Once I began to attend my IEP meetings in school, they were always one of the most uncomfortable days of the year. I never enjoyed hearing myself talked about by people who often thought they knew what was best for me. Sometimes, it felt like I was invisible in the room while people talked about me.
What I didn’t understand was that I often could have told people exactly what they were saying. I’ve always had a more challenging time with math than other subjects. In my sophomore year of high school, the special education director suggested pursuing a career path that didn’t involve complex math. I already knew that I wouldn’t be majoring in engineering or chemistry when I went to college. I would set myself up for more disappointment and frustration that way.
Chemistry was a challenging class for me when I took it in my junior year; I ended up with a C average at the end of the semester. I was okay with that because it was a difficult class. My passions don’t lie within math and science either. I’d rather read a good book or take a class on creative writing if I have my choice.
There was more than one time that I left my IEP meeting feeling completely defeated. My IEPs always seemed to focus more on my weaknesses than my strengths. It was never a good feeling to be talked about. I wanted people to understand that I was more than an IEP goal or an intelligence test score.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing in school was the emphasis on my socialization or lack thereof. School staff often believed that I didn’t socialize enough with my peers. I often sat alone in the cafeteria. This always seemed to frustrate the adults. They were worried that I wouldn’t have any friends. It didn’t seem to occur to people that I enjoyed eating lunch by myself sometimes. I didn’t view lunchtime as a time to be social. I was more focused on eating as much as I could before my next class and having enough time to use the restroom.
Adults in school often overused the word friend as well. If a peer would help me put my books away, usually someone would tell me that “They are such a good friend to you.” Being helpful to me didn’t automatically mean that someone was my friend. I didn’t know these people beyond being in the same classes at school.
To me, friendships take time to develop. Typically, I don’t become friends with someone instantly. By my senior year, the word friend had nearly lost all of its meaning to me. Adults didn’t seem to realize that they were doing me more harm than good. Now that I’m out of public school, I’ve managed to form some strong friendships naturally, which is how it should be.
Besides school, the place where I hear myself talked about the most is in medical care. When I worked with a physical therapist unfamiliar to me, she rarely spoke directly to me. Instead, she would ask my PCA questions like if I could lift my leg on command or what kind of music I wanted to listen to during the session. She could’ve just asked me directly especially given the fact that I was her patient. After this, I requested only to see the other PT.
Disabled people deserve to make their own decisions and be seen as the authority over their lives. I know more about myself than a professional. Please don’t assume that having a disability means that someone cannot make their own decisions.