MY FIRST GUEST COLUMNIST! OMG, I am so excited to share this piece written by my dear friend, fellow disability advocate, proud Harry Potter loving friend, Megan! Seriously, I love this girl and am so honored that she shared her story and advise with me on my new blog! Please share with older, school-aged, disabled students and families!
THANKS SO MUCH, MEGAN! (for sharing your story and for eating the pumpkin scone that was gifted to me!)
Teens, Take My Advice on How to Win High School Regardless of Your Disabilities. I’ve Been There, Too.
Based on my own experiences in school and what I wish I had known back in the day, I want to offer a few things I think students with disabilities should know to help them with school.
Tip #1: Accept the Weirdness of IEP Meetings
Let’s face it. IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meetings are weird. A bunch of adults sit around you at a table and talk about how you are doing in your classes, and discuss goals you may or may not have had a say in the setting.
Yes, those meetings are long, and they probably feel a little intrusive. Maybe people are saying a lot of things you disagree with. Maybe your parents are arguing with your teachers. Unfortunately, that happens sometimes. In fact, I think it’s the norm. It helps to embrace the awkwardness rather than run from it.
In fact, you can stop all the bickering when you try my next tip, below.
Tip #2: Own Your IEP Meeting
Don’t just be talked about; do the talking. After all, the meeting is supposed to be for your benefit. It was put in place to help YOU succeed. Make sure the other people in the room know that.
Negotiate until you create goals that you would actually be happy to pursue. You’ll be more likely to actually achieve them in the long run. Nobody wants to waste time doing things they hate.
I can hear some of you out there saying, “But Megan, I don’t even want anybody to know I have to go to these!”
Here’s the thing. Other children with disabilities will come through your school and they will also have your teachers. If you speak up now, your teachers will learn how to accommodate you, and maybe the next kid won’t have to fight so hard.
If you fight for yourself, you fight for others.It's never just about you.
Pro tip: Learn about the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, both for yourself and for the adults in your meeting. (You’d be shocked how many school staff knows very little about the law that ensures students with disabilities have educational rights.) If you want to kill two birds with one stone, do a research project on disability history and IDEA, and present it to your IEP team. Win-win!
Tip #3: Got Rejection? Find out Why
You’re bound to get turned down for things: plays, clubs, jobs, scholarships…that’s just life. I don’t want to lie to you. Sometimes it will be because people are put off by your disability. But sometimes it won’t. That’s why it’s worth taking time to find out why you got that “no.”
If you find out why you were turned down for the things you want, you’ll get constructive criticism. Criticism is your friend. She can help you improve and get a better shot next time, and the doubters will learn that you are serious. It will also give you the opportunity to start a conversation, and maybe help put the doubters at ease. Try to understand their concerns, and work with them to find solutions. You’ll learn more about how to sell yourself, and maybe they’ll learn something, too, and do better next time.
Tip #4: Accept Your Limitations, But Don’t Let Them Define You
Everyone on this planet has limitations. Your disability might make yours feel a little more obvious, to the point that you’ll do anything to hide them and act like you never need help. Maybe you are afraid you will annoy people if you ask for anything. Maybe you don’t want to be seen as weak, or stupid. Maybe you don’t want to be known only as “that kid with autism,” or “that kid in a wheelchair.”
I know, and I’ve been there. Asking for help is hard to do. (In fact, I still suck at it.) But truth be told, if you don’t ask for help every now and again, you end up wasting a lot of your own time and cutting yourself off from great experiences.
Those chores you’re determined to finish yourself would get done faster with a second set of hands. And the time you saved by asking for help could be spent doing things with your friends.
Speaking of your friends, have you ever refused to go somewhere with them because you needed help getting there? Did you feel left out? Lean on them next time, and find out what you made yourself miss.
Whatever You Do, Be Kind To Yourself
It’s easy to get mad at other people for seeing our disabilities before they see our whole selves. It’s harder to know when we’re seeing our own disabilities before we see our possibilities. Ironically, it’s often when we accept our limitations that we also stop holding ourselves back.
There are so many more of us out there than we know. Many disabilities are not obvious, but invisible. One day you might find yourself leaving an IEP meeting only to find a friend outside, waiting for an IEP meeting you never knew they needed. Would you judge your friend harshly at that moment? Probably not.
So I hope you’ll use the tips of acceptance, curiosity, and ownership to enhance your high school experience. Don’t let your disability, or anyone else’s judgments about it, define who you are.
Bio: Megan Norlin is a writer, theater nerd and disability advocate who lives with cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair most of the time. She survived and thrived in high school and wants other kids like her to do the same.