Charisse Hogan

@charisse-hogan | contributor
I was born with cerebral palsy, low tone, and ataxia due to lack of oxygen at birth.
Charisse Hogan

School Discrimination Against Students With Disabilities

I was the first child with a physical disability to enter my elementary school. Having a student with a physical disability was something new for the school staff and the school wasn’t built to be accessible. However, during my time there the school worked extremely hard to meet my physical needs so I could receive the same education as my classmates. I had a one-on-one aide to help with my physical challenges, such as helping with taking my notes. My hand control is affected by my disability, so handwriting in school was a huge struggle for me. I had to battle through many different struggles, such as being bullied and people of all ages misunderstanding my disability. The first time a teacher judged me because of the “special needs” label given to me was in the sixth grade. The first day in class all the students were allowed to pick their seats. I went and sat at the desk by two of my friends who also had disabilities. Once every child was seated, she made my friends and I switch seats, separating us from each other. We were the only students she forced to move. Over the school year, my friends and I were often treated like we were troubled students, even though we were following the classroom’s rules. Right before winter break, my elementary school would invite all the classes into the gym to enjoy a movie. When my class entered the gym, I went to sit down by my friends. Right before the movie began playing, the same teacher came up to us and told us if she heard us make one peep during the movie, we would have to write a five-page essay about it. Once again, we were the only students she threatened. We were good kids! Now as a young adult looking back at these moments, I can’t help but believe this teacher saw all students with disabilities as nothing but troubled. In middle school and my first year of high school, the school followed my IEP correctly. The schools allowed me to use a rolling backpack so I wouldn’t have to carry heavy textbooks in my arms. The school made sure there was an aide helping me with my writing and note taking. My teachers would cut down my classwork and homework because they knew I understood everything, but it takes me twice as long to complete my work because of my physical challenges. At times I was given extra time to complete tests. I was allowed to leave class five minutes early to get to my next class, so I wouldn’t get knocked over by the crowd of students. After my first year of high school, my family had to move states due to my dad’s job. It took the new school half a year to start following what was written in my IEP. I came home discouraged every single day because I couldn’t keep up physically in my classes. I went from being an A and high B student to a C student. Thankfully, the following year everything on my IEP was put into place. The teachers began cutting down my work, gave me extra time to complete tests, provided copies of the class notes, and allowed me to leave class five minutes early. I had a one-on-one aide to help me with writing. I would tell her my words and answers for the assignments and she would write them down on the paper. Then came senior year. I was with my same one-on-one aide like the year before, but things began changing. I would ask for her to help with the writing on assignments, because this what she was being paid to do, but sometimes she just replied, “No one will be able to help you with this stuff out of high school.” While she would spend time on her iPod in the back of the classroom, I would be up front struggling with trying to keep up with the writing by myself. I began falling behind in my classes again, and would come home in tears. This aide would also make comments that made me feel like I was going to fail in the future. She would tell me how other students she worked with never had to have help with writing. Reports were made about my situation with this aide, but it took me having a complete major meltdown at school for the school to take action. During senior year I also had to deal with a teacher who wouldn’t follow my IEP at all. One day I walked to her classroom and the door was already opened, so I entered, quietly. I caught the teacher talking about me to another staff member, calling me a lazy student. When the teacher noticed me standing in the doorway, she stopped speaking to the other staff member. She labeled me “lazy” because I was struggling to keep up in her class because of my physical disability. The night before this incident, I was up past midnight finishing the classroom work and the homework she assigned the day before. I am not sharing these events publicly to seek attention. I am not trying to shame those who treated me poorly; I have forgiven them. I’m sharing this as a life lesson to educate others and bring more understanding for students with disabilities. If you work at a school and have a student with a disability, please take the time to learn about and understand their disability. If you see a student falling behind in class, ask the student what can be done to help them. Please keep in mind that every child is different, disabled or not. Be patient with them. If a student is reaching out for help, don’t ignore them just because all the other students got it the first time around. Most importantly, don’t allow the label “special needs” to affect the way you see that child.

Community Voices

Dare to #BeBeautifullyDifferent

Dear Reader,

I dare YOU to always Be Beautifully Different.

Dare to always by embracing every negative flaw others have pointed out about you and use these beautiful flaws to make a positive difference in the world.

I used to hate everything about myself that made me so different from everyone around me.

When I was younger I didn’t like to talk to people much or answer questions in class because I hated my voice. I hated my voice because of others’ negative comments about my speech impediment. I would speak and the others would laugh.

I used to hate walking in front of crowds because I hated my limp. People would stare and make jokes.

I used to hate the way I look because guys called me ugly. Some people saw me as something broken.

I used to eat only when no one was watching because others joked and gave me weird looks as my hands shake while I fed myself. During parties at school I always denied the food for this reason. It wasn’t just the kids at school, adult strangers at restaurants gave me the uncomfortable looks as well.

I used to hate my smile due to the amount of times others asked me when I was going to get my teeth fixed. This isn’t even an option for me due to my disabilities.

I used to fear my future because I once believed when they told me I was worthless, ugly, would get no where, and no one could love a freak like me.

I allowed the negatives to scream loud as the positives only whispered.

I lived 10 years of my life fighting to change and hide everything about me so others would like me. But as I grew I realized it was impossible to change myself and it was the wrong thing to do.

When I stopped apologizing for everything that made me different from the rest, this is when I truly began living.

So many of us become blind by negativity and can not see how beautiful our flaws truly are, they are our unique features. Our unique features are what makes us stand out and shine instead of blending in with the rest. The ones who are different are the ones who can make a difference in the world. Embrace your differences and dare to always be Beautifully Different.

Community Voices

Not All Scars Are Visible - My Hidden Mental Health Struggle

May is #MentalHealth Awareness Month.

“What we always need to keep in mind about others is that not all stories are told and not all scars are visible. And for ourselves, we need to know it’s ok not to be ok. Let’s emotions out, the worse thing we can do is keep them hidden. I have learned this lesson after hiding my battles with #Anxiety and #Depression.” -Charisse Hogan

I began battling anxiety, self acceptance issues, and panic attacks as young as 9 years old due to bullying. These issues went on through most of my school years. After high school I was able to slowly recover from these issues and began seeing life as a gift, something so beautiful. I openly spoke in YouTube videos and Facebook posts about all my childhood struggles and how I was able to overcome in hope it will help others. I began to gain quite the following on social media. People began labeling me as strong, an inspiration, someone who is always so happy. But being always seen as someone strong and someone that anyone could run to when they needed help, caused me to struggle deeply with certain situations in my young adulthood. It lead me to forget it was ok not to be ok myself. Here is a part of my story I was able to hide so well from so many.

When I was 15 years old my family moved to Alabama and I lived there for 8 years. Since day 1 of living there I struggled with the feeling of any belonging there. In high school there I struggled with being accepted by my classmates due to my physical disabilities. In my young adulthood I struggled being invited and included in different things due to personal choices I made for my own health, such as making the choice to not drink when I turned 21.

After high school I learned to accept what my life was like and make the best out of it in Alabama, but that feeling of not belonging was always there. Then after 6 years of living in Alabama my life was beginning to go so incredibly amazing and I finally began feeling a small sense of belonging. So many new big opportunities were coming up, I was meeting new people that actually seemed to like spending time with me. and so many things were making me feel so happy! This went on for months. I then took a trip back to Colorado to visit my grandma who was battling #Cancer at the time. It was extremely hard for my whole family to watch my grandma go through this. When it was time for me to return back to Alabama it was difficult to leave my grandma. What helped a little was this was the first time I felt I was returning back “home” to something in Alabama. I was wrong.

Suddenly it seemed like all these things that were finally making me feel happy in Alabama were taken away, gone, out of my control. People I let into my heart began to hurt me, and before this I thought I was being careful with who I let in. Things began happening in my life offline that I never opened up about on any social media. My grandma was dying from cancer. I felt I lost relationships with people I once felt so close to. My heart was breaking, I felt I couldn’t reached out to anyone because I was the person everyone went to for help. On social media I continued to post like everything was the same, like everything was ok. I wasn’t ok.

What I was able to hide so well from others, from social media, was my battle with on going depression episodes that lasted for almost two years. I was so good at battling these episodes silently. At times I had to force myself to eat and I hardly got any sleep. My mind was so mean to me. At times I tried to put signs out that I wasn’t well but many didn’t pick up on them. Sometimes I would message long distance friends to ask how they were doing, I wanted them to ask me the same question. I made posts on Facebook but then quickly deleted them so others didn’t see me as weak. Because everyone always view me as strong.

A few times I couldn’t hold it in any longer, I would final break down and cry. Some of those who saw me upset reacted so negatively, or reply things like “You are ok”, “You don’t have a reason to cry”, “Stop it,” “Get over it”, “You are supposed to be strong”, “You life seems to be better than mine”, “you are being ridiculous.” It made me feel like I didn’t have the right to not feel ok. So I began keeping everything that hurt me to myself. Some months I went on day after day as if I was just following some movie script. I seemed ok but I wasn’t ok.

Battling this on my own, I eventually built a wall. I built this wall around my heart so no one or nothing could hurt me again. I grew numb, I thought that feeling nothing at all was better than feeling any amount of love with all that hurt. Building that wall was my biggest regret because I believed I was protecting myself but in reality I was trapping myself inside.

God had helped me get through these hidden struggles once again and years after battling my mental health silently from everyone else I was able to, luckily, break down this wall.

I’m a lot better now. Great things are now happening in my life that I once was so afraid would never happen. However, somedays I still don’t feel 100%, but I now know it’s ok not to be ok.

My quote is for all of you; -“What we always need to keep in mind about others is that not all stories are told and not all scars are visible.”- We may think we know everything about someone but we can never know every single struggle someone may be facing. We can not base someone’s life off of what we see or what we read. Not everything is spoken about, not everything is posted about. Someone’s life may seem perfect or fabulous to us, but is it really?

-“And for ourselves, we need to know it’s ok not to be ok. Let’s emotions out, the worse thing we can do is keep them hidden.”- No matter who you are, what kind of job you have, if you are rich or poor, if you are popular or have no friends at all… you have the right to feel the way you feel. I’m telling you, it’s ok to not be ok. It’s ok to let your emotions out. You don’t always have to be some superhero, we are all human.

Please make sure someone knows how you are really feeling. Please check in on people. If someone needs to talk, please don’t speak back right away, first just listen. Mental health shouldn’t be something we feel the need to hide or be ashame of. Take care of YOU. You are important too.

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Charisse Hogan

The Importance of Teaching Children About Disabilities

As summer begins to come to an end and students began to prepare for a new school year, I would like to remind others of how important it is to teach children about disabilities, about differences. I hope by sharing some of my personal story, people will realize how important this is. I was born with cerebral palsy, low tone, and ataxia due to lack of oxygen at birth. I was the first child to ever enter my elementary school with a physical disability. The school worked hard to adapt things to meet my unique needs while I was a student there. When I first started school, I didn’t really see myself as different from my classmates. In kindergarten and first grade, I would try my best to do everything other children would do, with a little help from my one-on-one aide. A lot of my classmates liked playing with me and also helping me​. It was shortly after my 8th birthday party in the 2nd grade when I noticed how different I was. A little girl I thought was my friend wouldn’t let me play with her anymore because I was different, because I had a disability she couldn’t understand. She began to see my disability as a disease, believing she could catch it.  She became my first bully. Unfortunately, more of my classmates began following her lead. Because of one child’s thoughts, suddenly my disability became contagious in other children’s eyes. I was bullied verbally and physically. Some of my classmates even treated and talked to me like a baby. Some of my classmates asked my teachers if I knew how to read, if I could learn like them, if I got the same kind of homework they got. My teachers would answer their questions and tell my classmates I was just as smart as them.​ I was often excluded from a social life throughout my elementary and middle school years. Through the bullying and misunderstanding I eventually developed self-acceptance issues, anxiety, and even had panic attacks while at school. When I entered high school, an amazing group of older girls befriended me. Because of them I began to really love life and bring more of my personality out. These girls invited me to birthday parties, holiday parties, shopping, sleepovers, homecoming and just to hang out — things I rarely got to do in elementary and middle school.​ It was the one time I really felt a sense of belonging. The only time I felt complete understanding and acceptance from my peers. Unfortunately, the summer after freshman year my family had to move states from Colorado to Alabama due to my dad’s job. At my new school I tried hard to make friends. None of these kids knew me. They didn’t grow up with me. They didn’t know how to react towards me. The first two years at my new school, I lost myself again, facing misunderstanding once again. History was repeating itself. I wanted to be a “normal” teenage girl and live a full teenage life, but because so many only saw the shell I was stuck in, I didn’t get that opportunity. At age 16 I began sharing my life with the world through YouTube videos. After a year students at my school began to find my videos. Little by little, kids at school began talking to me. Through my videos I was able to educate my peers, which led to them to begin to understand. Awareness leads to understanding, which leads to acceptance. I often wondered how different my childhood would have been if other children were taught about disabilities. I got that answer the last year of my schooling. I entered drama class at school during my senior year, a class I was highly nervous about. After the first day of my drama class my teacher, Mrs. Davis, talked to me privately and asked what I was nervous about. I told her I was nervous about how my classmates were going to react to my disability and my speech problems. No other teacher had ever asked me that question. She then told me about her daughter. Her daughter has health issues, but she knows her daughter is just like any other little girl inside. The next day my teacher took time during class to explain my disability to my classmates. This made a huge difference! This was the first time throughout my whole school life that a teacher did this. I walked into the classroom and right away I felt welcomed by my classmates. I felt like my classmates saw me before my disability. I didn’t get those weird stares or comments. Instead I received smiles and acceptance. My drama class became my favorite class, and I enjoyed performing! Please take a few minutes to explain disabilities and differences to your child, or your students. By doing this, you can make a huge difference in another child’s life. After all we are all different in some way. We are all beautifully and uniquely made! Tips on how to explain a disability to a child: – Explain that people with disabilities are like everyone else, but they might do things differently, in their own unique ways. – Try to make it easier for children to understand by explaining the challenges people with disabilities may face in a way everyone can relate to. Just as someone needs to wear glasses to help them see, someone with a disability needs a walker to help them walk. -Encourage children to include kids with disabilities in their activities. – Explain that disabilities are not contagious. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Photo by contributor.

Charisse Hogan

My Christmas Wish as a Person With Cerebral Palsy

I remember sitting in my first hour class, watching students give and receive gifts from their friends. It was my second year at my new high school, and I still struggled with making friends. Many of the kids didn’t know how to react to the way my cerebral palsy causes me to speak and move. I became the kid who was just kind of there, invisible to many. I was going through the lowest part of my life. Just like the year before, I felt empty inside, knowing I didn’t have friends to share the Christmas cheer with. I remember talking to my mom about this the morning of the last school day before winter break. But a few hours later, something happened that I will never forget. Like every morning, I sat at my desk watching the clock as the other students chatted with their friends. Out of the blue, one of my classmates placed a small gift box on my desk. This girl had never really talked to me before, so I was very confused why she set it on my desk. I was assuming it was hers or for someone else. Then she said, “I wanted to get you something. Merry Christmas.” Inside the box was a pink princess Gigi’s cupcake. Then another classmate handed me a small red gift bag. Inside was a little stuffed reindeer and some Hershey’s Kisses. I was so surprised, I was speechless. I couldn’t believe what happened. My eyes teared up with joy. It wasn’t the gifts that overwhelmed me with happiness, it was knowing someone thought of me when I believed no one ever did. These acts of kindness left a smile on my face the whole day. Those girls will never know how powerful their small gifts were. They will never know how long I will remember that moment. I believe kindness is the greatest gift you can give someone, especially during the holiday season. My Christmas wish is to spread random acts of kindness worldwide during the month of December. I’m asking others to perform at least one act of kindness. I want others to experience the power of kindness. Your act of kindness can be small or big. It can be donating toys, paying for someone’s coffee, giving someone a compliment, or just sitting by someone who may be sitting alone. Anything! I would love to hear your act of kindness. Please post about it on social media with #CharissesChristmasWish and let me know where you are from. You can make someone’s holiday a bit brighter! Follow this journey at Charisse Living With Cerebral Palsy. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here .  

Charisse Hogan

How YouTube Improved My Self-Esteem as a Teen With Cerebral Palsy

I was born with cerebral palsy, low tone, and ataxia due to lack of oxygen at birth. At birth the umbilical cord had a knot and was around my neck. I was without oxygen for seven whole minutes, and was given no hope of survival. At the time of my diagnosis, I was 2 years old, and my parents were told I would be in a wheelchair my whole life. I proved the doctors wrong; at age 9 I began walking independently. I was the first child to enter my elementary school with a physical disability. Unfortunately, because I was so different from my peers, I had to face ongoing bullying and misunderstanding from others, of all ages, throughout my childhood. This lead me to struggle with self-acceptance and anxiety. Others made fun of the way my disability affects me, especially my speech. As a child and later a teen, I became afraid of speaking to anyone outside my home. My 9th grade school was the best year of my life. A group of amazing girls befriended me, and it was the first time I felt like any other teenager. I loved my first high school and all my teachers. I was very happy! Unfortunately, after my 9th grade year my family had to move states due to my dad’s job. I had to leave all the wonderful people I just gained in my life behind. As I tried hard to make the best out of my new home, I ended up falling backwards, becoming the same lost child I was before. In 10th grade, I was struggling a lot with feeling lost, making friends, and being accepted at my new school. I often sat alone at lunch. Classmates and some students I didn’t even know mocked and laughed at me because of the way I talk, walk, and sometimes jerk. There were some nice kids, but none that would hang out with me outside of school. A lot of my classmates misunderstood my disability and believed I was also mentally disabled. During partner projects at school, I worked alone because most of my peers didn’t think I was smart. I knew one of the reasons my classmates treated me the way they did was because they didn’t understand my disability. I knew there were other people out there going through the same problems I was. I wanted to change that. So at age 16, I faced my biggest fear and made a choice that changed my life… I uploaded my first YouTube video. I was extremely nervous. I was a shy teenager, who was terrified of any form of public speaking — I would even begin to panic when a teacher called on me! I was afraid of how my classmates would react to my speech. But I was hoping to make a difference. Soon after, I also began my Facebook page, Charisse Living With Cerebral Palsy. I began to share my life to spread awareness and understanding of disabilities to as many people as I can. I want to show others that people with disabilities may be different on the outside, but inside they are just like everyone else. I also want to show others that people with disabilities can do things other people can do. They just do things in their own unique way. I didn’t know how many people would watch my videos and follow my page, but little by little I began to have an audience of a hundred, which turned into an audience of thousands. Today my YouTube channel has over 6,500 subscribers, and my Facebook page has over 10,000 Likes. I was also nervous about the kind of comments I would get. I began to get tons of supportive comments and started making friends from all over the world. I did receive some very harsh messages and comments. At one point I was cyber-bullied pretty badly. I thought of stopping my videos, but I picked myself back up. I wasn’t going to let anyone stop me or hold me down anymore. A year after beginning my videos, my classmates and the staff at my school began watching my videos. My classmates started understanding and talking to me. In 2011, I won the Inspirational Award for Madison City. Since then I’ve performed in a play, been a varsity basketball cheerleader, gone to prom, graduated high school, done a voice recording for part of a performance at King’s College in London, been interviewed by many college students for their reports on cerebral palsy and disabilities, spoken to college classes, and made over 100 YouTube videos. My videos are being used in lesson plans at schools in and outside of the US. I won the Youth Leadership Award for the Huntsville area, and later met Governor Bentley and received the Youth Leadership Award from the state of Alabama. I’m reaching for my goals and dreams, and much more! Throughout my childhood, others made me believe that being different was a horrible thing. But as I got older, I realized you have to be different to make a difference in this world. When I was 16 and being bullied, I never could have imagined having all these amazing opportunities. No matter who you are, you can shine — you just need to take that first step. Follow this journey at Charisse Living With Cerebral Palsy.