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Let's state the obvious for a moment: school is hard enough for students to endure.
Whether it’s because of homework, extracurricular activities, or other kids just being stupid kids, school becomes a burden for young people. For others, however, it’s harder in ways that the “normal crowd” couldn’t really even comprehend. Learning disabilities affect close to ten percent of students in public schools, and as someone who was born with anxiety, Asperger’s, and ADD, I can safely say that graduating from college will be harder for me than someone without any of that, and it’s even harder with administrators that claim to decide what’s better for the student when in reality, it’s easier paperwork for the school. On top of that, there are teachers that just don’t seem to get it after all of this time.
Being diagnosed with Asperger’s and anxiety isn’t all that fun. You know you’re different, but you’re not too sure why or how. That alone can be rather stressful. As for me, I know I stick out sometimes and I’m fine with that. What changes is when somebody points it out in a negative light and enough for you to notice, but not so much for the other students. In the first semester of my senior year of high school, I took a digital art class thinking about how awesome and constructive it would be to my future major in video game arts. Along with that, it would be fun to do! Digital art is always something that fascinated my tech-obsessed mind.
It ended up being the worst class I have taken solely because of the teacher.
I can name several instances where I was called out for no reason. The teacher (who will be named Mrs. Smith) was not really treating me like everyone else and making it blatantly obvious that I was not liked. I was rushed more than anyone else on my hard work, and I was called out for things I didn’t even do. I was treated like I was a clueless imbecile when in reality she faced a senior going into a degree similar to her own in college. She made me feel like I was wrong. She made me feel broken and resentful. My work suffered.
One specific incident I can remember is when we were assigned a project on Adobe Illustrator where we were to recreate a car from a year we were assigned to using a certain method that I cannot recall the name of. The method required careful observation of the original picture of the car and being able to remake it. Being a tedious artist, I took my time with the piece. Ninety-five percent of the other students had simply done something along the lines of circles and boxes... rather unimaginative, if I do say so myself.
I was assigned the year 1962; the car I chose was a Volkswagen Beetle. While everyone else went for a realistic approach, I thought it would be neat to make it like a neon sign. I used brightly-colored lines and spent a lot of time with the piece. I had to work on it non-stop the entire class since I did not have Adobe Illustrator at home, and I worked hard. I always worked hard on my pieces. I often found myself in the sought-after "art zone" while listening to music on the computer.
The week passed by rapidly. I found Mrs. Smith standing over my shoulder one day, thin lips pursed into the obviously fake grin. She looked at my work without a word for some of the longest moments of my life. Eventually, the woman spoke to me.
"You need to finish this up soon, hon," she said in her odd, slightly condescending tone. "It's due tomorrow!"
"Sorry," I apologized as I pulled out my earbuds, "I usually put a lot of detail into my work. Is there any way the deadline can be extended for me?"
I figured it was a reasonable request, considering how there were accommodations that the school had in place for me concerning this sort of situation.
"No," Mrs. Smith replied haughtily. "It has to be submitted by class tomorrow. I need to keep it fair for everyone, don't I?"
I didn't find the comment to be fair, ironically, but I left it at that. She was the adult, after all. Respect and all of that, right? The next day I was forced to rush my work yet again, resulting in something less than what it could have been. I initially brushed it off of my shoulder, understanding that in the real world there would be deadlines such as that. That's how life works, whether I like it or not. But when I walked into class next week and saw the girl sitting next to me working on the exact same project after the due date, I can't express how livid I was. As far as I know, there was no reason why I couldn't have the same extension. Nothing against my former classmate, but she wasn't even going into a degree remotely related to art!
Of course, with this kind of opposition I felt the need to fight back. In a sense, I suppose I am grateful for her incredible inability to offer kindness and mask her adverse emotions towards me simply because I have that experience to handle another time it will happen. But it’s not good for kids with disabilities. We have enough to deal with as high school students alone, but we also have these disabilities stacked on top of it all. In the 2014-2015 school year alone, statistics from the NCES say that 6.6 million children, or 13% of the public school population, were served by the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act)*. That same year, only 70% of those students actually graduated. That leaves 30% at least that couldn’t graduate. Out of all of those kids, those who did and did not graduate, how many of those faced adversity from teachers, staff, and students alike? What is being done to help students now? How many students are suffering in silence? The alarming thought is that no one may know how those questions are going to be answered, or even if they’ll be answered.
As far as we’re concerned, these kind of acts will never go away. It’s just a fact of life. But what if we could do something to bring that 30% down to half that and then some? People with disabilities live their whole life knowing that they’re different, a lot going without a way to at least veil their differences. There’s still stigmas surrounding people who have some sort of impairment, but most, if not all of us, just want to be talked to as a friend, not talked to carefully. Talking to someone like they’re a ticking bomb is what makes them even more different from everyone else. It’s not the elephant in the room, it’s just one more thing that we have to deal with. I personally don’t mind when people ask me questions about having Asperger’s. In fact, it just means you care to some degree. So wouldn’t things just be better if administrators, staff, and teachers asked what we need and provide us with it?
To be honest, it’s good that these things happen, seeing how it brings light to situations that need to be talked about. My dad never fails to remind me how different things were for disabled people back in the 1970s when it was far more common for the disabled to be picked on. It’s just too bad that these types of circumstances happen as often as they do.