Elementary School & Disability
My school experience as a disabled kid was quite unremarkable. Being fully ambulatory gave me the ability to join in and form bonds with class mates early on. I walked, talked, and generally moved funny but I was too young at that point to understand shame or embarrassment. Very few kids during ever teased me, at least not so significantly that it left an imprint.
I wasn’t bullied growing up. During elementary school I had a circle of friends that would be considered the “cool” group. I was invited to birthday parties and always had full attendance at my own parties. Of course there was the odd kid that teased or called me “cripple” but it was rare and often dealt with by my friends calling it out or simply excluding the jerk.
As an adult I see news reports daily it seems regarding bullying and disability. Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center has listed the top 10 facts regarding the bullying and harassment of students with disabilities. It goes on to discuss the importance of having a peer advocacy system.
My peer advocate during elementary school was Shannon. We met when we were only five years old. She always took care to make sure I was doing okay. If I had had a surgery and was attending school in a wheelchair she was the one who acted as my aide. When I was forced to wear braces to school she always helped me to put them back on after gym class. If I fell down, which I often did, she made sure my scrapes and cuts were properly attended to. She grew up to be a massage therapist and even now, 37 years after our friendship began, she is the only one that can help with my aches and pains when I’m hurting.
High School & Disability
I was terrified entering into high school. I had been safe and included in elementary school, but high school was a frightening thought for me.
Grade 8 was our first year in high school. About four or five elementary schools fed into the high school. I remember the first week or two, how all of the “prettiest of the pretty” and “best of the best” of each school seemed to find themselves forming what would be lifetime friendships. Other groups formed as well and I was somewhat fortunate enough to be able to mix with everybody. I wasn’t bullied at all. Absolutely no occasion where I was ever bullied in high school comes to mind.
I thank my older sister and two older cousins for this, as they were among the “cool” kids of the high school and all three of them had my back. I didn’t know it then of course, but in hindsight I realize how lucky I was to have had them.
I often wonder what my high school experience would have been like without my sister and cousins. It’s not something I like to think about to be honest. Reading articles now about bullies and how disabled class mates are obvious targets sends chills down my spine. What is the world coming to when kids can literally set FIRE to another kid (NY Times), just because he’s special needs? I’m sure even if I had been alone in high school, my experience 30 years ago would have paled in comparison to what disabled kids are facing now in school.