The hardest part of my elementary years and academic career was NOT because of my diagnosis. By the age of eight I was diagnosed with inactive-ADHD, which meant that the hyperactivity of my disorder was not present. However, it was at times, just mine was more reserved at times than it was for others, due to various reasons. Let me say first and foremost, I am beyond thankful for those teachers in elementary school how supportive they were before my diagnosis and even after please just know that I would not be in this career field if it was not for you too. You know who you are. But, with that being said here is what I wish all those staff members that I had interactions with, knew about my disability, before they became a role in my life. I am not wishing that I could go back to change the way you treated me but, rather hoping to eliminate your ignorance on someone like me and educate you for the future generation of kids you work with.
Most of you know that a diagnosis of any sort does not automatically qualify you for special education services. In most diagnosis with ADHD you usually do not meet the criteria for the seven steps to be able to obtain an IEP. But, in some cases they do have the opportunity to be able to have special education services. For me, I was not eligible, but I definitely at that time did not want them. Looking back, do I wish there was more to my 504-Plan or that I qualified for special education services? Yes. Not that I am looking to be identified as a special education student but rather maybe I would have not struggled to find my confidence and true abilities until so much later in life. I should have been protected by the Section 504 of Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Which states that I should not face discrimination because of my disability but that is not what took place. At that time, I let it go and did not speak up about it because I felt that my disability was not as serve as others. I felt that I did not have the right to speak on the treatment I was receiving because I only had ADHD and it was not that bad of a disability.
As I got older, and as I have decided to pursue a career as a Special Education Teacher I have realized how much I was really neglected in the education system. I do recognize part of it was my fault for always downplaying my disability, but no one in the education system should have allowed for me to do that. I am a person who always wants the best for others and says "so what?" when I do not get treated the way I should be. For those staff members that allowed me to downplay my disability and ignore half of my 504-Plan, why? Why did you do it? Was it easier for you to let me struggle to stay afloat in the education system? Was it because you did not care that I had a disability because I was only eligible for a 504 not an IEP? I struggled so much academically that it made my mental health suffer and it still does from all those years of mistreatment.
Luckily, for myself I had a family at home who was beyond supportive of me regardless if I got a D or a B. Of course, my mother and father got angry when I did not perform well but that was because they always saw me as someone who was capable of receiving better grades. I appreciate their faith in me, and I think they could have gone about it in a different way but it worked for me. My mother always tried to tell me that I had to play by the teacher's rules as they are the ones who can decide to fail me or not. My mother always told me that they always had the bat and ball in their hands, all I had to do was play their game to be successful. At the time, I thought that was the smartest way to go about school but instead, it only got me to know the information for the time being and eventually forget it. Not that it was my mother's fault but rather why did the teacher only educate kids in one way?
The long term effects of the education system failing me when I was so young, was that when it came time to apply to colleges I would feel that I was not smart enough to go to college. What made matters worse was that my guidance counselor in High school told me that I should not even bother looking at four year colleges because I was never going to make it into any of the schools I wanted or even schools I did not want. She told me I was only capable of getting my associates degree and make a life out of that. I think it was in that moment that I realized all my life leading up to one of the biggest moments of an adolescents' life was to graduate high school and go on to get a college degree was viewed as an unachievable goal by staff members. I had realized that that I was never viewed as an equal to a neurotypical student because I had a 504, but I was not as "bad" as a student with an IEP, so instead they viewed me as a middle ground mystery. It may have taken me years to realize since that the administrative staff members in elementary school that downplayed my disability to my high school guidance counselor telling me that college was not possible for me, to find the right words to say and to have the courage to speak up about it but here I am doing it now. Better late than never to speak up about it.
My goal here is to not to tear down your teaching capability, administrative capabilities to deal with children but rather educate you on the ignorance you had in hopes that you never do this to another child. Besides first hand seeing how you handle a child with a 504, to seeing how you handle a child with an IEP, neither one is acceptable. But, I am here to talk about it. I never had an IEP no, but my brother does and you do NOT treat him the right way either. However, that is a topic of discussion for another day, today the topic is how you should treat a child like me with a 504-Plan, or a child with a 504-Plan in general.
Here is what I wish you knew, whether the diagnosis is inactive-ADHD, Autism, APD, Dyslexia, Epilepsy, CP or any of the millions of disabilities that a person could possibly have, please treat them with the same respect and dedication. Whether they have a 504-Plan or an IEP, both should be made aware that the reasons for those plans are important and does not make you dumb, stupid or unable to go to college. I do not know if it was always ignorance about ADHD for the reason that you treated me the way you did or was it just because you did not care either way, I hope you never treat anyone the way you treated me. I cannot say that I wish you treated me differently because I am beyond grateful that you did because I would not be the person I am today without the mistreatment. It does not make you right for mistreating me, but rather thank you for showing me who not to be to a child. Thank you for showing me that everything I felt was valid, and that I should not downplay them myself nor should I let anyone else.
What I wish you knew the most? I wish you knew I was NOT purposely choosing to be "lazy". I was NOT choosing to ignore directions. I was NOT choosing to constantly be moving, tapping my pencil or looking around the room. I was NOT choosing to be distracted easily by the humming of the air conditioner, or the ticking of the clock, or the way someone was writing. I was NOT choosing some of the actions I did in class that you sent me to the principal's office for. I was NOT choosing to be fearful to ask questions. I was NOT choosing to be unable to prioritize assignments over something you deemed insignificant. I was NOT choosing to completely be unable retain a single piece of information from a lesson beyond the title of it. I was NOT choosing to be unable to keep organization in my desk. I was NOT choosing to completely skip lunch some days. I was NOT choosing to be sucked into a certain task so intently that I forget everything else that was being asked of me. Most importantly I did NOT choose to have ADHD, I was born with it.
Here is what I hope you learn that I AM capable of. I AM capable of surviving academically but in my own way. I AM capable of forming lasting relationships, both personal and professional. I AM capable of learning but learning in my way. I AM capable of finishing something that I started but it might take me longer than most. I AM capable of being organized when I have the right tools. I AM capable of being attentive at times, sometimes with techniques other times with the help of my medication. I AM capable of not being a statistic, because that I am determined not to be. I AM capable of studying just not without awesome flash cards, or other cool studying techniques. I AM capable of reading, even though it might take me a little longer. I AM capable of remembering to eat, with reminders to do so. I AM capable of finishing assignments in school, just with the extra time. I AM capable of retaining information, just not after the first time learning about it. I AM capable of getting good grades, just sometimes I do not. I AM capable of following instructions, only if you tell me them a few times and write them down. I AM capable of remember the materials I need for a project or assignment, I just need a checklist. I AM capable of getting a college degree, might have taken an extra year but I have a B.A. in English from Seton Hall University. Oh, and I AM capable of going for a master's degree, I currently am enrolled in my master's program at Seton Hall University pursing my Master of Arts degree in Special Education.
I AM capable of having a career in education based upon my experiences AND my turned around academic life style. I AM capable of having a full life because of the techniques, schedules, tools and plans I figured out for myself outside of school. However, I should not have had to do that outside of school and without teachers and administrative help. I have the ability to do all these things, truly in spite of you not because of you. No child should EVER have to achieve their dreams in spite of anyone. I can confidently say that in my life, before enduring the mistreatment from the education system, I wanted to be teacher but now, the teacher I am going to be is going to be will be different than the teacher I thought I would be. The type of teacher that I am determined to be is the teacher that never makes a child feel the way I did.
Here are the things I want you to walk away if you walk away with nothing else from this narrative, do NOT downplay a child's disability, treat a 504-plan and an IEP with the same amount of respect and dedication, ONLY encourage a child to do better, NEVR tell them they cannot do that because they do not have the capacity. Please, try your best to understand us and when you do not understand ask us, we'll try in our own ways to express our needs as best we can. If we cannot tell you, reach out to our parents. Pay attention to OUR body language, and pay attention what works best for us, not you. You are supposed to be a support system and tool to set me up for my future. You are not supposed someone who holds me back and limits me.
Not Your Average Failed by The Education System Woman.
Fun Fact: I wrote this for an assignment for graduate school. The assignment was, Using the Klein and Kemp narratives as guide, write a personal narrative reflection, on what you wish an elementary teacher of yours would have known. (Make sure this is specific, significant and personal.)
I felt the need to share this not only for myself but also for others. If you are a person with ADHD, you are not alone.