I'm not Illiterate. I just have a few mental illnesses...

by Abbán Dodge 27 days ago in stigma

A personal non-objective view on public school's approach to learning disabilities. The experience of being informed you're not dumb, just disabled.

I'm not Illiterate. I just have a few mental illnesses...
Photo by Christina Victoria Craft on Unsplash

I remember the end of pre-K right before entering elementary school vividly; the last day of class my parents picked me and my belongings from the year up at the school I was attending. (A very rare event, personally, for me, normally my parents reaped public school's transportation to save gas.) Nonetheless, this day was different. I was excused early because it was our last day as a class, and I was moving on to a different school in a district far from my peers. Being young this was disheartening but not for the average "I'll miss my friends" reason.

The entire year of kindergarten, my teacher was concerned about me moving on to first grade with the other students. Primarily because I was completely illiterate. My mother would hear no such nonsense mainly because 99.9% of children held back in this level of education is for social reasons- I was an odd child, but socially I was average for my age. The thing that reassured those in charge of my education was an extensive vocabulary. It shocked educators and counselors alike that I spoke extremely properly, moreover was so verbose. I wasn't using big words without any understanding of their definition, I was speaking to adults on a level that was proper, but way above most children my ages head. So, they thought reading would come naturally, perhaps I just needed to develop cognitively and more than likely that would be bound to happen in the new year of my new school; First grade elementary.

Now, the teacher I was assigned probably was too sick or old to be working with young children but, her approach to my illiteracy was- vicious, in a sense of the term. My class had a routine of sitting together with easy-read chapter booked; a great new challenge for my peers and myself. The first time we collected together in order to read outloud to the class, I pretended to follow along with the words on each page sections we were on... until It was my turn.

Total deer in headlights scene unfolded. "Go on Dodge!" my teacher hissed through yellowing teeth. Stammering to find what word was next from the previous one that left the lips of the classmate before me-- I felt the eyes of peers slide in my direction as my teacher glared on. Stammering, becoming beat-red in the face, and starting to hide my face with my hair. First whips crawled down my round child face, which caused a state of panic once that all too obvious saline taste of tears hit me. All while "precious class time" ticked by. "Read the book!", she finally scolded. By this point, those wispy streams has become huge soggy droplets, pattering on my clothes and the cold linoleum flooring.

This wasn't the last time said teacher publically demeaned me in front of my peers; those whom she'd constantly praise for being able to read at their expected level, and even the great handfull who were well above their educational age level in their reading and comprehension. This public shaming made reading a negative aspect in my young mind. I was envious of others who read, but for the advances in technology and underdeveloped mindsets led to having zero interest in being able to read. Nonetheless, by the end of that year I could read a few small words, but was still extremely below where I should have been.

Continuing my attendance at this school, I entered 2nd grade. A stark difference in attitude came about with the change of my teacher. He was a positive and light spoken man. He took time to speak to each of his students privately one-on-one to access their educational progress and even their home lives. He would go out of his way to make sure his students had breakfast, lunch and a snack before leaving the school premises, and that he never had to make a mandated report to child services. When it came to his one-on-one approach to me, it was an uphill battle. I didn't want this goofy man knowing anything about my family life, ( dysfunctional by definition ), moreover I didn't want him to even attempt to teach me to read. I knew he'd never have enough time alone with me to get that job done. In all honesty. this second grade teacher was quite sharp when it came to conquering a seemingly impossible task. He had learn throughout the year I was quite close to the school counselor, so on a wish and a prayer he asked her personally to start a ESL class for me aside from my peers and average class schedule. Shockingly she agreed. So from then on three times a week for one hour, (perhaps longer), a staff would come to excuse me from my peers and escort me to ESL. For those who do not know ESL stands for "English Second Language". The irony of a young white american child who was versed verbally speaking in the english language being enrolled as the first student to attend ESL in an all white elementary school is not lost. The icing on the cake of being singled out was the frustration other's in my class who thought I had some special privilege to skip a math class or some other subject.

I felt something I had never experienced before; shame and stigma. Yes, I did need one-on-one educational help, but it wasn't because I wasn't at par with hitting grade appropriate goals with in my studies. Nonetheless, peers, even teacher's aid treated me negatively because I had an undiagnosed learning disability. This made my peers avoid me. I wasn't invited to play with them. I had one actual friend, who like me, was avoided due to their extreme shyness that affected their speaking volume. I loved my only friend, but I still felt the stigma of being different. I wasn't dumb, but there was "something not right" with me- whispers from my class peer's after a parent's meeting day. I didn't want to be popular, or under some spotlight of attention; I wouldn't have known how to handle such a thing, but I remember feeling alone and shameful for my lack of catching up educationally, specifically in reading comprehension. There came a point, about mid-way through that school year I started displaying symptoms of depression. This worried my mother, and not knowing what else to do in order to help got me a therapist. Another embarrassment added to my short life's list. While in therapy, my mother contacted the school and teachers in charge of my learning and begged for them to bring in a professional child psychology evaluator. The school declined to pay for one, so the counselor was given the tools and expected to perform both of our first psychological exams. She was a great counselor, but this testing was out of her league. The multi question test is mean to highlight learning disabilities, and mental health issues.

By the end of our testing, they told my mother I was simply afflicted by dyslexia- however severe, I could adapt with extra reading help and eventually not be completely illiterate.

The only issue is since this woman wasn't trained to perform this evaluation she missed some big red flags. Skipping ahead to another school as state away, 5th grade specifically. I could read... Not well, but enough to fake a book report. 3rd and 4th grade I continued the ESL class in the school I was attending in New Hampshire, which by god's grace taught me how to read without butchering my spelling. Learning verbal phonetics without visually seeing them must've been my blessing in disguise.

Moving Forward, I had my (technical) 2nd Evaluation in 5th grade by a professional in a new state and school.

Lo and behold, it ends with results are that I am affected by an extreme case of ADD/ADHD along with a nonverbal executive learning disorder, along with dyslexia and dyscalculia. But wait, there's more! The entire evaluation concluded that I did have C-PTSD, panic disorder, GAD, GID, DID and manic depression,

  • [Author's Note:] I am not bipolar, but when first diagnosed, it was categorized as manic depression; based on how I am unable to concentrate on tasks and a fleeting depression that comes with being overwhelmed by tasks I needed to finish or start.
  • GID (Gender Identity Disorder) along with Dissociative disorder were still in the DSMV. However in recent years GID has been removed and Dissociative Disorder have either been removed or renamed. I was simply diagnosed as having dissociative tendencies.

Having a name to the beast in my head was key. I could read fluently, but not aloud by the end of the school year. The next year I entered Jr. High, which did not go well. The staff and teachers didn't care if I had any difficulties learning, they acted as if it was a made up excuse to not do my work on time. They treated me awfully. It triggered my PTSD to the abusive and demeaning teacher I was blessed with in 1st grade. I remember Winter Vacation came, and everyone's first report cards came out. Never in my life have I had such bad grades. Each subject was an F. It gobsmacked both parents and obviously concerned them, but since having a well done evaluation, they figured speaking to the administration would help. Like my flunked classes, once school was back in session, I failed to ever return.

This caused social services to get involved and a lot more drama, but I was starting to have suicidal ideation and thoughts. The start of that school year I was prescribed a mood stabilizer. The black box warnings affected my psyche in the most negative and extreme ways. In conjunction of this, the only thing my Jr. High offered to get me back into school was being in the Special Educational classes. My mother, having had sent my sister into public SPED classes refused knowing the risk of having a child exposed to the classroom norm and bringing home an attitude of "if I act out I'll get what I want"; displayed in both children she aloud to go to these classes.

I ended up missing all the 6th grade. They finally agreed to pay for me to attend a therapeutic school under and IEP designed for my specific accommodations.

This schooling was great until I hit senior year. The administration decided to expand its student population. So now any kid who got "bullied" could attend. Learning disability or not. Previous, you had to have been committed to a psyche ward, day program, or twisted the local public education's arm like my family somehow did.

The new population of students would claim to have disorders they never had. It was almost a merit badge to be "mentally ill" and the severity of how abnormal it may have been only made you "cooler". I'd never blame one website for such a influx of self-diagnosers, but Tumblr was at its most popular during this time.

Now I was ignored. I wasn't "Crazy" enough.

So remember, if you think your psychology is unhealthy- or your child is different and bullied by backwards peers.... Think about the long term effects. That you will define yourself by something you just believe you have & that is toxic for actual mentally ill people. It affects their lives in a plethora of ways.

Bottom line; Speak to a Doctor.

Abbán Dodge
Abbán Dodge
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