While going through my mail one day I noticed a letter from Statistics Canada. At first, I assumed it was for me and almost opened it until I realized it was addressed to my teenage daughter. When she opened the letter a seemingly blank white card dropped out. The letter contained a request for her to participate in a survey for persons with disabilities. We looked at each other with blank stares. Neither of us was aware that she had a disability. We concluded it must be a mistake.
I picked up the white card and realized it wasn’t blank, it was braille. Suddenly I realized it wasn’t a mistake. As my daughter grew up she had a lazy eye, into her teenage years she had gained control of the eye, however, she was told that eye simply “didn’t work”. The word “blind” was never uttered by the Optometrist. Having coped with the uselessness of that eye all her life, she never saw herself as blind, and certainly not disabled. In fact, her ability to cope is so extensive that she still refuses to see it as a disability.
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Her refusal is not about not wanting others to know about her problem. In her own words, “What about the people with real disabilities?” In her opinion, while it can be annoying, being blind in one eye does not restrict her lifestyle and she feels that there are people out there with far more severe disabilities who deserve the government’s, and everyone’s, attention. She passed the driver’s eye test with no problems. She drives, reads, writes and uses the computer obsessively. She can Tweet and Snapchat with the best of them, although have you ever noticed, kids don’t even look at their phone’s keyboard as the rapid-fire type?
Not long after, a followup call to the letter came from Stats Canada. I explained to the caller that my daughter felt the survey didn’t apply to her. She had gone her entire life so far without being labeled and she preferred to keep it that way.
Disabilities come in all forms and even those afflicted don’t always realize they have one. I was one of those people too. I spent my entire childhood bringing home report cards that said things like, “Very bright, just needs to apply herself” and “Needs to focus and follow instructions”. Lucky for me it was well before the days of society labeling kids with attention and learning problems and pushing medications as solutions.
It wasn’t until I was in my late twenties that I was diagnosed with a less common form of Dyslexia. Throughout elementary school, I had never been flagged as a child that needed an evaluation for a possible learning disability. In part, because my symptoms were not “on the list” of known indicators used back in the 60’s and 70’s, I was a bookworm and had no problem reading. My resistance to reading out loud in class was written off as simply part of my extreme shyness, I excelled at math but no one noticed that without the ability to calculate on paper I was lost.
While I shared some of the same symptoms of those we hear about, applicable to Dyslexia, transposing numbers and letters (78 became 87, their becomes thier), the worst of my symptoms are more attributable to visual-spatial processing. If I tell you an object you are looking for is on your left, save yourself some time and look right first. I can’t count the number of people I have sent on wild goose chases from just one left turn that should have been a right. Need directions to my place? Give me your cell phone number, I’ll send you my location on Google maps. Problem solved. If I am required to estimate a measurement, I can only guess by co-relating the object or distance to something already set in my memory. I can estimate pretty close when something is 12″ long because I can visualize a 12″ ruler in proper proportions next to it.
Not far into the second half of Grade 11, I dropped out. I managed to go 12 years in the school system without ever having one person know that when I read a book, I often had to read the same paragraph three times to have any clue what it said. I made it through without anyone noticing how many erasers I went through because I wrote “the the” or wrote an entire sentence that wasn’t what I wanted to write, but rather something totally unrelated that I had recently read or a sentence that was two or three lines ahead in what I was writing. No one knew how hard I had to focus just to do simple math, or how many tricks I taught myself to hide my problems. Left from right, no one ever noticed me glance at my hands, forefinger and thumb stretched out, to form an L (left is the one the L is going the right way).
In my mind, I wasn’t hiding a disability because I wasn’t aware I even had one. I never reached out for help because over the years I had been reminded that I just needed to apply myself, try harder. Even once I had gotten a diagnosis years after leaving school, all it did for me was make me think, “Well, that explains a lot“. I had found my own way and, while I thought it would have been nice to know years ago, I looked at it as a thing of the past. It hasn’t gone away, it’s just part of who I am.
Today, in our world of technology and online immersion, it has brought me a new set of tools to deal with my roadblocks, but along with it has come new issues. Trolls. The internet community has its fair share of the judgemental and unforgiving. We have all seen it, where a person opts to bare all in a carefully thought out rant post. Their words are powerful, their thoughts well conveyed. Read their comments and among those praising them or even a few debating their message you will see the Trolls. “You spelled that wrong” or “Great message, too bad it came from someone with a dog as a profile picture“. Trolls rarely bother me, however, they do serve as a reminder of how much harder I need to work to be perfect. And yes, that’s a whole different problem we don’t need to get into…
Knowing our secrets and how they have never been shared as I have here, take a look at the people in your life. Who around you may have some secrets of their own? That guy that talks too much? The woman who hides at home and never goes anywhere? A child that brings home a report card with “a great child BUT…” comments from his teachers?
We have been told by society that we need to be more aware of mental health issues, more understanding of those with disabilities, especially hidden ones. What they really need to tell us is to become aware of ourselves. Take the time to reflect in your life and think about how the events you’ve survived have made you who you are. It will open up a whole new door to the next step of understanding how others lives have made them who they are.
Just as the old saying goes, “You cannot love another unless you love yourself first”, likewise, “You cannot understand another unless you understand yourself first”.