Kings' Courier

What You Could Never Understand, pt. 1

Christian Lewis, Senior Writer

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Introductions to My Three Part Series

On Special Education and Learning Disorders

I will start by acknowledging no words can effectively capture the true special education experience, but this three part article is an attempt to justly produce what was not here previously in an accurate, first hand account. I should like to think of it as buck shot aimed at misconceptions and stereotypes, but I suspect my audience is minimal, and I will narrow it still more by my tone; regarding that, you will find my tone abrasive, almost mean even, and for most of my readers, that is a side of me you have never seen, and I am sorry if you do see it.


However, I strongly believe that if even one misconception, lying dormant in just one honest mind, can be shown for what it is, then not even 17 million words could be too high a price to pay. I write this in hope that good human sense is enough to push the nail through the thick board of presumption.


The Rough Road Begins.

A part of me often thinks, “All the times I was bullied in elementary, all the time I fought to overcome my learning disorders and the five elementary years spent in a spec ed room because of them, my young behavioral problems, and my parent’s and teacher’s responses to them- theres no way they still affect who I am.” Of course, this is a far, far cry from the truth.


My oldest memory of special education is quite vivid, especially when I consider that it occurred more than a decade ago, but it’s fair to say most first impressions are usually vivid; yet, I do not usually revisit it with a clear mind- not by choice. As much I want you to, you will never understand the tears- which full of confusion, hurt, and anxiety, flowing from unanswered questions, or the simple, intense frustration. How could you?


I sat towards the back of my home classroom. I can remember ignoring my teacher, who was working out some math problem on the old, bulky projectors. Of course, I use “ignoring”  loosely, for a five year old ADHDer is almost never cognizant at their lack of concentration. Then my special education teacher came to “remove” me.


While my first special education teacher is a hero, whom I revere and respect,  today, back then- when I was in first grade, when I was removed from my home room, when I was taken from my peers, when I was stuck in a room with students from different grades, when I was surrounded by unfamiliar faces, when I didn’t know what a learning disorder was-before I knew that I would wrestle with school work for eleven more years, before I knew there was something “wrong” with me-  she was a stranger responsible for my removal from a normal classroom.


I resented my learning difficulties for a very long time, and on some days, I very much do still resent the sweat and effort and heart and struggle nd frustration and unfairness of my learning disorder, but I was one of the lucky ones: I had parents strong enough and willing to explain and support me through my learning disorder.


I was sitting on my western- it had the horse from Toy Story on it- themed bedspread when my parents first tried to explain my learning disorder; the same bedspread was sat on when my parents tried to explaining why they needed to medicate my ADHD. Yeah, you try explaining that to five, almost six year old.


Most of the other kids enjoyed learning new things, and I think I did as well; it was hard discovering that I couldn’t pull off learning as well everyone else- not with the casual ease and swagger everyone else walked around with. I would need help in those areas.


Working Stress, a Chip on my Shoulder, and the Price I pay.

In regards to that, I remain the same way today. Sure, I can learn just as well as anyone else, but it requires more work. It requires a flipped switch, an uncommon intensity. I am usually calm enough, but I am almost never casual.  


I normally work faster, harder, and more efficiently under the steam and pressure of self responsibility, and when other people are buckling beneath piling stresses, I can endure a little longer on self determination- and even enjoy my circumstance. I’m not bragging. This fact is as much of a curse as it is a gift in high school. And believe me, were it up to me, I would change that fact. NO ONE ever asks for a learning disorder. I’m thankful for my struggles in special education as a steel beam is thankful for a burning furnace.


This working strategy of “intensity” is the product of constant reinforcement–or the lack of it– by teachers, school aids, and my parents. I spent 80% of my school day in that elementary special education; now on the wall of this classroom was a visual behavior chart. Green meant I was on task, staying focused, and not being behaviorally disruptive. Yellow meant my performance in that area was struggling, but yellow also meant a second chance, for it presented the opportunity recover and resume my task. Red, on the other hand, meant either a trip to the principal’s office or the dreaded call home. But all of this goes beyond working on a task: It enabled me to develop a sense mindful awareness, which I otherwise would not have; unfortunately, this mental system is absolutely not 100% effective.


I had a chip on my shoulder for most of my senior year, but then economics class began. In more ways than I care to count, economics is the definition of a casual working environment, and it took me nearly three struggling weeks to pull my head out of my butt, establishing a more tense attitude and becoming aware of the working mindset I needed in that class. Though I wasn’t able to start the class on GradPoint like I wanted to, I did end up increasing my grade average by a solid 40% in roughly a week- but I must thank Miss Smith and the school administration for understanding my situation and offering me that opportunity.


I must deal with the dirty looks, the mocking gestures, and the under the breath comments about my attitude and how I respond to situations, attempting to finish my working, but what do I care? Besides, the other price I pay is letting people down, especially myself, and that is the worst bit of it.


I’m revisiting the rhetorical question in my previous question, for I really do care a great deal, but I won’t ever tell you that. I won’t tell you about the hours I spent studying the psychology of body language–because I didn’t want to appear mean, bitter, and ticked off, or how much energy I spend trying to brush off my odd appearance.


The Sorest Thumb of them All.

The Golden Rule of Common Sense Psychology demands you mustn’t write or speak anything that’ll make you feel weak; well then, this is the hardest bit of my article to write, for it requires me to be strong enough to set pride, confidence, and image aside, and for more reasons than writing this article, I wish I were better at it.


The title of this section is to the point. I spent my school time as the sorest thumb of them all. As young as they were, all my friends and all of my classmates noticed my “disappearance,” and while the first graders simply did not care enough to understand why I left class, they began treating me differently. Because of the importance, which I am incapable of expressing outside of describing its intensity, is attached to the remembrance of such little memories, I must stress to you that such small things greatly impacted the person I became, and I must stress the emotional damage that I was given no choice but bare like a mule, or like a man carrying his doom on his back-that is how it often felt: impending doom; it was a like an eight hour doomsday clock, and it never went off- it just sat there rattling until I went off on it.


By second grade: kids began intentionally giving me a hard time whenever I tried reading out loud, following verbal instructions by the teacher, and whenever I spoke- because damn the kid with a different speech pattern and an impediment. By third grade: the majority of the kids had caught on to my fidgeting, impulsive tendencies, and willingness to go along with just about everything dumb under the sun.  Between the third and the tenth grades, most of these problems would erupt out of proportion, while others shrunk, becoming almost unnoticeable.


Last Thoughts for Part One

I want to leave you with a few questions, and no, they’re not rhetorical: can you grasp the dread of someone walking past the resource room here at Lewis Cass and seeing you in that room, and making assumptions about who you are as a person and your intelligence? Can you understand the shame of having stand by your friends, who have learning disorders and struggle just like yourself, and be generically grouped into the “special” kids crowd? Can you imagine the intense pressure to give up and conform to such standards? Can you possibly comprehend the brew of bitterness in your gut after enduring such experiences for more than a decade? I can, and so can many other special education students. Life is already harder than hell, but it’s even harder when you have a learning disorder. On the other hand, you might have no idea the measure of good you can bring into the world by attempting to show grace to people, who you probably do not think of very often, and spare them the burden of assumption- I challenge you to try it sometime, or more often.

-My next article in this series will not be so pessimistic–you have my word.

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1 Comment

One Response to “What You Could Never Understand, pt. 1”

  1. Robin Asher on March 13th, 2018 7:21 pm

    Thank you for sharing your personal insights. From your writing, it is evident that your struggle was one filled with so many questions and not a lot of answers. As confusing as all of that must have been, your article was filled with experiences that you wrote about clearly enough for everyone to get a minimal understanding of your struggle. Great job.


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Lewis Cass High School, Walton, Indiana,
What You Could Never Understand, pt. 1