As a person with disabilities starting a first job, there are many challenges my twenty-two year-old is confronting. But I also know Lee has the knowledge and skills to speak up.
“Mom, I can’t handle the walkie-talkie they want me to carry around.”
“It’s a shriek that freaks out my sensory.”
“I know, I know. I have to tell my manager.”
When Lee was in grade school, there were no classes to teach children how to self-advocate. I was her mouthpiece, often dismissed as a troublesome, helicopter mom who just wanted to make up excuses. But, when Lee’s diagnosis started to mount, I encouraged my child to stand up and use her voice.
“You know, if I do something while you talk, I can hear you better,” she told her second-grade teacher. And, “Mom says a squeeze toy in my pocket would calm me down.” Fortunately, the second-grade teacher was open to new ideas and let my child draw during lectures, and bring a squishy ball in her sweatshirt to class.
Then middle school rolled around, hormones kicked in and social anxiety ratcheted up. Lee’s self-confidence took a bad tumble. Shy and struggling with learning disabilities, she kept her mouth shut in the classroom. But at home, she had no problem telling me what she needed.
“Don’t ask me what I’m going to do after school. We ADHD’ers can’t focus on what to do now, let alone later!” And, “Mom, I forgot to turn in my homework again. I need the teacher to remind me, more than one time. Can you put that accommodation in the IEP?”
In the classroom, it was a different story. When she needed to tell her math teacher that staring over her shoulder was triggering her anxiety, or she needed more time to process questions on a test, she lost her voice.
I stayed the spokesperson in middle school, but in high school, I handed over the baton. Teachers made it clear that I could be there for support, but Lee would have to speak up. It made sense for her to practice. In college or working a job, she’d be on her own.
Lee was slow to start, but in eleventh grade, she realized she had power in her voice and gained more self-confidence. Even then, I wasn’t prepared when I listened to her ask her counselor for another teacher.
“I have a bad anxiety disorder, and Mr. Peter’s classroom environment and expectations cause my sensory processing to go crazy which makes me nauseous and dizzy. When I was in his class before, I missed a lot of school.”
The counselor’s eyes grew wide. A grin split my face. Not too many kids, I guessed, could self-advocate like that.
Too many kids go through the school system mute, unable to stand up for themselves. With anxiety and depression so pervasive in our schools, it seems more important than ever for our children to develop the skills to ask for help. Then, they will have a shot at finding success in their adult lives.
Without a walkie-talkie.