43: Don’t Treat Me Differently

43: Don’t Treat Me Differently

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Happiness

Don’t Treat Me Differently

The only disability in life is a bad attitude.

~Scott Hamilton

I have always wanted people to see me as an average person, without any problems. I have, for the most part, been successful at that. However, I am not your normal twenty-three-year-old.

I have cerebral palsy. A mild form that is mostly unnoticeable. I have had it since birth. My mom said I had a small stroke either when I was born or in utero. This caused a hole in the right side of my brain, which affects functioning on the left side of my body. My parents did not know I had cerebral palsy until I was half a year old. They noticed I was favoring my right side more and rolling only to my right.

After doctors determined I had CP I was given physical and occupational therapy. I remember being three or four years old and in therapy, but I felt like I was just an average kid playing. I did not think I was different from any other kid because I did not look different.

The one noticeable quirk about me was I would have my left arm bent up and my hand in an awkward position. Actually, I was different from the other kids in therapy. I was one of the rare kids who could walk freely. Many children born with cerebral palsy are bound to wheelchairs or walkers. I was not.

I was able to go through mainstream school, but I had to be taken out of class to go to occupational therapy. That was when I felt different from the other kids.

In therapy I drew straight lines with both hands to improve my left hand. I threw a tennis ball against the wall and tried to catch it with my left hand. I did running exercises to keep me from dragging my left foot. I learned how to tie my shoes and zip my zippers. Those were everyday things that I was not able to do. Therapy helped me, but it also made me feel helpless and hopeless.

By the time I was in fourth or fifth grade I still could not tie my own shoes, I could not button my jeans without help or zip my coat without someone else doing for me. Because of this I had to wear sweatpants and Velcro shoes to school. I was picked on daily because I was finally different in a bad way. Bullies would pull down my pants or take my shoes and hide them. Others would mock my abnormal left hand, saying, “What are you, retarded?” I never remember crying about this or telling anyone because I didn’t think anyone would care about kids bullying me.

I didn’t tie my own shoes, button my own jeans, or zip my own coat until I was twelve. When I went into middle school, the therapy stopped, and the bullying also stopped because I grew to be bigger and stronger than the bullies. I had overcome a good part of my disability and could do things on my own. I could even pick up a pen with my left hand. This was a huge accomplishment considering the level of mobility on the left side of my body.

In gym class I was almost unaware of my disability. I could do everything other students could do, sometimes better. Sports became my outlet. That was my own personal therapy. I was excited. I played baseball for four years, and soccer for eight years.

My mentor in grade school was Chris Honness, my gym teacher and soccer coach for two years. He understood my disability and would help me do what I needed to be happy. When we did juggling in gym class he came up with an idea for me to just juggle with my right hand. He made gym class and sports fun for me. He made me into a good soccer player and significantly changed my life.

I also played basketball in camp and won two most valuable player awards. I did not try to play basketball in high school because the team would only take twelve players. I did not see myself making the roster. Neither I, nor others could really tell I was different when I played with the normal kids.

My freshman year of high school I had to try out for the soccer team — the first time I had to do this. I was not a star soccer player by any means, but to me I was the best. My position was goaltender, and there was already a proven starter for the junior varsity team and a quality backup. I did not make the cut. I understood; they asked me to stay with the team and be the manager. I thought I would have a strong chance of winning the starting job the next year, with only me and another unproven goalie in training camp. But I ended up being number twenty-six out of twenty-five players. I was enraged and thought they cut me because of my disability. I would never play soccer again. I lost my outlet, until I started paying more attention to professional sports. I knew then I wanted to be a sports writer or commentator.

I do not usually tell people that I have a disability because I do not want to be treated like that, and I do not consider this a disability. I want to be treated just like everyone else — equally. I do not always tell employers because I do not want to become their token disabled worker. I do not get benefits for this and I do not want them.

I graduated from high school and earned my associate’s degree in communications and my bachelor’s degree in journalism, something that doctors told my parents would never happen. I was not supposed to be able to walk, tie my own shoes, button my pants and zip my coats. I also am not supposed to look the same as everyone else, but I do and I am the same. I am just a unique person, like everyone else in our small world.

~Craig Wendell Learn

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