As a child, just knowing someone with CP made you an outcast. Never mind sharing the news with everyone that you have it too. (Brain damage = stupid, or so I’ve been told.)
I’m not proud that when directly asked, “What’s wrong with you?,” I would make up anything except tell the truth. Lucky for me, most of my friends never asked. And if they did, I would just say, "I was born this way." That seemed to suffice.
I had “normal” friends, and I had my “gimpy” friends, and neither of them really knew each other for the most part. I wasn’t allowed to go to the school my brother attended. So, I was sent to the big city with all of my gimpy friends, because they only had one grade school that would take all of us. It kind of made it sound like we were lepers or something.
At some point, we were all set free and let out of the cage to fend for ourselves. The good teachers had a pilot program set up, and wanted to see if the selected few could handle a “real” class room with other kids who were “normal." Eager to prove that we had brains, we rocked that experiment.
That was the year before middle school, when we then had to prove yet again that we belonged in those "normal" classes. It’s very frustrating when someone actually seemingly wants you to fail, which it seemed like most of the time. Honestly, I think the teachers back then got paid more if they taught a large gimpy class. Our parents got fed up, and demanded they free us from the teachers of “special ed."
We had an angel of a teacher though, who fought for us and became our cheerleader. She was by far was the best teacher I had ever had. She knew what they were doing, and pushed us out where we belonged. It was because of her that we were finally set free forever from the shackles of segregated special education. It’s one thing if you need it, but it’s another when you don’t, and it’s humiliating having to go into a separate classroom with everyone else looking on.
I developed anxiety during test taking, because I was so afraid that if I missed one question, they’d throw me back in that place. My teachers would ask me questions, and I’d answer, and that’s how I got through school and my art. We were seriously oppressed. Do you know what they wanted us to do in that special class? Roll crayons for ten cents a piece, and make candy.
I’m not kidding. No math, no English, no real education at all. They were getting us ready for menial work at the local business that hired “special people” and would inevitably employ us once we graduated. Like I said. It's fine if your limitations inhibit you from doing more, but we weren't inhibited in that way, and at every turn we were undermined. You bet.
After all of this, we all graduated from taking “normal” classes. Many went on to college. I became a professional writer and an award-winning digital artist. I never wanted to attend school ever again. Lucky for me, my skills didn’t require it. Self-taught, and proud of it.
Later, while becoming a professional artist, I neglected to share that I was disabled, hoping to let my work speak for itself. This worked for decades, but at some point I decided to share my truth, and am glad I did. If I hadn't, I would have never met my most amazing friends, who enrich my life today. I continue to keep in touch with all of my very different, but despite labels, all very normal, friends from high school.
*Image courtesy Flickr creative commons.