I was in first grade when I realized I was different or as some people like to call “special”. It was the second week of school and my physical therapist came into my classroom. It wasn’t like her to sit amongst my peers. Usually, I would meet her in an empty gymnasium but that day our routine was different. “Hi class my name is (will not be named for privacy reasons) and I am Crystal’s physical therapist. Crystal is very “special” she has Cerebral Palsy.” My heart felt like It was going to rip through my chest. My physical therapist wasn’t here to see me, instead, she was here to talk about me! I was never one to shy away from attention but in that moment all I wanted to do was run and hide. To make matters worse, she made me take off my orthotics so the class could examine them. “These are orthotics. Orthotics help Crystal walk better”.
I will never forget this moment for several reasons. At the time I felt violated. My physical therapist took a private and personal object and used it as if it was” show and tell time”. However, it took me a few weeks to realize that my classmates had questions about my condition from the moment they met me. Some even went home and asked their parents what was wrong with me. My classmates were confused and concerned for me. After that day I noticed a major change in the way my classmates treated me. Some of my classmates were nicer , helpful and felt comfortable asking me questions about my condition. Although my physical therapist meant well, it is important to determine the child’s comfort level on the situation. If she had come to me beforehand and asked if it would be okay to teach my classmates about Cerebral Palsy, I would have said yes. As a matter of fact, I would have rather of come up with a plan with her so I didn’t feel blindsided. I was too young at the time to understand that in life people are going to question, judge and fear what they do not know or understand. However, the more they knew the less they feared.
First grade was the first time I had to explain to a peer why I was different and it definitely wasn’t the last. I must have explained my “story” over 200 times In the last ten years and with each explanation, it got a bit easier. What happened to me in first grade was unfortunate but that does not change the fact that we need to teach our children about differences. I truly believe that information can lead to understanding. So if any of you have or ever will face a time when you will have to explain your differences don’t be afraid. I can’t promise it will be easy at first but over time it will feel empowering. For you will be able to take something that people don’t understand , question or fear and turn it into an educational moment. In the end, you will have control of what you reveal about your story.