What a blessing AutismSpot has been to my family over the past four years. We have learned a tremendous amount from all of you who share your stories and experiences. As we conclude 2011, our team came up with the idea of identifying some of our favorite posts from the past year. This is very hard to do given the breadth of information that flows through the site. However, one particular post keeps coming to mind and I am happy to post it again for you here. Craig's life story is about triumph and courage. He is rewriting the future that many had planned for him and I could not be more proud of my good friend. I hope you find this article to be as inspirational and moving as I did.
Conquering the Stigma - by Craig Gibson
Shaking, trembling, heart racing, forehead sweating, a six-year-old boy sits nervously in the front row of a typical first grade classroom alongside twenty-five students, with his head down, hoping to God the teacher won't call on him to answer yet another question - a question that his mind will not allow him to answer; let alone process. Slowly, he glances to his left, and in the corner of his eye sees Gus, a short and stocky kid with a buzz cut. Gus may not be the best student in the class, but he definitely has much confidence in his ability to tease and torment the emotionally and physically weak.
The boy then glances to his right and sees Cindy, a pretty child by all accounts, raising her hand high in the air; yet again, to answer another question correctly. Everyone knows Cindy is smart.
Gus is now sitting with his fists clinched. He glares with an intimidating stare that the boy has come to know all too well.
With his heart racing faster, and sweat now streaming down his forehead, the boy looks up in front of him at the large clock on the wall above the chalkboard. There are only 15 minutes remaining before the 2:30 afternoon recess, a time the boy has come to dread. At recess, he knows that he will have to endure yet another 20 minutes of physical bullying and verbal teasing from Gus. With his head spinning, fearing what will happen to him both emotionally and physically once he steps foot outside on the playground, the boy hears the teacher call his name.
"What is 5+4," asks the teacher to the boy.
"5+4?" asks the boy?
"Yes, 5+4...are you paying attention?"
As the boy wipes the sweat from his brow, he glances up ever-so-slowly at the teacher, and with rosy cheeks, shakily utters the words, "I don't know, ma'am."
With a look of utter disappointment, the teacher sternly looks to the boy's right and asks Cindy the very same question...
"5+4=9," Cindy replies, with confidence in her voice and a smug, pretentious smile on her face.
Gus, again, turns his head to his left, looks the boy square in the eye, and strongly whispers the words only the boy can hear: "God, you're so dumb."
The boy's heart sinks, as the self-fulfilling prophecy has now become a stark reality. With tears dripping from his watery eyes, he mutters the words softly to himself: "I know I am."
I can recall this day so vividly, for it was the first day of a long and arduous road that, at the young age of six, I was unprepared to endure. My utter lack of confidence in my intellectual ability was evident by my timid body language, which made me vulnerable to teasing and bullying from other students in my class who, for the most part, had the inner confidence that I so badly wished I possessed.
As a result, I had few friends, and I was perceived by my first grade teacher as being a child who was incapable of ever achieving success in the academic forum. It was then when I was given the label "learning disabled." From that day forward, I was looked down upon by my peers as being "stupid" and "dumb;" a feeling that stayed with me for many years to come. THe social rejection I experienced made it difficult for me to even function in the classroom setting.
Many others can relate to this "snapshot" of my early school years growing up with a label in the public school system. Many others, without any fault of their own, grew up with the utterly hopeless and empty feeling that they would never amount to anything after having been diagnosed with a life-long label. However, despite this hopeless feeling, there are many others who have overcome their label, proving the world wrong in the process.
For parents of children who have been diagnosed with a disability of any kind, it is critical that you not give up hope. Remember that you are the expert on your child. You are his greatest advocate. You are the one that gives him hope, and you are the one that will provide him with the "road map" for success -- as long as you keep that hope alive!
Despite my label, my parents believed in me from the moment I was labeled until the moment I earned a Master's degree, some twenty-five years later. And if you do the same for your child, I have every confidence that he will be more successful in life than you could have ever dreamed possible.
Remember this - learning disabilities can be overcome. A label might stay with a child for the rest of his life -- but it doesn't have to be a life-sentence.
This blog was written by Craig Gibson, Editor of SensorySpot.com and Featured Writer for AutismSpot.com