time.” 4. Use the weekends to refresh your mental health. I now put work aside until Sunday because I allow my weekends to be a “no work” time. I do not care if I do not have any plans on the weekend. I will use that time to binge-watch my favorite shows, go for a walk, or read. I just need that downtime to practice self-care before a busy week. These are a few things I now do to help me get through the chaotic world of teaching. Even though teaching has been overwhelming, and at times I think, “Can I keep doing this?” I get that one letter, email, or drawing from a student that reminds me I can. To all the educators out there, please remember you are making a difference in someone’s life — but you can live your own life too.

    Jodi Grubb

    Seeing Beyond Tests and Supporting All Students as Special Educator

    “I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.”– John Steinbeck In high school, I drew the picture on the below during art class. I worked as hard as I could. I remember determinedly trying to use shading techniques like I was shown. It took a lot longer than it looks. It was one of my best pieces. Renowned artist, Phillip Philbeck, painted this picture below. I have three of his landscapes hanging in my house. He graduated a year before I did. We had the very same art teacher, Doug Pruett. I remember Mr. Pruett’s teasing grin as he tapped his fingers on his desk saying, “I just don’t have the talent in here I had last year.” If Mr. Pruett’s teaching abilities were judged solely on the artwork we produced, Phillip would be making him look pretty dang good. Me? Eh. I mean really, is that the best he could do with me? I should be pretty ticked in comparison. Except that I remember Mr. Pruett as one of my greatest teachers — someone who had an impact on my life, a true artist who shaped my mind and spirit. I’m sure it took way more skill and creativity and a whole lot more patience to teach me, than it did to teach Phillip. The truth is, I could take art classes until my last breath, and I would never have landscapes hanging in anybody’s house. But you know, since I still remember the term cross hatch and dipping a pencil eraser in ink to give my football texture, I must’ve been proud of my work. Although there’s no way to measure it on any standardized test, that’s what makes Mr. Pruett a great teacher. He recognized my individual potential and weaknesses, and yet I left his class with a lifelong confidence in my creativity and a desire to always find a way to express myself. Mr. Pruett inspired me to be my personal best and to realize there is no one standard of beauty or one single measure of success. He could’ve crushed my spirit by holding me to Phillip’s standards (or pretty much any other kid in the class), but he chose to focus on my strengths instead. As I recently administered standardized testing myself as a special education teacher, I thought about this a lot. I thought about it every time a student significantly affected by autism spoke one of the three words he is beginning to use to ask for something rather than take it by force. I thought about it when I was required to ask him to “solve for x” on a 7th grade math test. I thought about it when I watched tears well up in a teacher’s eyes who just gave an 8th grade reading test to many students who came to her barely reading at a 3rd grade level. I thought about it when she whispered, “What can I possibly say to convince them how much they’ve grown, when they make another Level 1 on another standardized test?” I thought about it as I tried to find words to convince her of the infinite ways she helped them grow, when they made another Level 1 on another standardized test in her class. Not to take anything away from teachers and students who performed well—I love my Phillip Philbeck paintings. They need to be admired and gazed upon. But so do the best attempts at footballs and tennis shoes. There are some teachers whose hard work and passion and insight will never pay off in excellent test scores, but their impact will be manifested in countless other ways. To the true artist teachers who wonder how those kids who struggle academically will know how much they’ve grown, I just wanted to tell you about Doug Pruett. If you spent every single day for nine months focusing on a child’s strengths and pouring your heart into working with the most precious of mediums, you can’t help but have positively shaped minds and spirits. I am certain that you’ve helped instill in your students a lifelong confidence in their personal worth that will stay with them long after test scores are forgotten.

    Mae

    How We Can Make Disability Accommodations in Schools More Equitable

    As an educator, I work with students with IEP and 504 plans. IEPs support students with disabilities with specialized instruction, while 504 plans are for students who need support but do not necessarily need specialized instruction. As an educator and somebody who has needed accommodations in school due to severe anxiety and severe depression, I am all for accommodations. However, is it sometimes too much? How do we best provide accommodations to our students on a 504 plan without holding them back and preventing them from learning to navigate the world on their own? I see some students who do not use their 504 plans at all in my class. They have extended time, for example, and refuse to use it because they either are embarrassed or want to do it on their own like everyone else. Then, I have a handful of students who pull on their 504 plan for every little situation and ask for accommodations and demand them, because they have it documented. At what point do we need to take a step back and say to ourselves, what lessons are we teaching our kids? There are stories of parents who are wealthy enough to pay for documentation for their child, or who will coax their child into exaggerating a non-existent condition for the extra time advantage on tests. The New York Times reported that while the vast majority of accommodations and diagnoses are truthful, the process itself is incredibly vulnerable to abuse. The data shows that in wealthier districts, the rate and incidence of 504 plans can be drastically increased compared to neighboring, less wealthy communities. The difference can be 6-8% greater and that raises the question, is it because wealthier communities have access to the healthcare that is needed to diagnose the underlying condition(s) and less affluent communities do not, or is the system being taken advantage of? How do we know if the student truly needs the support or is just using the 504 plan for an extra advantage? Furthermore, how do we know all parents are aware of all the opportunities available to their child at their school, whether they have a disability or not? How do we ensure that all parents are aware of all the opportunities they have to request accommodations for their students? What is to say that two families with students with disabilities both know about the opportunities for accommodations? If one family is more outspoken than another, advocating for their child’s appropriate accommodations, is it appropriate to label them just as looking for an advantage for their child? While measures need to be taken to ensure fairness in the process of receiving accommodations in education, the system itself needs to be looked at. The state that I teach in requires students to take standardized tests multiple times a year — end-of-quarter assessments given by the district, state-mandated assessments that need to be passed for graduation. There are many more mandated tests that our students need to go through that they are test-taking machines. These tests are timed and hold a lot of weight on their graduation. The pressures are unfair to our kids and especially those with disabilities. Are mandated tests necessary? What do we gain? Can we rethink education to provide a different way of assessment and evaluation of student learning? While assessments are inevitable in life — work evaluations, tests in schools — can we, as educators, maybe approach them differently? Can a project suffice for somebody who is creative and has test anxiety? Could a presentation be an alternative to a written test for somebody who has dyslexia or a mobility difficulty that prohibits them from writing well? While the process to acquire accommodations in education has its flaws and areas where it can subject itself to misuse, what can we do as educators to mitigate this misuse of the system? What can we do in the classroom in our instruction to remove the pressure of acquiring accommodations in the first place? Equity starts in the classroom and how we approach learning. If we can create more opportunities within the classroom to demonstrate learning, there would be less pressure to offer as many accommodations. There are so many careers where demonstrating work is done through various avenues — theater performance, business presentation, research project, music production — that tests should not be the only way to demonstrate learning. Tests are only used in school — rarely are tests used in work. So why are we testing our kids with such fervor?

    Kelly Douglas

    AskMe: We Asked an Expert All of Your Questions About ADHD

    Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) doesn’t just involve being easily distracted and having excess energy — it’s a complex neurological condition that can affect everyday functioning and may even symptomatically interact with comorbid conditions.  We spoke with Dr. Ellen B Braaten, Ph.D., an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and Understood Expert on ADHD, and she answered questions from our Mighty community members who live with ADHD or have a loved one with ADHD.  Here are expert answers to some of your biggest questions about ADHD. Responses have been lightly edited for clarity. Q: How do ADHD and PTSD interact with each other? Which symptoms overlap or clash? Any tips for navigating both conditions together? Braaten: There are a number of symptoms that overlap between ADHD and PTSD, such as feeling restless or distractible and having difficulty concentrating. Problems with memory and feeling cognitively “disorganized” or “brain foggy” might be experienced in both disorders. I wouldn’t say these conditions necessarily “clash” with one another, but there are some clear differences. ADHD is a brain-based disorder that begins early in development, whereas PTSD is a disorder that affects the way the brain functions after a traumatic event. People with PTSD will often experience flashbacks, frightening dreams, and recurrent memories. They might avoid any people, places, or situations that are associated with their trauma. Therefore, they can have trouble with memory,  depression, and may be overly vigilant. When a person with ADHD also has PTSD, the symptoms from one disorder might exacerbate symptoms in the other. For example, one of the symptoms of ADHD is difficulty “shifting set,” which refers to the ability to move easily from one topic or activity to another. The challenges people with ADHD face might exacerbate the recurrent memories associated with PTSD. They might have even more difficulty “letting things go” than a person with PTSD who doesn’t have ADHD. Similarly … problems with memory and disorganized thinking might be more significant in a person with ADHD who also experienced trauma. If you have both ADHD and PTSD, treating the symptoms of PTSD through cognitive and cognitive-behavioral therapy approaches may be helpful. Some of the components of therapy – relaxation and stress management skills, cognitive coping skills, emotional regulation skills, and cognitive processing of the trauma – can also be helpful for symptoms of ADHD. Q: How can a person with ADHD lessen obstinacy and maintain consistency? Is there a certain therapy that helps? Braaten: Knowing yourself – and thinking of ADHD as something that needs to be embraced as opposed to cured – is an important part of any therapeutic approach. Medication can help symptoms of ADHD, including obstinacy and lack of consistency. Therapy that includes life management skills can also be helpful. Therapy can focus on “thing management,” such as managing papers and personal objects, time management, “to-do management,” such as lists of tasks, and money management. Learning which areas of life present challenges – and finding ways to better manage those challenges – can help people with ADHD become more consistent at home and at work. In addition, exercise and mindfulness meditation can be helpful in managing symptoms of ADHD. Q: How can a person with ADHD gain confidence? Braaten: What I said above – knowing yourself and accepting who you are is the best way to gain confidence. Confidence also comes from being successful. It’s important for people with ADHD to find areas in life in which they feel … successful and make those situations a regular part of their lives. Q: What advice do you have about studying effectively with ADHD? Braaten: Some of the best techniques include: • Have a clear idea of what it is you need to study. Know the subject, whether you need to read or write information to study for a test, and know the format of the test. • Don’t expect to do all your studying in one big chunk. Instead, set a realistic goal for the amount of time you want to focus on a task, and set an alarm for that amount of time. When the alarm goes off, ask yourself whether you have been distracted from the task at hand, and if so, define what was distracting. • Break large tasks into smaller ones. For instance, making your first goal “Write the English paper” isn’t very helpful. Instead, decide what you can do in a manageable amount of time, such as “Make an outline for the English paper” or even “Pick a topic for the English paper.” • Keep external environmental distractions, like social media, Internet, and phone, to a minimum. Q: Do certain ADHD medications affect someone’s personality? Braaten: ADHD medications should not affect a person’s personality. In fact, correctly prescribed medication should make someone feel “more like themselves,” not “different.” That being said, when the dose is not correct, it may cause someone to feel “flat” and “robotic.” Q: Is there a relationship between head injury and ADHD? Braaten: There is some data that shows children who have a serious head injury are more likely to develop ADHD, and those symptoms might not occur for up to a decade later. On the other hand, ADHD is a risk factor for head injuries, at least in childhood. It’s likely that symptoms of impulsivity, inattention, and hyperactivity increase the possibility that a child with ADHD will be more accident-prone. Thank you to Understood.org for allowing us to speak with Dr. Braaten! If you’re living with ADHD and want to connect with others with similar experiences, join a community here on The Mighty: Parents of Kids With ADHD The Neurodiverse Crowd Navigating Neurodivergence

    Community Voices

    And it keeps going in circles

    I've been a SPED teacher for 20 years. I also claim a disability as my own since I was in school as well. I am trying my best to change the paradigm of SPED and my students. But it is so frustrating when I continue to hear from my some of my colleagues "It is always the SPED students who... (insert something the kids should not do.). I've changed a lot of attitudes (I think). But some people continue with ableist comments. What to do?
    #SpecialEducators

    Andrea Kurth

    Zac’s Mighty Wheels Features Boy With Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy

    I’ve been a special education teacher for 21 years, developing a passion for disabilities by growing up with my brother who has cri-du-chat syndrome. For 14 years, I taught students with moderate cognitive impairments and loved when I came across a book with disabilities I could share, but always wished the stories weren’t just about the disability. I also wanted to read them stories that could hold their attention but weren’t babyish, since I was teaching high school-age students. When I became a homebound teacher, teaching students with severe multiple impairments and who were immune-compromised, I got to work with Zac. Zac had been a legend at the school I had come from, known for his inappropriate mouth and charismatic personality. He had Duchenne muscular dystrophy and I went in not believing this condition would take his life. During the years I was teaching him, God put a desire in my heart to write a children’s book. My students weren’t represented in books often and I wanted to change that. I wanted to write a chapter book where the story was the focus, not the disability. I recruited the help of my son who was only 8 at the time, and we got to work on the story of “Zac’s Mighty Wheels and the Giant Problem.” It was a slow process with working full-time but the yearning to finish got very strong in 2020, four years after beginning the process. “Zac’s Mighty Wheels” became a story of Zac making a wish in a wishing well for the wheelchair of his dreams. Unfortunately, he was not the only one that found the wishing well that day and a giant bully emerges. With Zac’s super-wheelchair and the help of his friends, who also have disabilities, he saves the town from destruction. The story was published in April of 2020, just five months after the real-life Zac passed away. Although he never heard the finished story, I hope he’s looking down and proud of the legacy he left. 10% of profits go to Zac’s Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy Foundation. Book two of the series is being written now with plans of introducing new disabilities in each book. It’s important for people to see themselves represented in books, and others in the general education community to see people with all abilities as main characters who have a place in our communities. I’m hoping to fill that gap in the industry. “Zac’s Mighty Wheels and the Giant Problem” is available on Amazon.

    Annie Barsch

    The Diagnosis Trend I've Seen as a Therapist on TikTok

    I’ve been a therapist for 16 years and on TikTok for six months … for entertainment and research purposes, of course. Lately though, the two worlds have been colliding. My colleagues and I have been discussing a trend we have all started to experience. More and more clients, primarily teenagers, are coming in and reporting that they have (depression, bipolar, anxiety, ADHD, personality disorders) based on a TikTok that reviewed symptoms of the disorder, or someone who shared their “day in the life” story. Let me first say that I am completely in favor of normalizing mental health issues, and social media is a great, large platform for doing so. That said, as with lots of information you find online, it can be hard to tell the difference between a professional’s perspective and an opinion piece by an individual. There are a few challenges with this means of self-diagnosing. The first and most significant is that teens from the age of 13 to 19 often face developmental changes that mirror mental health issues. After a breakup, or bombing an exam, an individual may feel down/blue/depressed. When worried about giving a speech to classmates someone may report feeling worried/anxious. If you look over the criteria for the most common diagnoses – anxiety and depression – all of us would most certainly be able to identify with times we feel that way or experienced the symptoms. However, in order for something to be a clinical diagnosis it must meet a certain number of the criteria for six months or more. It also matters whether symptoms are limited to feelings or spill over into one’s ability to function. This is not to say that teenagers cannot have clinical depression or an anxiety disorder, it is just more nuanced than having an experience similar to someone who pops up on their FYP. When it comes to personality disorders, rule of thumb is that we don’t typically diagnose before the age of 18 and most often not until someone is in their 20s. The TikTok trend reminds me of graduate school when clinicians are studying the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM) and most professors begin the semester by saying “as we move through this manual be careful not to diagnose all your friends and family with a disorder.” We all chuckle, but as we get into studying the diagnoses cover to cover you can see how each scenario could remind you of someone you know. So where does this land us? As a parent of two teens myself, I understand that social media is a daily norm and way to connect and stay relevant for this generation. I encourage all parents and caregivers to talk with their kids about discerning what is fun and what is factual. If a TikTok leads to someone starting a conversation about how they are feeling and struggles they are experiencing, I am all for that. I am in favor of therapy for all so that every person can have a supportive, equipped, neutral third party to process the challenges of life with.

    Why We Need More Disabled Educators

    Disabilities are still such a taboo topic in education. We still don’t even teach about the Disabled Civil Rights Movement in history classes. As educators, we are often discouraged from sharing our personal disabilities with our students. Why are we so scared to find people who might relate to our students who have disabilities? Why do we shy away from telling them our stories, when it could mean so much to even one student? I grew up in the ’90s as an undiagnosed autistic kid with a serious congenital heart condition. My disabilities were invisible unless my scar on my chest from my multiple open-heart surgeries was showing. I was often teased and my dad moved me from five different schools by the time I was in third grade because he had issues with the schools following my 504 plan. He was in the front office all the time fighting and advocating. One of the main concerns was when I was forced to do something in PE that I wasn’t capable of doing. I loved that my dad was always there for me, but I also felt like no one got my disability. My Dad was overprotective, the teachers didn’t care, and I was just existing floating about the education system and no one knew what to do with me. When I was in high school, I went through two surgeries. Although I was a straight-A student, and I seemed like I was doing great, I was actually struggling emotionally and mentally. I had PTSD, had developed a serious eating disorder, and was self-harming. A little over five years ago, my life took me from working with adults with disabilities to working as a paraeducator in a high school. I was just starting to get into my online advocacy and speaking for the first time in my life about my disabilities. I had struggled my whole life with accepting my disability, but I realized writing about it had always helped me. So I took to Instagram and the internet with it. But I didn’t stop there, I shared my journey with my students. I mostly work with high school students who are in mainstream classes who have ADHD, autism (low support needs), and other disabilities that are mostly invisible. When I had my third open-heart surgery in 2019, my students were curious and asked what was going on with me. Instead of dismissing them, I told them and answered any questions they had. I believe sharing my experience of being disabled with my students is important. They don’t often get to talk to someone older than them who has lived through some of the shared experiences we go through being disabled or neurodivergent. When we hide our disabilities as educators and encourage our students to do the same, we are telling them that they should be ashamed. I’ve found in education, it still seems leaders are scared to hire people who have disabilities — especially those who have physical disabilities. In 2016, when I was hired, I hesitated to let my supervisors know my disability, as I knew I would be working as a paraeducator with disabled students. Since my disability is invisible, I can often get by without supervisors knowing about my disability until I feel the need to bring it up. But it’s an important issue that many disabled educators face, especially when working in the Special Education Department. If we have a disability ourselves and work with other disabled and neurodivergent students, our capability is often questioned. It’s important to have the diversity of disabled people represented everywhere in education, especially in Special Education. Disabled educators can connect and advocate for other disabled and neurodivergent students because we’ve been in their shoes. I believe it’s important for students not just in special education, but in all classes, to be exposed to disability education and disabled educators. By having these important discussions in the classrooms, we can start teaching our children how to be inclusive and unlearn ableist ideas. Let’s start by hiring more disabled educators and opening the discussion to our children. I believe disabled teachers provide kids with an amazing opportunity to learn from adults who are like them, and to see they aren’t limited by society’s low expectations for them. I know it’s an opportunity I could have benefited from when I was in school.