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Watching this week’s episode of Speechless took me back to the days of my school years. This was a time when I not only used my disability, but also my charm to escape my educational responsibilities. I had accomplices in these crimes as well!
In this week’s episode of Speechless, Maya discovered that JJ, her son with cerebral palsy, was using his aide, Kenneth, to score high on tests. Maya also discovered that JJ’s other teachers were allowing him to not do homework, to skip tests and even went as far as to give him answers to the test ahead of time. I did not exactly have it that easy. However, there were aides and teachers who allowed me to get away with more than the “normal” students.
Accommodations do need to be made for students with disabilities to simply give them a fair playing field. Take art and gym, for example, these were tasks required of other students that I simply could not do. I also had reduced homework assignments, because of the time that it would take for me to complete them. These are appropriate accommodations.
There were times when an aide, knowingly or unknowingly, hinted at correct answers. My home aides were the easiest to manipulate with my charm, or maybe out of their frustration, to do my work for me. I had the same philosophy as JJ of Speechless, if school professionals are going to let me slack off, who am I to say anything! This is an example of enabling, not accommodating.
Teachers and aides are not the only enablers in a disabled person’s life. Parents are the best, or should I say the worst enablers. The biggest enabler in my life is by far my mom. As the years have passed, we both have identified this and now are trying hard to break this cycle. Enabling usually comes from a place of love, this type of enabling is the hardest to end. In Speechless, Maya does a wonderful job of empowering JJ, rather than enabling him. She wants his accomplishments to be his own.
I know my mom wants me to also be successful, however, it is hard for her to stand back and watch me struggle. Success comes out of struggle. It a necessary evil, so to speak. My mom has sometimes made things too easy for me, but we are changing that. My mom is also my caregiver, so boundaries are skewed. We are working hard to communicate better to realign boundaries back to a mother/adult son relationship. We both wish we had this insight years ago, because old habits are so hard to break!
Enabling also comes from a place of pity. While this is meant with good intent in most cases, it can be very destructive. JJ’s teachers on Speechless had good intentions, but their pity had negative consequences. Other than the fact that JJ was not getting the full educational experience, they were chipping away at his confidence. When he had to take the test without Kenneth, he questioned whether he would be successful. If his teachers did not believe he could do it, why should he believe he could do it? It is important to see past the disability and see a person’s abilities and empower them to use these abilities!
I was fortunate to have teachers and support staff in my school career who could not be swayed by my charm or my disability. In grade school, Mrs. Reed pulled me out of class a few times for discussions about my homework. Let’s just say, they were not friendly discussions! However, looking back I appreciate the fact that these talks came out of her frustration because she knew I could do better. In junior high, Mrs. V. always held me accountable for my behavior and school work. She never fell for my charm, except for the time I told her I could not believe she was as old as she said she was! In high school, Mrs. Langbecker and Mrs. Radloff, my aides, held me accountable for my responsibilities. There was just no wiggle room when it came to them! I may not have fully appreciated this at the time, but now I see that they knew my potential.
If you have a person in your life with a disability, it is important to recognize their potential. Empower them! There is a fine balance between accommodating and making things too easy. Napoleon Hill stated, “Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle” When you rob someone of their struggle, you are essentially robbing them of potential strength and growth. In this case, good intentions can actually be harmful.
You can catch new episodes of Speechless on ABC every Wednesday 8:30pm/7:30c. You can catch all episodes of Speechless anytime on HULU.
Until next time, Keep Rollin’ and Keep Smilin’!
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